For once, it’s hard to hear Dan Dakich. ESPN’s brash, no-holds-barred college basketball analyst — and noted Twitter flame-thrower — is driving from Atlanta to Auburn, Ala., where he was to call an Auburn-Kentucky game Wednesday night, and his cell-phone is breaking in and out.
But what you can make out from the other end of the line, in typical Dakich fashion, is wildly entertaining.
Dakich has no shortage of critics, mostly among fans — and in large part, among Michigan State fans, who famously serenaded him with “We Hate Dakich” chants at Breslin Center last February, and have been on his case again this February, for his off-the-cuff remark that Miles Bridges, yes that Miles Bridges, “has no game.”
Dakich isn’t one to apologize for something he’s said, verbally or electronically, and he offers no significant regrets here. But he lends some context to his back-and-forth with Sparty Nation, suggesting he’s often misunderstood. Not that he cares, of course.
In a chat with The Detroit News, Dakich, 55, touches on his so-called feud with Michigan State, what he really meant about Bridges, and how Twitter has caused him so much grief — even if he can’t stay away from pounding out hot takes, 140 (but rarely 280) characters at a time.
Here are the highlights of our conversation. Some of the questions were edited for clarity and context:
Question: Let’s get right to it. Do you hate Michigan State?
Answer: Oh, that’s stupid. If you want to know the truth, when you do a game, you care — I do anyway — I hope it’s a good game. Every fan base, the Indiana (where he went to school, and later was interim head coach) fan bases says I hate them, the Purdue fan base says I hate them, and now Michigan, because my kid (Andrew, former Michigan Wolverine) goes to Ohio State. I don’t care. Michigan State, that is nonsense. I understand why I’m hired. I’m hired because I’ve studied basketball my whole life. I have an insight that’s going to be honest, and I’m not afraid to share that. If that’s hating, then so be it. ... Honestly, I do the game, have a great time, I go home, have a great time, I get up and go to a game. I don’t give a rat’s (bleep) about who wins and who loses. I want to see the Big Ten do well. I want to see us have great games. (On Tuesday), we were hoping Michigan State would be the No. 1 team in the country (it was No. 2), because, hell, everybody wants to do the No. 1 team.
Q. You had the so-called controversy last year, when you got into it with some Michigan State fans. That led to the “We Hate Dakich!” chants, and later a public tongue-lashing from coach Tom Izzo. What was that whole experience like?
A. Truthfully, I didn’t know what it was. Then, when I did, I felt really sorry for them (the fans). I did, like, man, if my son was in the crowd yelling “We Hate ...” at anybody, I would’ve kicked him. I look at some of these kids, and there were some adults, they had real hate in their eyes, man. I felt sorry for them. I hate to say this, but I felt sorry for the school. This is what you want? I get, ‘Hey, Dakich, you suck, get off the court,’ all right, whatever. But when a whole crowd starts chanting, to be honest, I was fascinated. Like, wow, I feel bad for this place. It was like, (bleep). Because I said on Twitter to one kid, I think I said, ‘You couldn’t get into Michigan’? I’ll be honest, I felt bad for them.
Q. Izzo was upset at the fans during that game, but afterward was shown your tweets. That’s when Izzo — an outspoken critic of social media — went off on you in his postgame presser. How long did it it take for you two to patch things up?
A. Oh, I didn’t talk to him for a while. Then I started getting threats — not death threats — but threats from people on Twitter and stuff, so I sent him a couple and I said, ‘Hey, this is what happens when you enrage a fan base.’ I never got these before. ... The world is different now. It wasn’t like they were gonna come kill me ... but I kind of take things serious when they when they say they’re going to come to my house. So I just sent Tom some texts. We’ve texted over the last six months.
Q. Then came a tweet last month, when you, surprisingly, said Bridges, the star who returned to Michigan State for his sophomore season, “has no game.” You’ve since mentioned that tweet several times during Michigan State broadcasts, and Spartan fans haven’t let you forget it. What happened there?
A. The thing with Miles Bridges, I meant he doesn’t have a complete game, and that’s OK, neither does anyone else. I could’ve said it differently, but, hey, it was a nice sunny day, I’m just walking around my neighborhood getting my five miles in. I swear to God, I was just listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, having a great day, just walking, and I see (Jeff) Goodman’s tweet (about Bridges), and I said, “Has no game.” The next thing you know, awww, man. I should probably couch what I saw with some sort of context.
Q. Twitter allows 280 characters now. You should be able to provide plenty of context at @dandakich.
A. I don’t think that’s a great thing for me. (Laughs.)
Q. You’ve backed off the Bridges take a bit on recent Michigan State broadcasts, even opening Tuesday’s telecast with, “Miles Bridges has game, people!” What was Bridges’ reaction to all this?
A. He was really cool. He came over to me at Indiana, and says, “How ya doing?” And I say, “You got any game tonight? ... He’s a great shooter, a fantastic defensive rebounder, an excellent defender, but my point was, inside-out, crossover dribble, get to the rim (rather than just shooting 3-pointers). ... I don’t want to hurt the kid. I really like the kid. I really like Tom’s team and I really like Tom. And you know what, lately, he has gone to the rim more. I’m going to take full credit for that. The hell with it! (Bridges has three 20-plus-point games since the tweet, including one in the victory over then-No. 3 Purdue.)
Q. Be honest. You often post things on Twitter just to start crap.
A. Uhhh, yeah, probably a lot. You know what I have learned, Tony, I have learned this — and this is stupid — but people take what I say on Twitter really seriously. I swear. It’s killing me!
Q. Speaking of Twitter, tell me about this bet you’ve got going on with colleagues at WFNI 1070 in Indianapolis (where Dakich hosts a daily radio show).
A. At the end of January (the Bridges tweet was Jan. 28), my producer Kyle said, “Man, you can’t stay off Twitter.” “I can too, I can stay off for a month!” Well, nearby, the sales people heard it and everybody jumps up, and now I’ve got these bets. I can only tweet promotional stuff, I cannot respond to anybody, I cannot give a hot take. Even my bosses at ESPN laughed, “There is no way you can do it.” ... Well, now, I’ve got all these bets, seven different dinners and I’ve got an underwear bet with my producer. If I lose, I’ve gotta go to Duluth Trading (Company) and buy underwear and say, “These are for my partner, Kyle.” And if he loses, he has to do the same. ... And these dinners, these are expensive dinners, too. We’re talking St. Elmo’s. I’ve got seven of those bets, and the underwear bet. People started hearing about it and were like, “Oh, (bleep), I’ll take some of that action.” I could be paying out the (bleep).”
Q. So the bet runs through March 1. So far, so good?
A. So far, so good.
Q. Many might not know it by Michigan State fans’ reaction to you, but you’ve defended the Spartans plenty, too, even calling them a favorite to win the national championship this year. On Tuesday, you even got into it with your own colleague, bracketologist Joe Lunardi, about him dropping Michigan State to a 3 seed. The discussion seemed awkward and tense from a viewer’s perspective, with you even correcting him twice (Lunardi incorrectly the Big Ten had 15 teams, and said Nebraska doesn’t have a top-50 RPI win). How awkward was that for you?
A. It wasn’t, really. That’s kind of why Joe’s there. He’s there for us to argue with. Joe and I have a good relationship. He’s more of an adult. He can take the high road. I get protective. I get protective of the Big Ten, because I’ve been in the league for 100 years. I know the coaches, I know the assistant coaches. ... Hell, my son is at Ohio State. I’m a bit protective. So when I get protective, I get a bit snarky. Joe was the adult in the room. Our bosses were like, “That’s why Joe’s a Philly guy. He can handle it.”
Q. Back to Michigan State. You’ve called games for ESPN since 2010, including many Spartans games. How would you describe your relationship with the fan base?
A. It’s really always been really good in person, even last night. I guess the “We Hate Dakich” thing notwithstanding, it’s always been really good. I always got along with Jud (Heathcote, late Michigan State coach), and Tom, and like I say, in person, there were a ton of Michigan State people there last night and they were awesome. The only negative interaction I really ever had was last year, with “We Hate Dakich.”