Bob Stoops was 56 years old when he walked away from Oklahoma. Urban Meyer was 54 when he left the game for a second time. Chris Petersen was 55.
On Tuesday, Mark Dantonio became the old man of this group, retiring from coaching a month before his 64th birthday.
There are a myriad of reasons why Dantonio would want to walk away from what he described multiple times Tuesday as a "dream job." The program had become stagnant in recent years, going 7-6 each of the past two seasons, and perhaps the intensely loyal Dantonio didn't have the stomach to make the necessary changes by firing some of his longtime assistants. Dantonio is in the crosshairs of a lawsuit by former recruiting staffer Curtis Blackwell, leading to conspiracy theories that Tuesday's move was just him getting out of town ahead of the posse -- though Dantonio emphatically denied that Tuesday night.
In the end, according to Dantonio, he's leaving because he's just tired of the grind and ready to do something else with his life.
"I just found myself never having an opportunity to come up for air," he said Tuesday. "That can wear on you."
Here was Chris Petersen at his I'm-not-retiring-but-I'm-not-coaching-anymore press conference at Washington in December: "It becomes a lot of frustration and anxiety and stress. And some of the excitement and positivity and optimism can be pushed away, and that's never a way to lead your life."
Incidentally, both men mentioned not having a chance to reflect on their respective Rose Bowl appearances -- Dantonio's Michigan State won the 2014 game, Petersen's Washington lost to Urban Meyer in his own farewell game in 2019 -- as examples of the constant grind that is running a major college football program in this day and age. The treadmill has but one button: accelerate.
The new recruiting calendar has only exacerbated an already insane lifestyle in the major college game, where players can sign in December and recruits can take official visits in the spring and summer of their junior years. Dantonio said Tuesday the three weekends in June -- a slow time of year in the civilian world -- is now the most important recruiting stretch of the year, at least at Michigan State.
“People ask me all the time ‘Hey coach, what do you like to do in your off time?’” Dantonio said. “I can’t even give them an answer. I look at myself and say what hobbies do I have? I’m a bad golfer so I’m trying to become a better golfer. It’s just the way the job is. I don’t complain about it, I’m just saying it’s the way the job is.”
No one's asking you to feel sorry for anyone here. Dantonio accepted a $4.3 million retention bonus last month, in addition to the $4.4 million salary he earned in 2019 alone. The money, the fame, the championships -- Dantonio, Petersen, Meyer and Stoops have piles of all of it.
And then they decided they'd had enough, of all of it.
The money these guys made gives them the opportunity to pull the ripcord to get out and lead a normal life. But the money in the game is the entire reason they feel they need to pull the ripcord in the first place.
Consider that those four stepped away in their 50s and early 60s in a time where the President of the United States is 73 years old, and his chief challengers for the position are 78, 77 and 70.
Apparently, it's less of a grind to run the country than a Power 5 football program.
With Dantonio out of the game, there are now more Power 5 head coaches age 40 or younger (nine) than age 60 or older (eight). Gary Patterson will join the 60-plus club next week, but three members -- Mack Brown, Herm Edwards and Les Miles -- are back in the game after taking multi-year hiatuses from coaching. Stoops is now back in coaching in the XFL.
These guys aren't getting out because they don't like the job anymore. They just feel, to borrow a Dantonio phrase, like they need to come up for air.
To be clear, this isn't the only way it has to be done.
Something resembling a not-totally-out-of-whack work/life balance can be done at the major college football level, but it's rare. About as rare as a future Hall of Famer coaching past his 60th birthday.