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Mark Dantonio on Overcoming Expectations by Building a Winning Culture


In this episode we interview coach Mark Dantonio. Coach Dantonio is the former head coach of the Michigan State University football team. He was the coach for 13 seasons and was the winningest coach in Michigan State history with 114 wins.  He had an impressive career as head coach where he led his team to three Big Ten Championships, Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl victories, and an appearance in the 2015 College Football Playoff.

In addition to his success on the field, he was also a leader off of it. He helped organize events to raise funds for Lansing Promise, Sparrow Hospitals Children’s Center and led trips for his team to visit schools in the surrounding areas of Michigan. He was given the Gene Stallings Award, which is given to head coaches who are humanitarians and promote healthy, vibrant communities around them. We hope you enjoy this episode where we talk about building a winning culture, creating buy-in and overcoming obstacles. 

Questions we asked: 

  • What was it like being a part of “the ball is free” MSU vs. Michigan game? 
  • What makes a good coach? 
  • What were your goals when starting as a head coach in 2007? 
  • How do you maintain your established culture with a changing player base? 
  • How were you able to create such buy-in with the fanbase and those outside the program? 
  • How did you choose who to empower around you? And how did you make everyone within the team feel valued? 
  • What made your team captains good leaders? 
  • When you were in a tough stretch, what helped you keep your team on track? 
  • How did you stay balanced when coaching 80-90 hours a week? 
  • What made you a coach who outperformed expectations? 
  • What advice would you give to yourself if you could look back to 2007? 

Quotes & Ideas: 

  • “When everything starts to fall down around you, which it’s going to…. You have to be the guy that steadies the ship.” 
  • “Regardless of the plan you have, it will not survive contact.” 
  • His model for team building: 
  1. Build relationships 
  2. Educate yourself 
  3. Define a win
  4. Choose to be a light 
  5. Go to work 
  • “Usually when there’s a problem, it’s because of a lack of communication.” 
  • “People understand the product, but they don’t understand the process.” 
  • “You earn the jersey that you wear.” 
  • “Water your crops.” 
  • “Any time you put all your eggs in one basket and if you don’t win, you fail, you’re in for a tough landing.” 
  • “Sometimes it is better to be fresh than ready.”  
  • “If we can all go in one direction, we can be extremely successful.” 
  • “Do your job and usually you’ll get a bigger role.”
  • “I want to be defined not so much by the wins that we had, but who I was.” 

Book Suggestions: 

  • Chase the Lion by Mark Patterson 
  • Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life by James Kerr 

If you enjoy what we’re doing at Leading the Rounds, subscribe and give us a positive rating anywhere you listen to podcasts. You can also connect with us on social media.

Image credit: “Football vs. Iowa” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by mattradickal


Leading the Rounds: The Medical Leadership Podcast

As physicians, we are immediately thrust into a leadership position from the moment we finish medical school. Despite this, most medical students will obtain little formal leadership training. We seek to improve our leadership abilities as burgeoning physicians. We developed this podcast to challenge ourselves to explore ideas in leadership development and how they apply to medical training. We hope to educate and motivate others to further develop themselves as leaders in health care.


Caleb Sokolowski (19 Posts)

Writer-in-Training and Columnist

Wayne State University School of Medicine


Caleb Sokolowski is a second-year medical student at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan. In 2018, he graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of science in Human Biology. Caleb is interested in medical ethics, policy, and education. In his free time, Caleb participates in number of activities including sports, CrossFit, paddle boarding and cycling.

Leading the Rounds: The Medical Leadership Podcast

As physicians, we are immediately thrust into a leadership position from the moment we finish medical school. Despite this, most medical students will obtain little formal leadership training. We seek to improve our leadership abilities as burgeoning physicians. We developed this podcast to challenge ourselves to explore ideas in leadership development and how they apply to medical training. We hope to educate and motivate others to further develop themselves as leaders in healthcare.