<
>

Mark Dantonio says lawsuit had 'zero' impact on decision to step down as coach at Michigan State

play
Dantonio: I hope this program moves forward in a big way (1:14)

Mark Dantonio thinks the head-coaching position at Michigan State will be highly sought after and hopes the program will reach new heights. (1:14)

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Mark Dantonio said allegations made about him and his football program in a recent lawsuit had "zero" impact on his decision to step down as Michigan State's head coach Tuesday afternoon.

Dantonio, 63, said Tuesday that he resets and evaluates the program each February, and he thought after doing that this year that the time was right for him to walk away. He said he wants to spend more time with his wife and children after 13 years as head coach of the Spartans.

Dantonio's announcement comes one day after former Michigan State recruiting director Curtis Blackwell filed an update in an ongoing lawsuit claiming that Dantonio and the Spartans committed multiple NCAA recruiting violations. Blackwell said Dantonio helped arrange jobs for multiple high-level recruits and took Blackwell on recruiting visits, which is against NCAA rules because Blackwell was not an on-field coach.

"No relevance whatsoever," Dantonio said when asked if the allegations or potential future fallout had any impact on the timing of his announcement.

Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman said the school was aware of Blackwell's allegations and said the school would be happy to defend Dantonio and his actions in court.

"To the best of our knowledge, as I understand it, the allegations are patently false," Beekman said.

Blackwell worked on Michigan State's staff from 2013 through 2017 during some of the peak years of Dantonio's 13-year run in East Lansing. Blackwell's contract was not renewed in May 2017. Blackwell filed a lawsuit last year claiming that he lost his job because he was made into a scapegoat for a stretch of sexual assault issues plaguing the football program and the university.

In an earlier filing for the same suit, Blackwell said Dantonio ignored warnings from two of his assistant coaches while recruiting former four-star defensive end Auston Robertson in 2016. Robertson, according to court documents, exhibited a pattern of sexual violence during his high school years and was expelled from his high school's campus during his senior year for one incident. Less than a year after Dantonio brought him to campus, Robertson was charged with sexually assaulting a fellow student on campus. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and is currently in prison.

Dantonio declined to publicly answer any questions about Robertson in the three years since he dismissed Robertson from the team. When asked about Blackwell's claims on Tuesday, he said, "We're not talking about that. This is a celebration."

play
1:07

How can Michigan State improve in wake of Dantonio's departure?

Bobby Carpenter projects what's next for Michigan State after Mark Dantonio steps down as head coach of the Spartans.

During his tenure at Michigan State, Dantonio won three Big Ten titles and a Rose Bowl and took his team to the College Football Playoff once. He won more games than any other coach in program history.

His teams finished with identical 7-6 records in his last two seasons, as the offense struggled to produce points. Dantonio said that at times during his final seasons, he had trouble remaining fresh as a "wave" of issues came across his desk. He said he has no regrets about his career at Michigan State and wants his players to remember him as a mentor.

"I told them the truth, good or bad," Dantonio said. "I told them how it was, and I was real with them."

Beekman said Michigan State will conduct a search to replace Dantonio as quickly as possible. Assistant head coach Mike Tressel will lead the team in the interim. Beekman declined to say if Tressel is a candidate for the job in the long term.

Beekman, who took over as athletic director almost exactly two years ago, said he has been planning for this scenario for most of his time as Dantonio's boss. Beekman said he had discussions with Dantonio about the important qualities a coach must have during the past weeks and months. He said he would take Dantonio's thoughts into consideration during the search for a replacement.

Dantonio, who received a $4.3 million retention bonus last month, will remain at Michigan State in an ambassador role. Beekman said the school has not yet decided on the particulars of that job, but he expects that Dantonio will help in fundraising efforts and might teach a class on campus.

ESPN's Paula Lavigne contributed to this report.