Michigan State coach Mel Tucker moves forward with program under 'new normal'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — This isn’t how Mel Tucker envisioned his first spring going as Michigan State’s head coach.

Instead of getting out on the field and blowing a whistle, Tucker spends his time in front of a computer screen, doing his best to keep in contact with his coaching staff and players while working the phones to stay in touch with all of the prospects the Spartans are recruiting.

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker

The same scenario is being played out around the nation as coaches and teams deal with what Tucker called “the new normal,” trying to move forward even as sports have been shut down because of the ongoing spread of the coronavirus.

“Honestly, I have to admit it is heartbreaking for our student-athletes and for our coaches not to be here on campus,” Tucker said Thursday on the Spartan Sports Network Morning Show. “But if I know anything about the Spartan nation and our coaches and our players and everyone involved, we have tremendous grit and resolve. I know when the time is safe, and it's right, we'll get back to hard work here on campus. But right now we're all working from home.”

And that makes communication key, even when circumstances make it difficult.

Tucker, who took over for Mark Dantonio in early February and expected to be several days into spring practice at this point, is doing his best to remain connected.

“It’s over-communicating for our coaches and our staff,” Tucker said. “We’re using the ‘Zoom’ application for everything from defensive staff meetings, full staff meetings, offensive meetings, special teams meetings. We’re relentlessly recruiting electronically with text, emails, receiving calls, making sure that our prospects understand that they’re a priority for us and that we care about their health and well-being.

“For our players, we're implementing the same online video conferencing that our professors are using throughout the university, and our academic support staff as well as our coaches are doing a fantastic job making sure that our players are still progressing academically, from a compliance standpoint and also in football.”

“We're making sure that we're moving MSU football forward the very best and safe way that we can for our team, for our school and for Spartan nation.”

Some schools that started spring practice early had a chance to get in a few practices before things were shut down. Michigan State was set to begin on Tuesday and didn’t have a single workout.

When the Spartans will be allowed to get on the field is unclear. The Big Ten has ended all spring sports, while athletic director Bill Beekman said on Wednesday he’s hopeful teams like Michigan State will have a chance for some organized practices early in the summer.

Tucker wishes for the same thing, but understands there are tough decisions ahead for those at the NCAA and the Big Ten. In the meantime, Tucker says his focus is on the well-being of everyone in his program.

“We’re worried about our student-athletes, their physical, their emotional, their mental health at this time,” Tucker said. “When our players are here on campus, we can see them, we can look at them eye to eye. We can work with them, and we know what services we have here for them on campus for a laundry list of potential issues. But right now, they're not here. They're scattered about back at their permanent homes.

“So, I'm more concerned about are they safe? Are they making smart decisions? Do they have enough to eat? The football part of it is secondary, but what I do know is that our players, our coaches, our administration, our fans, are relentless, resilient, and we're going to come out of this thing stronger on the other side. When the time is right I look forward to getting back on the field with the players and the coaches and Spartan nation supporting us 100%.”

When that happens, Tucker says he’ll be ready.

“I’m excited about Michigan State football,” he said. “I'm so fired up to be here and be the head coach. We’re going to get through this thing and when they open it back up we’re gonna hit the ground running.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau