EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – In a span of 24 hours, the MSU football program went from upstart to upended.
As the program tries to figure out how to move forward, it’s turning to two of the most stable voices the program has had over the last 15-20 years to lead the way: the program’s all-time winningest head coach, Mark Dantonio, and his longtime defensive assistant, Harlon Barnett.
Barnett has been named the acting head coach and Dantonio is returning as an associate head coach.
It was Dantonio who gave Barnett his start in coaching, hiring him as an assistant at Cincinnati in 2004. From that point on, the duo coached together for 14 straight seasons, including 11 at MSU.
“That [feeling] was very equal, when he hired me in 2004, January of 2004, to me getting drafted in April of 1990,” Barnett said. “It was close to that. I was that excited.”
The 11 years they coached together at MSU included some of the most successful seasons in program history, from the 2014 Rose Bowl victory to the 2015 College Football Playoff appearance.
Barnett is stepping into his first head coaching opportunity, and Dantonio will be alongside to help him make the transition more so than to help with the X’s and O’s.
“Coach D brings the calming presence, the wisdom, the knowledge of being a head coach, a very successful head coach at that,” Barnett said. “So he’s bringing all that as our associate head coach.”
Barnett said Dantonio’s willingness to come back and help is a testament to his commitment to supporting his former players and coaches.
“He looked at me as ‘that’s one of my guys, so I’m going to come back and support one of my guys,'” Barnett said.
Throughout his press conference Tuesday, Barnett reiterated a desire to unify the team moving forward. As part of his search for team unity, he’s bringing back parts of the culture from Dantonio’s tenure.
“Something we used to do with Coach Dantonio every day, every time after practice, everyone would come up and he would say ‘who got it?’ And somebody would pray. We did that yesterday and so you know, I’m looking forward to bringing that back.”