East Lansing — It might not have been the name Michigan State fans were hoping for, but in promoting quarterbacks coach Brad Salem to offensive coordinator, Mark Dantonio turned to a coach who’s got a track record of not only running an offense but developing players.
The move was part of a reshuffling to Michigan State’s offensive staff as Dantonio revealed on Thursday that Salem was taking over for Dave Warner and Jim Bollman, who had been co-offensive coordinators since 2013.
“I think that he's got a very innovative, creative mind,” Dantonio said of Salem. “And I just feel like he's been a head coach and he's been in a position of leadership. I've always been impressed when he stood in front of a group and talked to the group.
“I think he brings confidence to a group and he brings energy to a group and his players have always performed pretty well, about as well this year as we want them to be, but I just think that he's done the job and warrants this opportunity.”
Before joining the Michigan State staff as the Spartans’ running backs coach in 2010, Salem was the head coach at his alma mater, Division II Augustana College where he compiled a 31-26 record, including back-to-back trips to the Mineral Water Bowl in 2008-09. He was the school’s offensive coordinator before that and also coached at South Dakota following two seasons as a graduate assistant at Michigan State under George Perles in 1994 and Nick Saban in 1995.
Since coming to Michigan State, Salem has developed his share of players, including running back Le’Veon Bell, whose 1,793 rushing yards in 2012 are the second-most in program history.
After moving over to coach the quarterbacks in 2013 when Warner was promoted to coordinator, Salem took over the development of Connor Cook, who started the next three seasons and finished his career with the most wins (36) in program history as well as the most passing yards (9,194).
That experience with quarterbacks is important to Dantonio.
“I think my feeling is the offensive coordinator should have quarterback expertise but should coach a different position because I want him to not be in a room with four guys,” Dantonio said. “I want to be in a room with more people and have more of an impact, broader impact, on the entire team. That's the way I've always done it here and that's what we've done.
“But we also want to have a guy whose expertise is quarterbacks, and I feel like we have one, two, three guys on our staff right now that their expertise has been quarterbacks and they have coached NFL-caliber quarterbacks and been highly successful.”
Salem becomes the fifth offensive coordinator under Dantonio at Michigan State, though Warner and Bollman served together. Don Treadwell was the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach from 2007-10 before taking the head coaching job at Miami (Ohio) and he was replaced by Dan Roushar from 2011-12. Roushar left to become an assistant with the New Orleans Saints and was replaced by Warner and Bollman.
Over the last three years, Dantonio said Salem has been approached by at least three Power Five schools to become their offensive coordinator, but Dantonio convinced Salem to stay with the Spartans.
“I'm convinced Brad Salem stayed the course here for three years in a row,” Dantonio said. “(I told him) don't leave and take that particular coordinator's position unless you go to a place where you can win or it's a big, national reputation-type place.
“These places, not that they weren't, but they were just getting started and he stayed.”
And now Salem is tasked with turning around and offense that averaged just 18.7 points a game, which ranked 13th in the Big Ten and 125th in the nation. The Spartans also were 116th in the nation in total offense at 342.1 yards a game and ran for only 124.8 yards a game, good for 114th in the country.
All were the lowest in Dantonio’s 12 seasons leading the Spartans.
“The expectations have risen here,” Dantonio said. “Most people, quite honestly, a lot of people celebrate 7-6. They will be saying, ‘We could have won those other ones.’ They are celebrating it.
“I understand the expectations here and I wrap my arms around it. I embrace it.”