“Football has given me everything I have," said Mel Tucker, after being introduced as Michigan State's next football coach The Detroit News
In Mel Tucker, Michigan State is getting a head football coach who shares traits with his predecessor, specifically their amazingly steady demeanor.
They're also getting one heck of a competitive son of a gun.
"We were practicing for a bowl game. It's like a day, two days before the game, and we're not in pads," Barry Alvarez, the longtime head football coach at Wisconsin, told The Detroit News on Wednesday. "So, we're doing two-minute drills with no pads, and on a quarterback scramble, Mel lights him up.
"I wasn't a very happy camper. Then I saw him years later and said, 'Now that you're on the other side of the ball, you're watching and coaching, what do you think you'd do if somebody did that?'"
Alvarez said Tucker didn't respond, other than to laugh.
And Alvarez laughed telling the story. That quarterback way back when, by the way: Darrell Bevell, now the Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator.
"I was in a black jersey and we were doing a goal-line drill and we were both being competitive, (I) went for the touchdown and he hit me full speed," Bevell said. "It was a rollout pass, I went running and there was nothing (open), so I went for the front pylon.
"He hit me right in the side of the head, I ended up facing the goal line the other way."
Tucker, a defensive back from Cleveland, was part of Alvarez's first recruiting class at Wisconsin in 1990. Tucker played three seasons for the Badgers, missing one with a broken leg.
Tucker saw Wisconsin go from 1-10 his first year, and Alvarez's, to 5-6 his second and 7-4-1 his third and last. The injury cost him the 1993 season, which ended with a Rose Bowl win over UCLA.
Several players from those teams continue to hold high-level positions in football. In addition to Tucker and Bevell, there's also Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard, NFL executive vice president of operations Troy Vincent and Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph.
"Coach Alvarez did a great job turning the program around and instilling in all of us a good belief system and (providing) a good example of how to lead," Bevell said. "I think some of that got ingrained in us and when our playing days were done, it was just kind of a natural thing to go into."
What stood out most about Tucker the player, according to Alvarez, was his temperament.
That holds true today.
"He was always a very serious guy, always a student of the game. He was a guy that was really into it, you know," Alvarez told The News, shortly after MSU named Tucker its next head coach.
Asked if that means Tucker will be considered "boring" in much the same way Dantonio was, Alvarez laughed. "Now, that's a good question."
Alvarez said he's kept tabs on Tucker, 48, throughout his post-playing years, talking to a number of his bosses or former bosses, like Nick Saban and Jim Tressel.
He said he paid particularly close attention this season, at Colorado, Tucker's first as a head college coach.
Tucker also previously was interim head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, a sign that he's widely considered a "leader" on his staffs, Alvarez said.
The other thing that stands out, and Alvarez isn't the only one to say this: Recruiting.
"Everyone I talk to, whether it's Jim Tressel or Saban, they talk about how good a recruiter he is," Alvarez said. "He really gets along with players, a great rapport with players."
Asked if recruiting is the No. 1 skill ADs are looking for — and Alvarez would know, as Wisconsin's AD who has hired three head football coaches for the Badgers — he said, "It really helps. It absolutely has gotta be a priority for them."
During his Wisconsin career, Tucker had 47 tackles and four pass deflections.
No play was more impressive than one in particular for Alvarez.
It was November 1991, and Wisconsin was playing at rival Minnesota. The game was a nailbiter, with the Badgers leading late, 19-16, but the Gophers were driving.
"It was the last play of the game and they threw a pass to the tight end in the end zone; they were inside the 10," said Alvarez, now 73. "And Mel made a tremendous collision separating the tight end from the football.
"That was our first Big Ten road victory at Minnesota.
"He's a great addition to our conference."
Tucker is taking some heat on social media and at Colorado, where athletic director Rick George called the mood Wednesday among players as "somber."
Tucker on Saturday tweeted out his commitment to Colorado, after he met with MSU AD Bill Beekman on Friday. That changed Tuesday, when MSU came back with a bigger offer.
Tucker took that offer to return to MSU, where he began his 24-year coaching career as a graduate assistant under Saban. But Tucker called leaving Colorado a difficult decision. Alvarez gets it.
"It's hard, because you recruit the kids, you build relationships, you work hard, especially in that first year, to get to know your fans, your donors, people within the university," Alvarez said. "You do all that and then you have a chance to go someplace, maybe a place where you wanted to be if it ever opened up.
"It's really hard to leave those relationships."