'Welcome home': Mel Tucker unanimously approved as MSU's next coach; only candidate offered the job
The first man Michigan State interviewed to replace Mark Dantonio ended up taking the job.
The process just took a few twists and turns along the way.
Mel Tucker has become Michigan State’s 25th head coach, via a unanimous vote by the MSU Board of Trustees on Wednesday night. The vote was 7-0; one trustee was absent. Tucker will speak at an introductory press conference scheduled for 6:30, followed by a VIP reception.
"Welcome home," said Dianne Byrum, president of the MSU Board of Trustees.
Tucker landed at Lansing's airport shortly before 4, and was greeted by Sparty on the tarmac. He was joined at the board meeting by his wife and two sons.
“Mel Tucker has a strong reputation as an intense and dynamic coach and we’re excited to have him bring that energy to MSU,” Michigan State president Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said in a statement. “Leading our football program on the field and in their development as student athletes is no small task and we are confident he is the right person for the job.
"We look forward to having Coach Tucker join our Spartan family.”
Added athletic director Bill Beekman, who headed the search: “Mel brings a championship pedigree, NFL experience, connections to our region, success on the recruiting trail and head coaching experience to our program. Beyond his impressive list of credentials is an even more impactful leader of men with an energetic personality that will pay dividends on the recruiting trail. Perhaps more importantly, he’ll connect with our student-athletes to help them develop beyond just their skills on the football field.
"His attention to detail will leave no stone unturned in his drive for championships."
Tucker was one of three candidates interviewed by MSU, and actually the first. He met with Beekman in Colorado on Friday, before Beekman then flew to San Jose, Calif., to talk to 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, a Dearborn native who didn't consider the job. Beekman then flew to Cincinnati on Saturday night to interview Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, the perceived front-runner, on Sunday morning.
Only Tucker was offered a contract, according to a source close to the situation who spoke to The Detroit News. That's not to say Tucker was definitively the first choice. When Beekman met with the Board of Trustees on Monday night, Fickell already had decided to stay put.
Tucker was offered the contract Monday night, and negotations continued into Tuesday, the same day he was meeting with Colorado donors in Denver on Tuesday night.
"It's been a very busy eight days," Beekman said at the Board of Trustees meeting.
News that Tucker, 48, reached an agreement began to surface late Tuesday night and early Wednesday. Colorado athletic director Rick George said in a statement Wednesday that Tucker is resigning from his position with the Buffaloes, "effective immediately."
After Tucker first met with Beekman, he posted a message on Twitter saying he was committed to building the Colorado program.
On Tuesday morning, Tucker went on several Colorado radio stations reiterating his desire to remain with the Buffaloes. He told KOA radio, “It's always flattering when someone shows strong interest in you. I think that shows that we must be doing something right here.”
"We are disappointed to see Coach Tucker leave," George said. "We are excited about the upward trajectory of our football program and we'll get to work immediately hiring the next head coach to build on our momentum and lead our young men. We're confident this program is on the verge of competing at the highest level and has the resources and support in place to do so for a long time."
Contract terms were not immediately released, but were expected Wednesday night. Reports suggested Tucker’s salary of $2.7 million would at least be doubled and exceed Dantonio's $4.4-million salary, and he'd have a big money pool for assistant coaches. The source said assistant pay was a huge priority for Tucker. Dantonio's compensation was slightly below average in the Big Ten.
Tucker signed a five-year deal worth $14.8 million with Colorado in December 2018. Tucker's contract with Colorado included a $3 million buyout if he terminated the contract in 2020. MSU will pay the buyout.
Stanley cited several factors in hiring Tucker, mentioning "integrity" several times.
"That really matters to us at Michigan State University," he said ahead of the board's vote.
Tucker, MSU's second black head football coach after Bobby Williams (1999-2002) and one of just 13, has just one season of experience as a college head coach, going 5-7 last season at Colorado.
The native of Cleveland began his career as a graduate assistant at Michigan State under Nick Saban in 1997-98 when Dantonio was also on the staff.
“It is a blessing and honor to return to Michigan State University where I began my coaching career with Nick Saban,” Tucker said. “Returning home to Michigan State is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and my family but it created the toughest decision of my life — to leave Colorado.
“Today, I am excited to get to work for the Spartans. Together, we will be relentless to create an integrity-filled and winning culture for our staff, coaches and student-athletes in everything we do — on and off the field.”
Tucker had three stints at three different schools with Saban, who advised Michigan State on this search, The News reported. Beekman confirmed he talked to several outside sources, Saban among them.
Tucker was also on the staff at Ohio State from 2001-03 as the defensive backs coach for Dantonio, who was the defensive coordinator, while the head coach was Jim Tressel. He spent one season as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator when Dantonio left for the top job at Cincinnati, and then made three different stops in the NFL with Cleveland, Jacksonville and Chicago. He briefly was the Jaguars' interim coach.
"I first came in contact with Mel when he was the graduate assistant here at Michigan State for Coach Saban," Dantonio said in a statement. "He did an outstanding job with the defensive backs. When I went to Ohio State to work for Coach Tressel, he asked me who should coach the secondary, and I immediately thought of Mel. He was a part of the national championship staff and has gone on to coach at the highest levels of football.
"Mel is charismatic, brings good energy, and is a very forward thinker. He's also an outstanding recruiter who connects with his players, but also holds them accountable. He's from the Midwest and has a Spartan background with knowledge of the Big Ten.
"I'm extremely excited for Mel and his family. I'm looking to support him in any way possible."
Tucker returned to the college game in 2015 and served as associate head coach and defensive backs assistant at Alabama in 2015 under Saban before becoming Georgia’s defensive coordinator from 2016-18 and then landing the head coaching job at Colorado.
Tucker won national championships at Ohio State and Alabama.
George, in a press conference in Boulder on Wednesday afternoon, said he spoke to Tucker on Saturday about where he stood. Both George and Tucker put out statements about Tucker staying.
"And I was comfortable with that," said George, who added he gave formal permission to MSU to talk to Tucker. "And what transpired in the last 24 hours, it's disappointing.
"But, look, Coach is gonna do what's best for he and his family and I support that.
"He made a decision I don't personally like, but I respect."
George said he started getting word Tuesday that Tucker and MSU still were talking again. Tucker said there were discussions about a counteroffer, but didn't get into details. George said he hadn't yet heard about any other Colorado coaches leaving for MSU. George said the Colorado players' reaction was "somber."
Meanwhile, Michigan State has always had a strong recruiting presence on Ohio and it’s expected to remain that way with Tucker in charge, especially with multiple reports saying Tucker could be looking to hire Kentucky associate head coach Vince Marrow, a big-time recruiter.
“That’s just a way of life in Ohio,” Tucker told Cleveland.com in November. "In Ohio, football is almost like a religion. There’s a reverence for the game of football. And coaches are held in high esteem, whether they’re Pop Warner, Police Athletic League coaches, junior high, high school, or Mount Union or Youngstown State, it doesn’t matter. The tradition is so strong, I think it means something to be a coach in the state of Ohio.
“It’s an honorable profession. And there’s almost a responsibility to give back. That’s what drew me to coaching.”