ATHENS, Ga. — The only problem was that Todd Grantham was a defensive line coach and Michigan State had an opening for a linebackers coach.
“We got done with the interview and I remember going into Nick (Saban’s) office and said ‘We’ve got to get this guy,’ ” said Dean Pees, Michigan State defensive coordinator from 1995-97 and now linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens. “We moved the staff around a little bit actually to hire him.”
Grantham became defensive line coach and Greg Colby shifted to linebackers coach.
The secondary coach then was Mark Dantonio, now head coach at Michigan State.
Dantonio’s Spartans go up against Georgia, where Grantham is completing his second season as defensive coordinator, on Jan. 2 in the Outback Bowl.
Michigan State is ranked fifth in the nation in total defense. Georgia is third.
“I know how thorough he is as a coach, I know what he believes in philosophically and does an outstanding job,” Dantonio said.
Grantham grew up in Pulaski, Va., was an offensive lineman at Virginia Tech, where he coached on defense for six seasons before joining Saban at Michigan State.
The Spartans went 6-6, 7-5 and 6-6 during Grantham’s three seasons in East Lansing, which came after the program was hit with NCAA probation and a reduction in scholarships for violations under previous coach George Perles.
The Spartans, with Grantham and Dantonio on staff, ranked 19th in the nation in total defense in 1996 and 13th in 1997.
Grantham said Saban, who had been defensive coordinator with the Browns, already was running an NFL-type system, so the transition from Virginia Tech to Michigan State was very difficult.
Grantham also went on to coach in the NFL with Houston, Cleveland and Dallas before returning to the college game in 2010.
His years at Michigan State heavily influenced the type of coach Grantham became.
“Nick Saban’s probably been as a big an influence on my career as anybody,” Grantham said. “Just the three years I was able to spend with him and his coaching and the way he ran his program and the way we did things that. …The volume of stuff we did, the way we called things and that whole process. I owe a lot to him for my success.”