MSU coach Mel Tucker says focus is Penn State, not contract

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — By Monday afternoon there had been no official word on a new contract for Mel Tucker, and the Michigan State coach was offering no hints on what's next.

Last week, sources with direct knowledge of the deal confirmed to The Detroit News that the university and the second-year coach were nearing an historic 10-year, $95 million contract. The signing was expected to be imminent, the sources said. But days after the Spartans’ 56-7 loss at Ohio State, nothing had been announced.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker leads his team out of the tunnel at Ohio Stadium for the game against the Buckeyes in Columbus.

“That's not my focus and that's not the focus of my team,” Tucker said Monday when asked directly about the contract. “I’m not thinking about anything right now, I’m not focusing on anything other than our upcoming opponent. That the only thing I’m thinking about.”

More: Michigan State football not buying 'house money' approach with Penn State on deck

That opponent is Penn State and the Nittany Lions come to Spartan Stadium on Saturday for the final game of the season. Michigan State has a chance to win 10 games for the first time since 2017 and potentially secure a New Year’s Six bowl bid.

Whether Tucker does it with a new deal in hand remains to be seen.

He has only addressed the contract situation once since last week, answering a question from former Michigan State basketball player Draymond Green during Green’s podcast.

“I came here and I made it clear in my initial press conference that I thought that Michigan State was a destination job and not a stepping stone,” Tucker said Thursday on the "Draymond Green Show." “Obviously, I have Big Ten roots. I played at Wisconsin, I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, my parents are three hours and 15 minutes away, my wife is from Chicago. I know the Big Ten landscape. This is where I started my career in 1997 as a graduate assistant for Nick Saban.

“Michigan State’s a special place for me, so it was never my intention to come here and just pass through. I believe that we’re building something special here and I have tremendous support here to do that, and we’re on the right track.”

Tucker, 49, is in the second year of a five-year contract that pays him $5.5 million annually.

Private funding is responsible for the bulk of the contract with United Wholesale Mortgage president and CEO Mat Ishbia at the forefront of the push to secure a new deal for Tucker, along with longtime donor and CEO of Shift Digital, Steve St. Andre.

Tucker, who was a head coach one season at Colorado in 2019, was 2-5 in his first season at Michigan State in 2020 but has flipped things quickly in 2021. Michigan State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) was in the hunt for a conference championship until the loss to the Buckeyes.

“At this point it’s really about what's next,” Tucker said of bouncing back from the Ohio State loss. “It’s a test of character and resolve, and things of that nature. So we looked at the film, we broke it down, analyzed it, evaluated everything. Then we accept responsibility for what happened — our coaches, our players — we learn from it and put together a plan to improve and correct things and turn the page to prepare for Penn State.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau