EAST LANSING - Mark Dantonio has competed against mentors on numerous occasions during his eight years as a head football coach.
This Saturday's game between Michigan State (2-1) and Central Michigan (1-2) will be the first time Dantonio has taken one of his former assistant coaches.
"I would rather not play (a friend)," said Dantonio, "because somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose. Either they are going to feel bad or I am going to feel bad. I would rather feel bad, but that is just the nature of it. I have been on the short end of the stick numerous times with (Jim) Tressel, that's life. It is a tough scenario."
Dantonio hired Central Michigan head coach Dan Enos as his quarterbacks coach at Cincinnati in 2004. Enos was on staff at UC for two years before taking the same job at Michigan State during the last year of John L. Smith' tenure in 2006.
"Coach Enos was one of the first coaches I hired at Cincinnati," explained Dantonio. "He came recommended. I knew Dan a little bit, but he came recommended by Pat Shurmur."
Enos was the lone member of Smith's staff retained by Dantonio. Enos spent three years on Dantonio's staff at MSU before he was hired by the Chippewas two years ago.
"When one guy from the UC staff did not come with us, I immediately hired Dan," Dantonio said. "I love his family. I love him. I think he is a Spartan and I think he will do a good job and that he is doing a great job at Central. It is a tough week for all of us. It is tough when you are on opposing teams playing a friend of yours. That is what makes it difficult. I have a lot of respect for him, his football knowledge and the way he is handling his program."
Friendship aside, Dantonio and his Spartans want to make a statement against CMU.
"We have to get after business this week, so we will be motivated," Dantonio explained. "I think the additional motivation comes from not only this past game, but from went down in '09 in terms of CMU beating us and how it went down at the end of the game with an on-side kick, the missed field goal, the jump off-sides, the made field goal, all of those things. We have significant number of players who were here when that happened and coaches that were here when that happened. I don't know if that will make a difference, but we will use what we've got to use."
Enos was a four-year letterman (1987-1990) and two-year starter at Michigan State under head coach George Perles. Enos led the Spartans to back-to-back bowl victories over Hawaii and Southern Cal as a junior and senior.
Michigan State held Notre Dame under 300 yards of total offense. While Dantonio was pleased with the effort on defense, he sees several opportunities for improvement.
"I was encouraged with the way our defense played in coverage and some of the things that we did," said the fifth-year head coach. "But we cannot give them the drive that we did in the first series. We can't give them the drive in the first series of the second half. We can't give them the drive when the scores goes to 14-10 because all of a sudden it is 21-10 and we are down by 11 points again. In the critical parts of the game when we had to have a stop in those areas, we've got to do a little bit better."
Getting off the field on third down continues to be a focus for the Spartan defense.
"It is such a game of inches out there," Dantonio said. "In retrospect sometimes you look and say that this is very complicated game. Fundamentally, you have to do different things, you have these schematics. But then over here you have a very simple part of the game, blocking, tackling, catching the ball, things that you have to do. Bottom line is that when it is third-and-four, they call us for interference and we can get off the field. In the second half there is another third-and-nine, they end up getting it by about an inch. We've got to win the inches."
Like his mentor Jim Tressel, Dantonio places a heavy emphasis on strong special teams play. That is why Notre Dame's kick-off return for a touchdown against the Spartans was especially troubling for the fifth-year Spartan head coach.
" That was obviously a big play against us," said Dantonio. "It put them up 14-3 at that point. We did battle back, but we sort of played from behind the entire game."
Notre Dame's kick-off return touchdown was the first allowed by one of Dantonio's teams during his eight-year tenure as a head football coach.
"When you are playing young players," began Dantonio. "And Taiwan Jones is a young player who has done a great job on kickoff. He went down and he did not get blocked, he got ambushed. When he got ambushed he got dinged into Jeremy Langford, who is a redshirt freshman. And then our redshirt freshman Tony Lippett was coming up as a safety and he pushed into the offense to deep so he couldn't get back over the top and Kevin Muma missed the tackle. He should have been able to track it from there and make the tackle, but he missed it. You deal with it, you correct it."
The kickoff return for a touchdown was the latest in a series of special teams miscues for the Spartans this season. Keshawn Martin's muffed punt cost the Spartans points against Youngstown State. The Spartans also struggled in the kicking game against the Penguins.
Dantonio restated his culpability in the fake field goal called before the half against Notre Dame.
"I take responsibility for the fake kick," Dantonio said. "As I said last time, they got too much penetration. You have to adapt some times and we didn't adapt to that particular alignment. But we should not have tried at that yard line. But you win games on special teams and this time, this one caught up to us."
Bobby Wilson is the honorary captain against Central Michigan.
"He was a first-round pick of the Redskins," Dantonio said. "He played in the Super Bowl. He was a great defensive lineman here and we will be excited to hear from him."
Wilson recorded 4.5 sacks as a rookie and played in all 16 games for the Super Bowl champion Redskins. The No. 17 overall pick in the 1991 NFL draft, Wilson was a three-year starter for Washington at defensive tackle.
Wilson is the uncle of Michigan State sophomore Micajah Reynolds. He is also a former teammate of Enos.