DETROIT - Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio indicated during Tuesday's "MSU at the Detroit Economic Club" event that two quarterbacks are likely to see playing time early in the 2013 season for the Spartans, and he said last week's reports of Skyler Burkland planning to retire were "premature."
Meanwhile, Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis touched on several sports business matters, including acknowledging that a night game against Michigan in 2015 at Spartan Stadium is at least a possibility.
Dantonio, Hollis and Spartan basketball coach Tom Izzo joined Michigan State hockey coach Tom Anastos, Michigan State women's basketball coach Suzy Merchant and Michigan State volleyball coach Cathy George at the event. They spoke before a gathering of 530 at the Book Cadillac Hotel, touching on career decisions, trends in sports business and state-wide issues.
After the formal meeting at the Detroit Economic Club, Hollis and the coaches met with reporters for more than 20 minutes, where Dantonio was asked about Burkland.
Twenty-Four/Seven Sports reported last week that Burkland had decided to retire from college football, citing two unnamed sources. Michigan State declined to comment on the report for the past seven days. When Dantonio was asked about Burkland on Tuesday, he said: "I think that's a little bit premature, what was put in the paper. Obviously, everybody goes through injuries and everything, but I think that's premature."
When asked if Burkland is considering retirement, Dantonio said: "We'll just have to see where he's at. There's a lot of different things that go a long with the injuries that are involved. So we'll see where he's at when August comes."
Burkland (6-7, 315, Jr., Sunbury, Ohio) is expected to start at right tackle for Michigan State this season. He started at right tackle last year. He missed most of the 2011 season with a broken ankle, after beginning the season as the starting right tackle.
Night Game vs Michigan?
Detroit newspaper reporters asked Wolverine-based questions to the Spartan contingent on at least three occasions, Tuesday. When asked by a Michigan beat writer if either of the upcoming Michigan vs. Michigan State football games at Spartan Stadium in 2013 and 2014 might be played under the lights, Hollis said: "The first one will not be. The second one (in 2014) is always a possibility. It's something that we don't initiate, either school. But it is initiated by the television entities that have our rights and then we go through the process of evaluating whether we want to go that direction."
Hollis didn't seem to be pursuing the idea, but is open to it.
"We love night games at Michigan State," he said. "We think they have great value. But we also want to make sure it fits with everything else that is around. So it is going to depend on how many other night games are on the docket and which ones make the most sense. It's not something that we would say a definite 'no' to, but we will evaluate it if a situation arises."
As for the event as a whole on Tuesday, Hollis said it's a valuable opportunity any time the Michigan State message can be delivered in southeast Michigan, and any time it can lead to economic stimulus in Detroit.
"When we brought the basketball game versus North Carolina down here to Ford Field, it wasn't just about Michigan State," Hollis said. "We thank you for embracing Michigan State, whether you are blue or green, on those special times that we are down here."
The audience seemed genuinely entertained.
They laughed at Izzo's and Anastos' jokes. They clapped loudly when Dantonio delivered a rah-rah moment. And the Michigan fans were courteous.
"The crowd was spectacular," Hollis said. "It was increased from last year, which is fabulous for the Detroit Economic Club. Any time Michigan State can be down here and be of value to the direction that we are taking as a city and a state, we're all in and that's why we're all here today."
Dantonio indicated that more than one quarterback is likely to see playing time, at least early in the season, this fall. Andrew Maxwell has a shaky hold on the starting QB job, over sophomore Connor Cook, heading into summer workouts.
"I think it's important to recognize that Maxwell is a senior and we need to get somebody ready as we move forward," Dantonio said. "So you will see another quarterback playing a little bit."
Dantonio took a similar approach in Michigan State's bowl games at the end of 2009 and 2011 seasons when the Spartans started a senior QB but wanted to get an understudy ready for the following year. At the end of the '09 season, Dantonio put then-sophomoreKirk Cousins on the field for one series in place of graduating senior Brian Hoyer in the 2010 Capital One Bowl. At the end of the 2011 season, Dantonio planned to get then-sophomore Maxwell one series of playing time in the 2012 Capital One Bowl against Georgia, but didn't follow through on the plan due to first-half difficulties for the Spartans.
In December's Buffalo Wild Wings victory over TCU, Dantonio awarded Cook with playing time intermittently throughout the game. Dantonio went with Cook over Maxwell in the final minutes when the Spartans were in need of the game-winning drive.
Maxwell out-performed Cook throughout the majority of spring practice in March and April, but Cook played on par with Maxwell, at the least, in the Green-White Game on April 20.
"As I said after the spring game, right now Andrew Maxwell is our quarterback and we are moving in that direction but (you've) got to play well," Dantonio said. "Certainly there will be competition in camp to see where that's at. I think it's important that we take a broad-based look at all four quarterbacks in our camp, and that's what we always do."
Redshirt freshman Tyler O'Connor finished the spring as the third-stringer. Incoming freshman Damion Terry bring a skill set of athleticism and record-setting passing from Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep.
Dantonio also said that first-year assistant coaches Ron Burton and Jim Bollman have added a charge to the staff.
"Both of those guys have sort of refreshed us," Dantonio said. "They have brought a freshness to our staff. I think that happens when you change a little bit; some new ideas and some different ties - Coach Bollman certainly in Ohio and Coach Burton has done a very good job in Chicago.
"Both guys are a lot like the rest of our staff. They are extremely energetic, self-motivated and very innovative in the way they approach things."
Dantonio said the staff is heavy into video analysis this month, in terms of current player analysis, recruiting evaluation and opponent scouting.
"I think that's the beauty of video," Dantonio said. "I don't know if you ever finish. There is always one more thing to look at, one more thing to talk about.
"Right now, we're in the midst of having player evaluations and critiquing different things, and also summer studies on the opponents we will play next season. And you balance that with recruiting right now."
After travel associated with May recruiting evaluations, and a little bit of vacation, the staff is aiming toward camp season. Staff members will be at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Southfield on June 14. The staff will host a 7-on-7 camp on June 15 and a one-day elite camp on Fathers Day, June 16.
No News Is Good News At Breslin
Izzo said all reports from his basketball players and trainers during off-season workouts and optional games have been positive. For the first time in years, there are no major injuries holding the Spartans back this off-season.
"I've been really pleased with my guys," Izzo said. "My assistants said this summer has been as good as it's ever been. We have been healthy for the first time in at least three summers."
Sophomore guard Gary Harris is recovering well from shoulder injuries which bothered him during his freshman season.
"Gary's shoulder has been great so far," Izzo said. "He has been rehabbing it every day. They decided to go that direction instead of surgery and I think that was a good decision."
Izzo said the Spartans will begin limited, full-team practices in mid-June. "We'll get in two hours a week for the next eight weeks," Izzo said.
What About Michigan?
Spartan coaches didn't come to Detroit planning to talk about the Wolverines, but repeated questions from members of Detroit media channeled the conversation that way.
Izzo was asked about the changing nature of the MSU-Michigan rivalry with Michigan coming off a run to the National Championship Game.
"I've been on both sides of it," Izzo said. "When I first came here, we were getting beat by 20 every year. A rivalry isn't a rivalry unless you're both competitive. I've been on the back end of it and I've been on the front end of it and now it looks like we've got it where both teams are pretty good and the games have been competitive. That's great for the fans. I think that's great for college basketball, for the Big Ten and great for the state of Michigan.
"Sure, I would always want to dominate it. I'm sure they would too. But Duke-North Carolina is not a rivalry if one team is winning all the time, either way.
"I liked the 10- or 12-year run better than my first three years. But this is now where it's water cooler talk, it's more like football. It's probably good for everybody. It makes you better."
Dantonio Prefers The Banks
During the formal portion of Tuesday's meeting at the Detroit Economic Club, Hollis led a panel discussion on a handful of mostly-light topics.
In sticking with a state-wide economic theme, Hollis kicked off the conversation by asking each coach where he or she would stage a Pure Michigan commercial if directing one.
Izzo: "I would have it in the U.P., where it's 11 months of winter and one month of poor sledding, and it's a great place to spend some time."
That one drew laughter.
Merchant: "Mine would definitely be Traverse City. I can tell you there foliage out on the (Old Mission) Peninsula. Get out on one of those bluffs where you can appreciate the east and west bay."
Dantonio: "It's tough to say, if you've ever seen the sun set on the west side of the state, but I would have to say on the banks of the Red Cedar."
That one drew strong applause.
Anastos: "Dantonio took mine. But being a Detroiter and a Fordson High graduate and a life-long Red Wings fan, it has to be the center of Hockey Town for me."
That one also drew applause.
"I had an opportunity to speak at the governor's retreat and although he's a Michigan grad I offered him one suggestion, which I haven't seen him follow up on yet," Anastos said. "I asked him to change the campaign to 'Pure Michigan State.'"
Hollis asked the coaches to sum of their feelings for Michigan State in two words.
Cathy George: "Vibrant and growing."
Merchant: "Team MSU."
Dantonio: "Spartans Will (with two hands going forward."
Izzo: "A real-world place."
After Izzo's answer, Merchant made a funny face, pointed at the coach and held up three or four fingers with a shrug.
Izzo laughed and said. "U.P. math, baby."
At the podium, Hollis took a minute to reel off some Spartan football superlatives, laced with one zinger.
"Since 2008, Michigan State has more Big Ten wins than any school in the conference," Hollis said. "And we have had 129 consecutive live televised games. And if you look at the NFL Draft we are one of only seven schools that's had a player in the draft every year since 1967. Now, all the Michigan people are wondering, 'Gosh, I wonder if we are one of those schools too.'"
"And I love having that effect on you people," Hollis said.
That one drew the loudest, roaring laugh of the day.
(Michigan is in fact one of the other six, along with Texas, Florida, USC, Nebraska and Tennessee).
Merchant Steals The Show
When Dantonio or Izzo offered catch phrases and buzz words, they were often received with cheering approval befitting of an athletic event.
But when Merchant spoke on topics such as career opportunities and home life, she drew the longest, most endearing applause, no doubt at times crossing green and blue lines.
Merchant recounted her days as a young head coach at Saginaw Valley State from 1995-98. She was told she had no recruiting budget. Determined to recruit anyway, she paid her own way and stayed at camp grounds while hitting the recruiting trail.
She said when she was an assistant at Oakland Univeristy, she saved enough of her $12,000 annual salary and drove to her first Women's Final Four. She bought the cheapest ticket available from a scalper and sat in the last row with the back of her head touching cinder blocks.
"I wanted to take notes on every single thing I saw," Merchant said, "from the warm-ups, to their ball-screen defense, to their lay-up lines. I just wanted to be a better coach."
Then she said she heard a loud cheer, and soon realized that it was a cheer for legendary Tennessee head coach Pat Summit.
"Then I stopped taking notes," Merchant said. "I can remember, after finishing my first year as a Division II assistant coach at Oakland University, I put that pen down and I just watched her, and I said to myself, 'If I'm lucky enough and blessed enough to be at a place where you can win a National Championship and have an opportunity to coach in that game ... and I feel every day that I wake up at Michigan State that I have that opportunity.
"So there were small prices to pay - such as getting a tent instead of a hotel room - and creating a locker room out of a janitor's closet versus asking for one. Just find a way. I think that reflects a little bit on what a lot of coaching is - making sure these kids appreciate what they have, because it wasn't always like that for most of us."
Later, when coaches took questions from the audience, Hollis directed a question about family to Merchant, the mother of two.
"My first child was three months old when I applied for this job (at Michigan State) and I wanted the job so badly," she said. "It was my dream job, everything I personally ever wanted. But now I'm responsible for this other little human being. The one thing that Mark and Lou Anna Simon talk about is we always ask women to lead and put them in leadership positions, but sometimes we don't give them the resources that they need to do that. And so I feel that at Michigan State I can not only accomplish my dreams and goals, but with Mark and Lou Anna behind that, they give me opportunities with child-care clauses and offering family travel; it's a very inclusive environment. That means so much to me. I could not do my job if I did that have that support and I can assure you it is not like that everywhere in the country. I feel very blessed. I certainly want to give back in many ways.
"But it is a challenge. And I will share this with you: When I first got the job, that first year was a tough transition and I struggled with it. When I was at home, I was thinking about work. And when I was at work, I felt guilty about not being at home with a three-month old baby. After one of our losses, I remember picking my son up out of his crib in the middle of the night when he was sleeping and I just had one of those 'ah-hah' moments and I said, 'Enough is enough. I'm not going to last if I keep beating myself up.' So I basically forgave myself and decided that I was just going to live in every moment that I was in, and if that hat was being a mom then I needed to put the phone down and shut everything off and be the best mom that I could be. And then turn around and if I was coaching or recruiting, I was dialed in completely. Any chance I got when those two crossed and those two came together, I felt very blessed that I was able to do that at a great university like Michigan State."