Mark Dantonio announced his surprising decision on Tuesday to step down as the head football coach at Michigan State, and some have wondered why he waited until February to do it. He may have had more than four million reasons.
Dantonio and Michigan State agreed to a reworked contract back in February of 2016, and the revamped six-year deal increased his annual salary roughly $600,000 to $4.3 million per year. It also included the opportunity to earn what Chris Solari of the Detroit Free Press described at the time as “one of the largest one-time lump-sum bonuses in college football.” That bonus was worth $4.3 million if Dantonio remained the head coach of the Spartans through Jan. 15, 2020. Michigan State called it a payment “in recognition of his long-service to the University.”
Unless there is some language in the contract that we don’t know about, the only thing that would have prevented Dantonio from being able to collect the $4.3 million bonus would have been if he were fired or resigned prior to Jan. 15, 2020. If he were fired without cause, he would have been entitled to a $7 million buyout.
Michigan State struggled the past two seasons, and there were questions a few months ago about Dantonio potentially being fired. He and Tom Izzo were also investigated by the NCAA after the Larry Nassar scandal, though both coaches were cleared. Athletic director Bill Beekman quickly dismissed that talk. You have to wonder if the $4.3 million bonus and/or $7 million buyout were factors. Even if not, you can’t blame people for assuming Dantonio intentionally waited until after the bonus was due to announce he is stepping down.
All that said, it should be noted that Dantonio said in his statement Tuesday that he plans to remain with Michigan State in a role “involving special projects, especially transitioning our players, both current and incoming, to their next challenges.” Perhaps the Spartans consider that a $4.3 million position.