Mark Dantonio Brings Understanding to Depth and Significance of the Malik McDowell Signing By Michigan State
Mark Dantonio: First of all, I appreciate everybody coming today and being a part of this. It’s a little bit different. I’ve never really done this before for one specific recruit, but I thought a press conference at this time was warranted just to speak to the fact about Malik and his whole situation a little bit, and just go through it. He was an extremely highly recruited young man. We’re very, very excited that he became a Spartan last night. I got the papers about 11:45 last night so it was an eventful evening. We’re just extremely excited for him and his family in terms of where we go from here. I think what makes him so special as a player is he has a unique ability…obviously he’s a big guy, he’s about 6’6’ and 290…but his versatility to pay defensive end and defensive tackle, his power, his speed, his athletic ability, his size obviously are huge characteristics. But beyond that, you look at the intangibles, I think the guy’s a do-er. When we had him at camp a couple of years ago, and I’ve watched him at camp this past summer, he was a guy that had a high motor and understood what he wanted and went about it in a very clear manner and decisive manner. So we’re very, very excited about him becoming a Spartan. I think the best way to do this is for you guys to ask me questions and I’ll go through some things as we go. Usually that’s what gets quoted, so figure that’s the way we’ll handle it.
Q: You mentioned his motor. How appealing is that to you?
DANTONIO: It’s very, very appealing. You bring a big guy to camp…he came to camp between his sophomore and junior year…and when he comes to camp and you put him through the different things relative to defensive line play, he was able to keep his motor running, he was able to sustain I guess you’d say, throughout every drill. And that was impressive because sometimes big guys can’t do that. So yeah, he was very light on his feet. He was extremely flexible. You just had a feeling that he was gonna be a great player and I think he did that his senior year. I think the film speaks for itself a little bit…certainly a lot. And the fact that the people who were recruiting him was…he took visits to Ohio State, I believe Florida, Alabama, Florida State, Michigan State, and many, many others were involved in this. As I said before, we’re very, very excited he’s become a part of this program.
Q: Can you speak to the sort of bizarre scenarios surrounding this?
DANTONIO: Yeah, it was a long process, there’s no question about that. I knew the family had concerns, and they were legitimate concerns. So what we had to do was we had to be able to work through the process until everybody felt comfortable with this. I wrote some notes down here because I think the one thing you have to understand about recruiting, especially I think the intensity of the recruiting of this young man…he’s a 5-star guy, top player in Michigan, all the different things that go along with that…a national recruit, a lot of visits early in the process. People were on him constantly. So constant that when you sent a tweet on a direct message there were so many direct messages that he really couldn’t even read them. So I think the complexity of the whole recruiting process had something to do with that. But I also think that you know your child, as a parent you know your child, you’re concerned about your child and you want what’s best for him. So you take steps to make sure that the decision that he makes is not impulsive. That the decision is going to be a long-term decision and it’s not a decision that’s gonna be made because he likes coming up here on the weekend or something of that nature. It’s something that will last. Things came up during the entire recruiting process, I guess that created concerns not just here but elsewhere. Whether it was concern from Malik, whether it was concern from his mother, whether it was a concern from his father – a very complex issue as you try and all get on the same page as you move through the process. I think all those concerns were legitimate and it takes time to work towards a solution or a resolution in all the different things that we went through. I thought it was very important that everybody be on the same page when we make this decision, or when they made the decision. So what I tried to do on my end was sort of just be still. We really didn’t talk to Malik much…you’re allowed to call a young man once a week. We didn’t do that. There wasn’t that communication. I felt pretty firm that he had a commitment in this direction. But everybody, again, had to be on the same page and I think that it took time. We didn’t want it to be impulsive. I’ve always said many, many times and I think I’ve said it in here…when you’re unsure of some things you try and slow the game down. I think that’s what the family did. They tried to slow it down, make sure that this is what he wanted and tested him at every turn in that area. Because this is a big, big decision. They finally came to that conclusion…I think we did a good job, all parties involved did a good job of keeping the lines of communication open as we moved through the process, and I think ultimately that is what created this resolution and this final decision. Again, I’m just very excited about it.
Q: Did you have an idea that last night was gonna happen, or was it was an ‘Oh wow’ when the phone call came in? Was it because it was up against the deadline? And then have you ever been part of something like this before?
DANTONIO: No, I’ve never been a part of this. I’ve been involved in these kind of things on signing day, but never this far into the process. But again, I think this is a unique situation a little bit. We practiced yesterday, so I came off the practice field and got a text so I knew something may have happened. And then there was just dialogue throughout the evening, in terms of just dialog and texting and things of that nature, just to make sure that there was communication and everybody felt good about the process and what was going to occur. I talked to Malik this morning. He’s thrilled, ecstatic about everything. I think the thing we need to understand is that first and foremost, and when he comes here, he’s a student first – and that was primary in his parents’ concerns, that he was going to be a student first – and second, he was going to get a legitimate degree, work towards that degree, and we’re going to hold him accountable for that. And then third that he was going to be a football player and help us win championships and continue to get better and be able to fulfill all the dreams that he and his family have in that endeavor as well. My feeling is, as you move through this and I look at how did these things happen and why did they happen, it’s the same thing that I have written on the board for all of our players on a shield. There’s gotta be a commitment. There certainly was a commitment that took place last night. But there’s gotta be a commitment. Malik made that commitment on signing day. We worked towards getting resolution based on that fact. And by the University as well… Now there has to be a commitment from myself, our coaching staff towards Malik and his family as we move through the process too, to try and maintain those lines of communication, make sure we do what I just indicated to you were our goals. We gotta be able to communicate when there’s a problem. You’ve gotta be able to continue to communicate. And the lines of communication stayed open throughout the entire process. I give credit to his mother for doing that, because that’s not easy to do. She had some legitimate concerns in this direction. But the lines of communication stayed open whether it was my point of view, her point of view, our coaches, Malik, his high school coaches…all the people that were involved in his life because there were many other people that were involved in this process. And then finally, there is the trust factor. Trust is a very fragile thing, it can be broken very easily, but can always work hard to reaffirm that trust as we move through the process. I think Malik trusts us as individuals, I trust Malik in terms that this is what he wanted to do, and again we worked towards a resolution. We will do the very, very best we can to fulfill everything that we’ve recruited him on. That Michigan State is a championship-type program, with a tremendous academic reputation, that we will win here with chemistry and we will hold our players accountable morally as well.
Q: Because we’re aware of his mother’s resistance, did you have to win her over? Was there any ‘Let’s not do anything until mom is convinced’ going on?
DANTONIO: I just wanted to make sure that when we go through the process and I make a mistake, that I try and make up for that mistake. That if this University has a problem, we try and address that problem with people. There’s no perfect place out there for anybody. At the same time, that we address the concerns of a parent. I don’t know if I’m answering the question. I can’t remember what the question was.
Q: Did you have to work on his mother to win her over?
DANTONIO: Absolutely. There’s no question about that. But I think she had legitimate concerns because she knows her child. It’s tough…it’s extremely tough. I put myself in that situation and ask ourselves how do we handle our children, how do you handle your children. You know your child and you want to make sure that he’s not making an impulsive decision. If you feel like he is then there’s resistance. I just think she went through the process. And I’m happy that it’s resolved.
Q: I’m fascinated over the attention this has gotten, over a high school kid. What makes this so different from other commitments?
DANTONIO: First of all, I’ve never been in a situation where a national recruit has signed this late. I have not…I know it’s happened before, this is not a unique situation, this has happened before. Young players wait until later on after the signing day to make decisions. So that’s what makes it unusual. I knew that there would be a lot of questions. I wanted to make sure that we’re forthcoming in anything, that everybody had their questions answered. So that’s why…that’s the whole reason for having a press conference here. I just wanna make sure that when we leave here that you’ve had the opportunity to talk about it. I also think it’s warranted. I just think there was a lot of… I guess it’s newsworthy.
Q: How did you choose to handle it in the way you did, where you just left him alone and didn’t get ahold of him at every possible opportunity?
DANTONIO: I just wanted to try and make sure that at the end of it all I really didn’t want there to be such a problem created that it was all about us. There needed to be another dynamic there. Malik had to want to come here badly. And that was in existence, that was there. So because of that I just sort of stood still and every time I had an opportunity to talk to him…which was really about once a month since then…I asked him if he was sure, if this is what he would want to do. Because I didn’t want to push him and pull on him if this was the only thing that he had to do. I wanted it to be his decision. He made a man’s decision. He continued to try and talk to his family about this, and eventually his family all got on board and they made the the decision, in their mind, what was best for Malik. And their decision as a family was for him to come to Michigan State. It’s a difficult decision to reach as you move through the process. Again, there was a lot of people involved in this and I think there was a lot of work done on the part of the family and on the part of the people who counsel for families in terms of exactly what’s the best thing for him. Whether that be here or some place else, I just think it was an involved process.
Q: Based on public comments the family had made, how do you approach the relationship with Coach Burton and make sure there’s not a concern there?
DANTONIO: I’ve learned one thing as a coach, or hopefully as a man. You move on. You move on. Things can always get worse or they can get better. They’re never gonna stay the same. You’re gonna improve relationships or relationships are gonna go south a little bit. Doesn’t mean you’re gonna go all the way south, but you have to work on building relationships, and that’s trust. You have to work on those three aspects that I talked about: commitment, communication and trust. You have to be able to work on those things every day. We have to earn that. Some of it, quite honestly, we have to earn back. To be quite honest with you, I believe Malik’s family and his mother and his father are righteous people. I believe they have a strong faith and I believe they prayed about this. I prayed about this as well, how to handle it. And I just think that through prayer we came to a resolution. That’s the way I feel. It’s pretty simple. There is absolutely… People are thrilled here. There is no problem in terms of how Malik McDowell is gonna be handled here. As I said earlier, he’s earned this press conference. He’s earned this opportunity to talk about him as a single person because of the perseverance that has existed in this process, and because of the length of this process and the questions surrounding it. I just think everybody wants to get out in front of it and make it right.
Q: We talked about the ripple effect of victories on the field. Certainly recruiting is a big game of perception, and when these recruitments have happened in past years we’ve seen the marquee, the big name programs… Is this a sign that Michigan State is taking its place among the elite in recruiting?
DANTONIO: I hope so. We’ve got a lot of players drafted every year. We’ve had guys drafted. We’ve won 42 games in the last four years. We ended up #3 in the country, I guess if that’s what it was. So we’ve taken big steps and we sort of nationally recruited, as of late. Especially what I would call…I don’t know if that’s being local, but in the Midwest, especially in the Midwest…and only because of the acceleration of the recruiting process, for the most part. The number of commitments that you have prior to even the season beginning, because other than that we can recruit nationally except sometimes we’re filled up. But I do think it’s a step, a big step. I think this will play dividends down the road, not just in terms of his play on the field, but in terms of the recruiting that goes along with it, recruiting other players.
Q: What was National Signing Day like? Did you have any indication then that it could take this long?
DANTONIO: I didn’t know who he would commit to on that day. I did not know that. So obviously we were thrilled when that happened. But then as the day wore on there were some questions, and initially it was let’s try and get this resolved as quick as possible. But as you found out more and more you knew it was just gonna take time. We just try to be patient and basically, as I said earlier, try to not rock the boat too much and just be still and let the process take place. I think it’s the best place for Malik McDowell. I sincerely think that. But I wanted him to find the best place for him too. I didn’t want it to be all about us. And in the end… I think that’s what happened in the end. In the end, things went as they go. It just goes as it goes sometimes.
Q: Was there any celebration? Slap fives?
DANTONIO: No, actually I laid down and tried to go to sleep. I think I got to bed about 12:45, because all of this went down last night. I finally got the fax about 11:45.
Q: How much have you had to change your approach to recruiting with the accelerated process and with the larger area now that Michigan State can canvas?
DANTONIO: We really haven’t changed our process. We really haven’t changed the direction that we go. We’re gonna recruit players here first and expand beyond, because I think we find out more about the people. We find out more about the individuals that we bring here. And I keep saying, ‘Why do we win? Why have we won?’ We’ve won because of chemistry. We’ve got some good players. We’ve got guys that play hard. But they hard for each other and we’ve won here because of chemistry. And that chemistry exists because of the people that are here…the coaches, the managers, the trainers, our equipment people, our players, just anybody that touches this program I think impacts young people. That’s what I’ve asked them to do and that’s what they’ve done. I think our seniors have always done a great job in terms of motivating the younger players and being there for them. You know, I think what’s happened is the players that we get on in the spring, we have a pretty good chance of getting. That’s what’s happened. We’re not finding these guys at the end. I can identify a guy and say he’s a player, I don’t really care who recruits him. In this case everybody recruited Malik. But in other cases maybe a guy was not quite as recruited, like Shilique Calhoun…and then he’s the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 10 Conference, an All-American and all that. You earn what you get as you move forward. Nothing stays the same as I said. You’re constantly moving forward. We’ve gotta all do that. We’ve gotta critique who we are and what we do and try to get better…whether that’s relationships, whether that’s hard work, whether that’s football, whether that’s school. You just keep trying to get better.
Q: There was perception, rightly or wrongly, that Michigan State might not have been the leader. Did you ever get the idea that there was some catching up to do? He said he was comfortable at Michigan State…did you feel he was? And did you feel you had some catching up to do?
DANTONIO: Yeah, it’s difficult to get ahold of different people in this recruiting process, especially because everybody’s calling once a week and that type of thing. Really, probably towards November or early December I started to feel like Malik was very receptive to coming here. And then they made the decision as a family to cancel one visit and insert Michigan State into a visit opportunity. So that to me was a positive. And then we just tried to move forward week by week. Sometimes we move forward, sometimes we move back. But, like I said, eventually we got to this resolution in this process. And I think that’s the best way to term it.
Q: Do you think this is a young man you think could compete for playing time in the fall?
DANTONIO: Yeah, I think Malik will be on the field for us. I just think he’s too big, strong and fast. He can play too many. He can play inside, he can play outside, he can be a pass rush guy, he can play in goal line situations, and short yardage situations. I think he’s gonna be on the field. Based on what I’ve seen from him in camps and his raw physical ability… I think he’s a smart player and I think he’s extremely coachable. He’s got a lot of want-to. He wants to please and that’s a part of it too. Now, can he stay healthy in camp? Can he learn the defense? Those are the things that you don’t really know until he gets here. But I would say from a physical standpoint he can get on the field, most definitely.
Q: Looking back, have you ever recruited a class that compares to this one in terms of defensive linemen in one signing class?
DANTONIO: This is an excellent signing class in defensive linemen. I would say a couple years ago when Shilique, now LT is a defensive lineman, and Joel Heath and some of those guys were coming…I think it was a good class. But I think this class probably supersedes that in terms of raw numbers and ability. And I think we have two defensive ends coming in that are sort of wiry guys like Demetrius Cooper. We’ve got a big guy coming in in Malik that can be dominant and hold the point and is active. We’ve got defensive tackles coming in. Enoch Smith can play defensive end a little bit too or be an inside player, extremely powerful. We’ve got Beedle coming in who’s a very athletic guy. Malik’s coming in. Craig Evans as a defensive lineman, who’s a big powerful guy, inside player, nose tackle or a 3 technique, but a guy that can move. So I think it’s an excellent class. When you look at our football team, our defensive tackle position is a position that is needed. In our defensive end position, we only recruited one last year. So it was a position of need. So I think we addressed our needs there and I think these guys will all have an opportunity… They’re gonna have an opportunity to play, more than just Malik. They’re gonna have to learn. There’s gonna be some experience factors here, some lessons learned as we move forward, but I think all of those guys are excellent football players. I would think this is one of the better classes we’ve signed.
Q: You mentioned he is the #1 player in Michigan. How important is that?
DANTONIO: You know, it’s not a direct competition. It’s only important because we deem that individual an important player, a very important player, in our program. So is he the top player in the state? That’s for other people to say. I guess he is. We’ve gotten a top player before and those guys have come here and have been great players for us. I think LT is in that capacity, I think Burbridge was, I think Gholston was, I’m not positive, I know Malik probably is. The point is that they’ve all come and they’ve all been successful as players and they’ve been good people.
Q: Are you calling him a tackle or an end?
DANTONIO: I’m calling him a player. He’s 290 lbs. so he can go in there and play, but he’s athletic enough… I’ve seen him on the edge and his get-off and things of that nature to play end. But I think if he hits the magic 300 number… I don’t know, we’ll figure that out. Those are good problems. I think he has the athletic ability to be extremely versatile.