Dan Enos, Mark Dantonio stay friends in midst of rivalry
Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio texted Central Michigan coach Dan Enos the week his Spartans would travel to Mount Pleasant to take on the Chippewas.
“You know, this is hard. It’s a game against friends,” is what Enos said Dantonio texted.
Enos worked as an assistant coach under Dantonio from 2004-2009 before taking the head coaching job at Central Michigan. The two began working together at Cincinnati when Dantonio took his first head coach position and hired Enos as his quarterbacks coach.
“You have to put all that aside and move forward,” Enos said about playing against his friend Saturday. “It’s hard to coach against people you have that much respect and admiration for and again friends off the field – but it’s what makes it a little bit more exciting, too.”
Last season, the two coaches faced off for the first time. MSU beat CMU 45-7 in East Lansing, but the lopsided game did not affect the two coaches’ close relationship.
“I don’t think the score is indicative of how they played us in this football game,” Dantonio said after last season’s game. “Dan’s a good friend of mine, and I wish him the best. His success will be in front of him.”
Enos said it was weird competing against the place he played and coached at.
“It was very uncomfortable,” Enos said during his post-game press conference last season. “I didn’t know how I was going to feel until I got here. Coach Dantonio means a lot to me and my family; he is a good man.”
After practice Wednesday, Enos said this Saturday he does not think it will be weird going up against MSU – where he played and coached for 12 years – but he did warn his players about getting caught up in the atmosphere. He wants his players to remain focused on the task, despite an expected full crowd.
Knowing the enemy
Not only has Enos spent six years under Dantonio at MSU, but CMU passing coordinator and quarterbacks coach Morris Watts also had three different coaching stints with the Spartans.
“I have great respect for the program, having been there and knowing what the program stands for,” Watts said. “They’re an outstanding football team with a lot of good players. Mostly, it’s just another game on the schedule that you’re going to go out and try and win.”
Watts coached Enos back when he was a quarterback for the Spartans from 1987-1990.
The MSU offensive coordinator from 1986-90, 1992-94 and 1999-02 does not believe his and Enos’ time at MSU gives the Chippewas a real advantage.
“There’s some (advantage in knowing your opponent), but you know what, they’re going to do things that, if they feel like there is anything that we are really on top of, then they’re going to tweak it a little bit,” Watts said. “But basically, football gets down to execution on Saturday.”
One thing both Enos and Dantonio talked about coming into this game was how well Enos knows the older MSU players, after helping recruit the upperclassmen.
“(Enos has been in) our program and played here, so he knows the core of our players,” Dantonio said. “He also knows what Michigan State is about.”
Even if Watts said knowing MSU won’t help them Saturday, Enos is positive knowing Dantonio helped him as a coach.
“I learned a ton about things that you do to help build a program,” Enos said. “It comes from your daily agenda. It’s how you go to work every day. It’s your vision, your plan – you have to execute your plan.”
More important than on the field, Enos said Dantonio helped him set his priorities.
“This game can consume you. This business can consume you and your family if you let it, but (Dantonio) and Becky – and their children – have kept their priorities in order and understood that this is just a game,” he said. “We coach because we love our players and we want to have an impact on them, and we want to win, but it’s much deeper than that.
“It’s about your young men you’re helping to develop into men, helping them get degrees, helping them to learn young lessons. And he’s always put his family number one, and as an assistant coach, he allowed me to put my family number one.”
“It’s very difficult,” Enos said when asked about going up against his friend.
Dantonio has experience coaching against a friend and mentor when he first began at Cincinnati. His former head coach, Jim Tressel of Ohio State, and him had won a National Championship at OSU in 2002 – Dantonio serving as Tressel’s defensive coordinator.
In Dantonio’s first game as a head coach – which was also Enos’ first game with Dantonio – he faced Tressel at Ohio State.
“I’m sure (Dantonio) was feeling a lot of emotions; you could tell the way he was coaching,” Enos said. “He had a lot of respect for (Tressel), but he also wanted to win, and that’s how I feel, too.”
With a record attendance expected Saturday, two men – two friends – will stand on opposite sidelines trying to out-do the other.
“I love those guys over there, and it’s going to be a fun day and fun environment,” Enos said.
“It’s going to be a historic event up there,” his friend reiterated about the game 60 miles south on U.S. 127.
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