The Big Ten’s fraternity of football coaches welcomed its newest member this week when Michigan State announced Mel Tucker as head coach.
Tucker replaces Mark Dantonio, who stepped down after a 13-year tenure at the school.
Dantonio went 114-57 at Michigan State and won 10 or more games on four occasions. His team in 2015 won the Big Ten and played in the College Football Playoff semifinal. The last two years saw the Spartans go 7-6 in each season, and a looming lawsuit filed against the school by a former assistant have cast a shadow over the program.
Tucker’s hire sparked noise within the college football community.
For starters, the one-year Colorado coach stated less than a week before he was uninterested in Michigan’s State initial offer. Secondly, it reinvigorated the conversation about the obscene amounts of cash wrapped in the sport.
While one can’t deny Tucker spoke out of both sides of his mouth – there’s a tweet below – Michigan State essentially gave him an offer too good to refuse. Tucker is from Cleveland, he played college football at Wisconsin and he began his coaching career at Michigan State.
Tucker was in line to make nearly $2.7 million next year in his second season at Colorado. Michigan State will nearly double his pay.
According to Detroit Free Press Michigan State beat writer Chris Solari, Michigan State signed Tucker to a six-year deal that will pay him $5.5 million annually. He will receive a base salary of $3.8 million, and he’ll pocket another $1.2 million via supplemental pay each season. Furthermore, Tucker will make an additional $500,000 in payments from an annual retention bonus and from apparel partners.
The deal, of course, includes other incentives: $250,000 should Tucker be named Big Ten coach of the year, $250,000 should the Spartans make the College Football Playoff and a number of additional cash-packed perks.
Tucker joins the Big Ten as the conference’s fourth highest-paid coach. Only Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh ($7.5 million), Purdue’s Jeff Brohm ($6.6 million) and Penn State’s James Franklin ($5.6 million) boast higher salaries.
Franklin received a six-year contract extension in December, but the details have not yet been made public.
On the surface, who can blame Tucker for leaving Colorado? He didn’t exactly set the world on fire during his first year in Boulder. The Buffaloes went 5-7 in 2019, which followed the trend of back-to-back 5-7 seasons the school endured in the last two years under his predecessor, Mike MacIntyre. College programs have shortened their leashes on their coaches, and another losing season at Colorado could possibly have been Tucker’s last.
He now gets to reset his career and make more money while doing so.
I don’t begrudge Tucker for taking the Michigan State job. It not only offers him more money, but it gives him a chance to test his chops in a conference that carries more prestige at the time than the Pac-12.
I do have a problem with the way he went about it.
On Feb. 8, just five days before Michigan State announced Tucker as its head coach, Tucker emphatically stated on Twitter he was committed to remain Colorado’s coach. The tweet came after he declined Michigan State’s initial offer.
“While I am flattered to be considered for the HC job @MSU_football, I am committed to @CUBuffsFootball for #TheBuild of our program, its great athletes, coaches & supporters. #UnfinishedBusiness #GoBuffs We are #Relentless #Culture #TheBuild,” read his tweet.
What happens, then, to the recent signees and early enrollees who inked with Colorado under the impression they would play for Tucker?
Colorado this month secured a 24-member recruiting class of 2020 that is ranked No. 7 in the Pac-12 and No. 35 nationally by 247Sports. Eight of those members are already on campus, and all are currently bound to the school by their letter of intent.
The right thing to do would be to offer those players releases.
Alumni and fans are typically drawn to a program by regional, familial or nostalgic connections. Those allegiances grow stronger over the years to the point where many believe the school to be strong enough of a drawing power to attract the athletes it seeks.
In reality, most high-level athletes are more attracted to the coach for whom they’ll be playing. In some cases, a recruit’s family member might have attended the school, or they grew up a fan due to geography. But I’d wager to say, most are looking for the coach who can develop their skill enough to prepare them for a chance at the next level.
When a coach leaves unexpectedly, such as Tucker, it puts their recruits in an unenviable position.
Tucker did what he felt was in the best interest of him and his family. I don’t begrudge him. I do feel for the student-athletes who are left in the wake of his departure, and the NCAA and Colorado should do the right thing by giving them the option to look elsewhere should they want to leave.