Thirteen seasons ago, just two days after Michigan brought a painful win back, 28-24 over Michigan State, Spartan first-year coach Mark Dantonio provided a memorable and defining line.
"Let's just remember," Dantonio told the Wolverines, with a full brand, somber, "pride comes before the fall."
"Sometimes you get your little brother excited when you play basketball and let him take the lead," Hart said. "Then come back and take it from him."
In addition, the Wolverines players had a moment of silence on the Spartan Stadium field after the victory. That was Dantonio's response to wondering if such a "moment" was needed earlier this season, when the Appalachian State famously upset Michigan.
Encouragement was almost irrelevant. Dantonio was crazy.
"Sometimes they have to check themselves," he said. "They want to make fun of us. I tell them it's not over … It's just beginning. ”
The Dantonio Spartans immediately won the next four meetings between the teams and eight of the next 10, completely throwing the rivalry to their ear. They won three Big Ten titles (down to Michigan zero). They won a pink cup (down to Michigan zero). They came to a playoff in college (down to Michigan zero). They beat Urban Mayer twice (down to Michigan zero).
The pride really came before the fall of Michigan, and Spartan fans not only revealed that their coach prophet predicted it, but he also betrayed it. They couldn't love him anymore.
These days these days seem to be a long time ago. As was the case late, MSU (4-5) is a shell of its former self. Once again Michigan is the week, only the Wolverines (7-2) have won two of the last three and are big favorites.
And the fall of Michigan is preceded by too much pride.
4 years ago Dantonio had an MSU in the playoffs. Alabama killed them, but that wasn't unexpected. The last three northern teams to reach the playoffs (MSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame) lost to the southern teams (Alabama, Clemson) by a combined score of 99-3.
This was essentially the maximization of the Michigan State program. Just getting there was an achievement.
In nearly four seasons since, MSU has been 24-23 overall and only 15-18 in the Big Ten. He has lost his last four, including firing a 28-3 lead at Illinois. Against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Pen State this season she lost by a combined score of 100-17.
As if the Spartans reached the top of the mountain and then fell off a cliff. Upset Michigan as a 12-point shortage is the only thing that can save anything positive from the season. This is generally a quick cup or bust.
What happened? In fact, nothing is the problem. Dantonio was not very introspective about the problems of the program. He is still challenging and cunning with reporters suggesting something is wrong.
"We will work hard, we will always remain positive, we will rise above [job-security questions]," Dantonio said Tuesday. "This is the only thing I can do."
Somewhere along the way, MSU seems to have felt comfortable and lost the edge, its desire, its reluctance to accept mediocrity.
Dantonio and his team were brilliant at finding top-level talent that was not a priority for the local forces of Ohio, Michigan or Notre Dame. Mix that with some local stars for whom he could beat these schools, and Country is a tough team to play.
Now a clear lack of talent.
The team was known for its discipline and aspiration, it was mostly gone. Creative offensive calls and bold games like the fake Little Giants goal that beat Notre Dame in 2010? They don't work very often if MSU is even able to try them.
The crime is porridge. In Dantonio's first nine seasons, the Spartans' average rank in the Big Ten was a total of 4.7 (out of 14), including three times finishing second.
In the last four years this is 11.8.
Yet at no time did Dantonio shake his staff. The assistants remained. The philosophies remained. His biggest move happened last offseason when he essentially took on the same employees and just gave them new jobs.
The running runner coach became the offensive coordinator, and the offensive coordinator became the quarterbacks coach and the offensive line coach took over tight ends and so on and so forth.
This was the rearrangement of the Titanic's deck chairs.
It was a pride in the fall. Or something like this.
Dantonio is 63 and the most profitable coach in program history. His field work is indisputable and he maintains a broad reputation in East Lansing.
There is a new president and no real athletic director in the administration, who is rooted out of the Larry Nasar scandal and understandably has more important management challenges than dealing with yet another average football program.
Is another year left? Would she finally get rid of her staff and find new blood to embrace the old Spartan ethos? Can Dantonio even attract the best young assistants when his own future is at stake? Even if he returns in 2020, how much longer can this continue?
Mark Dantonio made Michigan State a model program for a long time, recruiting the perfect guys for the perfect system and breaking his big brother by submission.
Now this is, perhaps, the final stand against Michigan.
Pride, in all its meanings and forms, is once again on the line.
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