EAST LANSING, Michigan — It's a moment Michigan State figured was coming at some point — the first season for the Spartans after losing defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
After building one of the nation's most consistently stingy defenses, Narduzzi finally left for a head coaching job when he was hired by Pittsburgh in December. Michigan State took the news largely in stride, promoting secondary coach Harlon Barnett and linebackers/special teams coach Mike Tressel to become co-defensive coordinators.
Those two will be on the spot to some degree, but their familiarity with the program and the players should be an asset.
"I don't think we feel like we need to prove anything. I think both Harlon and I feel that we've been a big part of this the whole time," said Tressel, the nephew of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. "We always want to take another step forward."
Michigan State held its annual media day Monday, and the first question directed to coach Mark Dantonio was about Barnett and Tressel, both of whom joined the Spartans along with Dantonio before the 2007 season. Continuity shouldn't be too much of a problem, but the logistics of preparation could require an adjustment period.
"There's no egos involved," Dantonio said. "That's why I made this decision probably two years ago. I don't think either of those two guys have an ego. I think they get along very, very well with each other.
"It's a give-and-take type of thing. Both of them have been in leadership positions before. Mike worked a lot with the special teams. He was in front of our football team a lot, and Harlon has been in front of our football team an awful lot, too."
Dantonio's explanation underscores the fact that Narduzzi's departure didn't really catch anybody off guard. He was considered a candidate to become a head coach long before he actually took another job.
Michigan State comes into this season with national championship aspirations again. The Spartans won the Cotton Bowl last season after winning the Rose Bowl the previous year, and they return quarterback Connor Cook and defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun, two players who could have conceivably decided to jump to the NFL.
So this isn't a situation that calls for much of an overhaul, and Barnett said that's reassuring to the players.
"We're running our defense. It's not like we came here to change to something totally different. If it's not broke, don't fix it," he said. "That's what they're happy about, more than actually the voice that's presenting it. They have confidence in us. We feel that."
Barnett remains in his role as defensive backs coach in addition to his new responsibilities. Tressel is still working with linebackers too, but Mark Snyder was hired to coach linebackers and special teams, freeing Tressel up for other duties.
"On the practice field, I'm probably running around a little bit more," Tressel said. "During the individual periods and things like that, I'm over with the D-line one minute, then I'm over with the linebackers the next. Then I'm with the safeties or something like that."
One challenge for the players will be moving on without Narduzzi's fiery personality. He was known for his ability to rally his players if a game wasn't going well, and it remains to be seen whether anyone else on the staff will assume a bigger motivational role now.
"I believe Coach Narduzzi as a person is someone that we'll miss," Calhoun said. "Him as a football coach, I think that we have guys who are stepping in and doing a great job of motivating us and trying to lead us in the right direction."