Mel Tucker: MSU football's addition of Thomas Wilcher 'goes beyond recruiting'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Mel Tucker has proven he’s focused on getting the best players to Michigan State, and getting the best people to make that happen has been a priority.

That became even more clear earlier this month when Tucker officially hired Thomas Wilcher as the team’s director of community and high school relations. It’s a long title, but it’s clear that Tucker believes the longtime Detroit Cass Tech coach will have an impact on the Michigan State program.

“The scope (of the job) actually goes beyond recruiting,” Tucker said last week at Big Ten media days in Indianapolis. “We want to have the best people in our organization — the best leaders, the best influencers, the best role models, people that care about young people, care about young men, love the game of football, live the game of football, and they have a proven track record of success.

“That’s what Coach Wilcher brings to us, and we’re very fortunate to have him.”

Longtime Detroit Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher accepted a job with Michigan State's program earlier this month.

The hire was certainly a hit for at least one Spartan — former Cass Tech player Kalon Gervin.

“My coach in the building!” the junior cornerback posted on Twitter after the hiring was announced. “Let’s go man!”

Wilcher certainly has plenty of pull when it comes to what sort of influence he could have when it comes to bringing in the state’s top players. In 24 seasons at the helm at Cass Tech, Wilcher won three state championships (2011, 2012, 2016) and also coached boys track and field, winning state titles from 1994-96. He was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018 and was named the Detroit Lions Michigan High School Football Coach of the Year in 2011 and the Michigan High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2017.

He was also a standout athlete at Detroit Central before heading to the University of Michigan, where he was the 55-meter indoor hurdles national champion in 1986 while earning All-American honors three times. He lettered in football in 1985 and 1986 and was selected in the ninth round (No. 226 overall) of the 1987 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers.

The move to bring Wilcher in — his position is not as an on-field coach — is seen as a move to improve Michigan State’s recruiting foothold, not only in the city of Detroit but in the state overall.

“It remains to be seen what type of effect that has on recruiting in Detroit and elsewhere,” Tucker said, “but he is a positive addition to our staff.”

Keeping Paul

Getting that first victory as a head coach is surely memorable, but earning it in a rivalry game is especially notable. That’s exactly what Tucker did last season when Michigan State headed to Ann Arbor and defeated Michigan for one of its two victories in 2020.

“It’s a rivalry game with the school down the road, and if you win that game, you're going to earn it, you have to fight for it,” Tucker said. “There’s not a day that goes by someone doesn't talk to me about that game, about beating the school down the road and how important it is.”

Some coaches when they first take over at a school have tried to make every game seem the same. And while no one win counts for more than just that, Tucker isn’t hiding how important he believes it is to be in possession of the Paul Bunyan Trophy.

“We don't try to downplay it,” Tucker said. “It’s not just another game. It is a rivalry game, and it’s an important game. More often than not, as a player or a coach, you're defined by how you perform in those games.

“So, we have Paul now, we were able to get it done a year ago, and we're going to have an opportunity to get it done this year. We need to keep Paul in East Lansing.”

The Spartans will get that chance on Oct. 30 at Spartan Stadium.

Balancing act

Tucker’s quest to find the best players means he’s not limited to guys who are focused only on the gridiron. Among the new faces this season included redshirt freshman transfer Maliq Carr from Purdue and true freshman Keon Coleman.

The pair of wide receivers intend to play basketball for Tom Izzo’s team, joining tight end Adam Berghorst, who plays baseball, as Spartans that are pulling double duty.

“When I was at Alabama, half of my secondary ran track,” Tucker said. “I recruited Mecole Hardman at Georgia, one of the best athletes in the country that ran track. Some guys, they have that in them and they can play two sports. It’s not the easiest thing to do in the world, but if that's what they want to do and I tell them that I'm good with that, then that's what it's going to be and then we'll just kind of see how it turns out.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau