“Football has given me everything I have," said Mel Tucker, after being introduced as Michigan State's next football coach The Detroit News
Per protocol, Michigan State had a search firm officially helping find its next football coach.
It also had an unofficial search firm — a man named Nick Saban.
Saban, who was Michigan State's coach before he went on to a legendary career that features six national championships and counting, was an adviser during his old school's search to replace Mark Dantonio, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
After Dantonio stepped down a week ago after 13 seasons, Saban quickly called a longtime Michigan State acquaintance. That eventually led to the coordination of a lengthy phone conversation between Saban and athletic director Bill Beekman and deputy athletic director Alan Haller.
"'I'm very interested in Michigan State having the right person,'" Saban said in the phone call, according to the source. "And they weren't bashful about asking Nick."
Beekman confirmed Wednesday night he spoke to Saban.
Saban, 68, had two stints at Michigan State, from 1983-87 as defensive coordinator and defensive-backs coach, and 1995-99 as head coach.
After he left MSU, he went on to jobs at LSU, and the Miami Dolphins and, since 2007, Alabama.
He was a strong endorser of Mel Tucker, who will be introduced as MSU's 25th head coach Wednesday afternoon. Tucker worked with Saban on staffs at Michigan State, LSU and Alabama.
Saban long has praised Tucker's recruiting chops, and issued a statement on the hire Wednesday.
"Mel has made a name for himself as one of the best and brightest coaches in our profession," Saban said of Tucker, who was a head coach at Colorado for one season before taking the MSU job. Tucker also was an interim head coach in the NFL, for the Jacksonville Jaguars, amid a slew of coaching jobs since he played at Wisconsin in the mid-1990s. "I believe he will do a tremendous job as head coach of the Spartans. MSU is getting a guy with infinite class and a great personality, who is smart, works hard, and does it with an incredible amount of enthusiasm and positive energy.
"Mel is a tireless recruiter who knows the game of college football and understands what it will take to be successful in East Lansing."
In his conversations with MSU officials, Saban is said to have strongly stressed Tucker's recruiting efforts, as well as his ties to the South, which, of course, is a football recruiting hotbed. Tucker was the defensive coordinator at Georgia for three seasons. Saban also stressed to MSU that a mix of college and NFL coaching experiences is a plus, rather than an imbalance toward one over the other.
Tucker was one of three candidates interviewed by Michigan State, the others being 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell.
Tucker was offered the job Tuesday morning, hours after Beekman met informally with the Board of Trustees. Terms haven't yet been disclosed.
Officially, search-firm executive Glenn Sugiyama was hired to lead the quest for a new coach, but wasn't heavily involved in identifying candidates, according to the source. Schools regularly hire search firms to make contact with employers, ahead of interviews.