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Mark Dantonio steps down as Michigan State coach amid allegations of recruiting violations

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio announced he would step down Tuesday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio stepped down Tuesday after 13 seasons with the Spartans.

Dantonio led Michigan State to its lone College Football Playoff appearance, its first Rose Bowl victory in a generation and three Big Ten championships. He leaves as the school’s winningest coach.

“This is a decision that’s been weighing on me," Dantonio, 63, said at a news conference Tuesday. "I don’t think it’s any big secret; it’s been weighing on me for a while.”

The later years of his tenure included alleged recruiting violations and sexual assault accusations involving players. Dantonio’s announcement came hours after new details about those recruiting allegations became public.

Former staffer Curtis Blackwell has sued Dantonio, former athletic director Mark Hollis and former university president Lou Anna Simon. Blackwell argued that he was fired to cover up for three players who allegedly sexually assaulted a woman at a 2017 party and Dantonio’s NCAA recruiting violations.

Blackwell’s legal team wrote in a court filing that Dantonio asked Blackwell to secure employment for the parents of two Michigan State players at the company of a program donor, according to the Detroit News. Lawyers for Dantonio called the allegations “not only false, but totally gratuitous.”

At the news conference Tuesday, Dantonio said that the lawsuit had “no relevance whatsoever” to his decision to step down.

Michigan State named defensive coordinator Mike Tressel, a longtime Dantonio lieutenant and the nephew of Dantonio mentor Jim Tressel, as the program’s interim leader.

In a statement, Dantonio wrote that he expected to stay with Michigan State and its athletic department “in a role involving special projects, especially transitioning our players, both current and incoming, to their next challenges.”

Dantonio arrived at Michigan State after a three-year run at Cincinnati. Before that, he spent 19 years as defensive backs coach or defensive coordinator at Akron, Youngstown State, Kansas and Ohio State. He also was with the Spartans from 1995 to 2000 under Nick Saban and Bobby Williams.

Dantonio took the Spartans to bowl games each of his first nine seasons as Michigan State’s head coach, but it took him five years to win one. In 2011, his Spartans posted an 11-3 record and were the Big Ten runners-up. They defeated Georgia in the Outback Bowl.

Michigan State went on to win bowl games each of the next three years, setting the school record for consecutive bowl wins, a streak snapped at the 2015 Cotton Bowl with a loss to Saban and Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal. Since then, Dantonio’s teams have gone 27-24. His career mark at Michigan State is 114-57.

“The things that come across your desk, the overwhelming responsibility for people day in and day out, just feels sometimes like an avalanche, to be quite honest, or a big wave,” he said at the news conference. “You’re always surfing that wave. I just felt like at points and times throughout the season, you’re just like: ‘What else? What else? What else is there?’ ”

The timing of Dantonio’s resignation leaves Michigan State in an difficult position. He left his post just weeks after the early signing period and one day before national signing day.

It may be difficult for Michigan State to find a suitably high-profile successor. Most college football coaching vacancies are filled around Christmastime as teams finish their seasons in bowl games.

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