Michigan State’s Mel Tucker says focus is on Michigan, not LSU rumors
Mel Tucker says he’s focused on the moment, not rumors that began last week about him being a candidate for the soon-to-be-vacant head-coaching position at LSU.
The Michigan State coach is in the thick of preparing for the No. 8 Spartans’ showdown on Saturday with No. 6 Michigan. However, his Monday press conference was also the first time he met with the media since word started circulating that he is a popular candidate to take over for Ed Orgeron, who will leave LSU at the end of the season.
“My focus is on the upcoming game against the school down the road,” Tucker said. “That’s where my concentration and my focus is, and I really appreciate you understanding that.”
While some Spartans fans would have liked Tucker to shut things down a bit more firmly, he made it clear that the rumors will not be a distraction.
And, quite frankly, it’s a bad time of year for distractions.
Senior safety Xavier Henderson said Tucker has not talked to the team about the rumors and that he’s heard no talk around the locker room about the chatter. When he heard the rumors, Henderson said he “took it with a grain of salt,” and that Tucker was clearly dialed in on this week and this season.
“We have to focus on what matters and what’s gonna affect the outcome of the game,” Tucker said. “One of the things you have to do is eliminate distractions and an invest your time wisely. Where is your attention? Where is your focus? What’s important? What has substance? What matters and what doesn’t?”
The rivalry matchup Saturday is the first time since 2010 Michigan State and Michigan will face each other as unbeatens and the first time as top-10 teams since 1964. The winner will win plenty of bragging rights, but it will also put that team in prime position in the Big Ten East.
Michigan State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) and Michigan (7-0, 4-0) kick off at noon Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
“We all know this is a big week and what this is all about, playing the school down the road for the Paul Bunyan Trophy,” Tucker said. “It’s a big game for our players, our university, our fans, our alumni, our Spartan Dawgs. We understand this is not just another game.”
MSU’s Mel Tucker brushes off LSU football coach rumors: Focused on Michigan game
MSU senior safety Xavier Henderson said Tucker had not addressed the team about the report, though he and other players know it is out there.
“I saw it and I took it with a grain of salt, really, because that’s for him,” Henderson said. “He’s not worried about it right now. Obviously, he’s worried about this game.”
Tucker also has recent SEC experience after returning from a 10-year stint in the NFL, which included serving as interim coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. He rejoined Saban at Alabama as associate head coach and defensive backs assistant for Alabama’s 2015 national championship season, then spent three seasons as defensive coordinator and DB coach at Georgia from 2016-18 before taking his first college head coaching position at Colorado for one season.
“He knows the SEC very well,” Feldman said on Oct. 16. “But would he make another move? He was at Colorado, now he’s at Michigan State. Would he make another move in a short time? This I know – people inside LSU who matter, they are really high on Mel Tucker.”
A recent USA Today survey of Football Bowl Subdivision coaching salaries ranked Tucker 13th at nearly $5.6 million in his second season of a six-year deal. Orgeron is making $9.01 million at LSU, the second best-paid coach in the country behind Saban ($9.75 million). Tucker would owe MSU $2.5 million if he leaves before Jan. 16, 2022, and his buyout drops by $500,000 in each of the ensuing years of his deal on that date.
Tucker more than doubled his salary in replacing Mark Dantonio in February 2020 after making $2.4 million in his one season at Colorado last year, according to USA TODAY.
Michigan State football: Spartans star RB Kenneth Walker ‘takes pride’ in fast rebuild under coach Mel Tucker
“I don’t believe in self-imposed limitations,” Tucker said Oct. 9 after Michigan State won 31-13 at Rutgers. “I don’t know. We don’t know how good we can be because the team is a collection of individual players. It’s about how good can each player get, and then we have to leverage everyone’s talents so that we can have a strong team – and get stronger. But I know that we have not played up to our full potential yet, and that’s always the goal.
“… It doesn’t stop, which is great. Our players understand that. Our players understand that, because we told them in the very beginning, it’s never gonna stop. It’s gonna be relentless, we’re gonna keep choppin’, we’re always gonna look to get better. You’ve never arrived. If you feel like you’ve arrived and you’re as good as you can get, then why keep playing? You might as well just stop playing. You’re never there. As long as we understand that, then we can continue to work to get better.”
The Wolverines will have to contain Walker to have a chance and establish their own stout running game. Head coach Jim Harbaugh said his team did a great job of focusing on Northwestern Saturday rather than look ahead to their in-state rival.
“I thought our guys did a great job of just focusing on the next game,” Harbaugh said in Saturday’s postgame press conference, via The Michigan Insider. “You have to do that. You have to practice it and you have to do it. Keeping your focus on the game in front of you. The less your team will be painfully humbled. I thought our team did a great job of that. Now, we’ll start that process of preparation for the next opponent.”
|Annual salary||$5.5 million|
|Born||January 4, 1972
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
|1997–1998||Michigan State (GA)|
|1999||Miami (OH) (DB)|
|2001–2003||Ohio State (DB)|
|2004||Ohio State (co-DC)|
|2005–2007||Cleveland Browns (DB)|
|2008||Cleveland Browns (DC)|
|2009–2011||Jacksonville Jaguars (DC)|
|2011||Jacksonville Jaguars (interim)|
|2012||Jacksonville Jaguars (AHC/DC)|
|2013–2014||Chicago Bears (DC)|
|Head coaching record|
|Accomplishments and honors|
|As an assistant coach/coordinator:|
Melvin Tucker II (born January 4, 1972) is an American football coach and former player. He is currently the head football coach at Michigan State University. He was previously the head coach at the University of Colorado.
Tucker was the interim head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League (NFL) for five games in 2011. He has worked as the defensive backs coach at the Ohio State University and the University of Alabama and as the defensive coordinator for both the Chicago Bears of the NFL as well as the University of Georgia.
He is not the first to be hired at Colorado with no previous collegiate head coaching experience, though he does have five games in the National Football League as an interim head coach. In the modern era (post-World War II), he joins an impressive list in Dal Ward (1948), Sonny Grandelius (1959), Eddie Crowder (1963), Bill McCartney (1982), Rick Neuheisel (1995) and Jon Embree (2011) as full-time coaches who were previously assistants. McCartney, of course, went on to become CU’s all-time winningest coach with a 93-55-5 record over 13 seasons, and all but Embree had winning records.
Tucker enjoyed a tremendous run at Georgia, where he was instrumental in the Bulldogs compiling a 32-9 record along with winning the school’s first Southeastern Conference championship in 12 years when UGA defeated Auburn in the league’s 2017 title game. One of the staff’s top recruiters, 247Sports.com ranked him as the No. 14 recruiter in the nation based off the class he helped UGA sign ahead of the 2018 season.
Georgia’s defense is currently ranked in the top 25 in several key categories, most notably in total defense (13th, 311.2 yards allowed per game), passing defense (15th, 180.5 per game) and scoring defense (15th, 18.5 points per outing).
In the 2018 SEC Championship game in which Alabama rallied to win, 35-28, his Bulldog defense held the Crimson Tide scoreless in the first quarter for the first time all season, forced a UA season-high four three-and-outs (in 12 possessions) and held its Heisman Trophy candidate, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, to a season-worst 92.3 rating. His defenses were dialed in on third down, as the Tide was 8-of-25 in the last two games against UGA, dating back to the 2018 national championship game which Alabama also rallied to win, 26-23, in overtime.
In 2017, Tucker was part of the UGA staff that led the Bulldogs to a school record-tying 13 victories, along with the school’s first SEC championship since 2005 and first appearances in the College Football Playoff (and victory, which was over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl/CFP semifinal game) and in the College Football Playoff Championship game. Georgia’s defense finished second in the SEC and sixth nationally in both scoring defense (16.4 ppg) and in total defense (294.9 ypg), while also finishing second in the conference in rushing defense. One of his players, Roquan Smith, won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.
In his first year at UGA, Tucker guided a Bulldog defense that ranked among the nation’s top 20 units in total defense, passing defense, turnovers gained and first down defense.
Tucker was named UGA defensive coordinator and secondary coach in January 2016, just days after winning a national championship with Alabama (which defeated Clemson 45-40 in the CFP title game). He spent that 2015 season serving as assistant head coach and defensive backs coach for the Crimson Tide, the third time he was hired by Nick Saban.
Saban gave Tucker his start in the coaching profession in 1997 when he hired him as a graduate assistant at Michigan State. He spent two seasons there, working with the defensive backs directly under another highly successful collegiate head coach in Mark Dantonio, who eventually would be named the Spartans’ head coach.
Tucker spent the 1999 season as defensive backs coach at Miami (Ohio) under Coach Terry Hoeppner. In 2000, Tucker returned to work with Saban at Louisiana State for one season before joining Jim Tressel’s staff at Ohio State for the next four years (2001-04). While in Columbus, the Buckeyes went 14-0 in 2002 and won the BCS National Championship in a thrilling overtime win over Miami, Fla. In his last season there, Tucker was elevated to co-defensive coordinator. At Ohio State, he recruited four players who would eventually be first round NFL Draft selections and the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Troy Smith.
In 2005, an opportunity emerged for him to coach in the National Football League with his hometown Cleveland Browns. The team’s new head coach, Romeo Crennel, had come over from his duties as New England’s defensive coordinator and hired Tucker to coach the secondary. After three seasons tutoring the Browns’ defensive backs, he was promoted to defensive coordinator. In that 2008 season, the Browns were second in the NFL with 23 interceptions and ranked 16th in scoring defense (21.9 points per game). For his four seasons overall with Cleveland, the Browns ranked fifth in the league with 73 interceptions, seventh in passing yards allowed and gave up the fourth-fewest completions of 25-plus yards.
Tucker moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009, when Jack Del Rio hired him as his defensive coordinator and secondary coach; the following two years, he strictly coordinated the defense while consulting at all positions (called “walk arounds”). Near the end of his third year with the Jaguars, he was promoted to interim head coach for the final five games in 2011 after Del Rio was dismissed; he coached Jacksonville to a 2-3 record to end the season. Despite the team owning an overall 5-11 record, the Jags were sixth in the league in total defense that season, surrendering just 313 yards per game. He would return as the Jaguars assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the 2012 season under Mike Mularkey.
He was hired by Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman in 2013, where he would spend his last two seasons in the pro ranks. In all, he worked 10 years in the NFL, including seven as a defensive coordinator.
A 1995 graduate of the University of Wisconsin with his bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business Management, he was a member of the first recruiting class for Coach Barry Alvarez. He lettered three times at both cornerback and safety from 1990-94 and was on the Badgers’ 1993 Big Ten champion team that defeated UCLA in the Rose Bowl, 21-16. As a sophomore, he made a game-saving hit in the end zone with time running out that preserved a 19-16 win at Minnesota; as a senior, he played the Buffaloes in Boulder, though UW left town with a 55-17 loss to a CU team that would finish No. 3 in the nation. He had 47 tackles and four pass deflections in his career (he missed his entire junior season after breaking a leg in fall camp).
Tucker was a member of Alvarez’ first recruiting class at Wisconsin, and remains close to this day with several teammates who have gone on to make their marks in college athletics, including Troy Vincent (the NFL executive vice president for football operations), Chris Ballard (Indianapolis Colts general manager), Darrell Bevell (longtime NFL offensive coordinator with Minnesota and Seattle), Joe Rudolph (Wisconsin’s associate head coach and offensive coordinator) and Duer Sharp (former commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference).
He was born Melvin Tucker II on Jan. 4, 1972 in Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from Cleveland Heights High School, where he was an all-state performer in football and an all-conference basketball player (the Cleveland Plain Dealer twice named him to its all-scholastic team). He is married to the former JoEllyn Haynesworth, who earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois and her law degree from Rutgers University. The couple has two sons born on the same day (Feb. 18) two years apart, Joseph (16) and Christian (14).
AT-A-GLANCE—He has coached in 142 Division I-A (FBS) games as a full-time coach, his teams owning a record of 106-36 which include 10 bowl games (2000 Peach, 2002 Outback, 2003 Fiesta/BCS National Championship, 2004 Fiesta, 2004 Alamo, 2015 Cotton/CFP Semifinal, 2016 CFP title game, 2016 Liberty, 2018 Rose/CFP Semifinal, 2018 CFP/National Championship). He coached 160 games in the National Football League (64 with Cleveland, 64 with Jacksonville, 32 with Chicago).
NFL FIRST ROUNDERS—Tucker has coached five NFL first round draft picks along with recruiting four others:
Coached: CB Chris Gamble (Ohio State; No. 28 overall pick by Carolina, 2004 Draft); CB Donte Whitner (Ohio State; No. 6, Buffalo, 2006); CB Marlon Humphrey (Alabama; No. 16, Baltimore, 2017); S Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama; No. 11, Miami, 2018); LB Roquan Smith (Georgia; No. 8, Chicago, 2018)
Recruited: WR Ted Ginn, Jr. (Ohio State; No. 9, Miami, 2007); WR Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio State; No. 32, Indianapolis, 2007); CB Vernon Gholston (Ohio State; No. 6, N.Y. Jets, 2008); CB/S Malcolm Jenkins (Ohio State; No. 14, New Orleans, 2009).
|1997-98||Michigan State||Graduate Assistant (defense)|
|1999||Miami, Ohio||Defensive Backs|
|2000||Louisiana State||Defensive Backs|
|2001-03||Ohio State||Defensive Backs|
|2004||Ohio State||Co-Defensive Coordinator/ Defensive Backs|
|2005-07||Cleveland (NFL)||Defensive Backs|
|2008||Cleveland (NFL)||Defensive Coordinator|
|2009||Jacksonville (NFL)||Defensive Coordinator/Secondary|
|2010-11||Jacksonville (NFL)||Defensive Coordinator|
|2011||Jacksonville (NFL)||Interim Head Coach|
|2012||Jacksonville (NFL)||Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator|
|2013-14||Chicago (NFL)||Defensive Coordinator|
|2015||Alabama||Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Backs|
|Lawrence Vickers||Cleveland Browns (2006-08)||Former Buff Vickers (’05) was drafted by the Browns and spent three years on the team when Tucker was on the coaching staff.|
|Brian Iwuh||Jacksonville Jaguars (2009)||Former Buff Iwuh (’05) spent one season on the Jaguars roster.|
|Terrence Wheatley||Jacksonville Jaguars (2010)||Former Buff Wheatley (’07) spent one season on the Jaguars roster.|
|Toney Clemons||Jacksonville Jaguars (2012)||Former Buff Clemons (’11) spent part of one season on the Jaguars roster.|
|Eric Kiesau||Alabama (2015)||Kiesau was on the CU staff for Dan Hawkins (2006-10) and was an analyst on the Alabama staff with Tucker.|
|John Wooten||CU (1955-58)||Father (Mel Tucker) is long-time good friend of Wooten and the family.|
|Wilmer Cooks||CU (1964-67)||Father (Mel Tucker) is long-time good friend of Cooks and the family.|
Michigan State Football: 3 things that could keep Mel Tucker in East Lansing
1. He called MSU his “dream job”
When you hear coaches call their current schools their “dream job”, you have to take it with a grain of salt because he’s probably just saying what fans want to hear. And that might be the case with Mel Tucker, too, but when he said that phrase, it just felt a little different.
Just take a look at the quote:
Michigan State has been his dream job since 1997 and “this is not just another opportunity.” What this means to me is that Michigan State isn’t a stepping stone for him and it would take a massive offer or opportunity (the NFL?) to get him to leave.
I know what some of you are thinking: “Didn’t he say ‘no thanks’ to Michigan State when they originally offered?”
Short answer: yes. Long answer: Michigan State never “offered” Mel a job originally, the Spartans interviewed him. He was part of the process of gauging interest. Luke Fickell was the only coach to receive an actual offer and he turned it down after it looked like he was about to accept. The Spartans then threw a briefcase full of cash at Tucker and he couldn’t say no. Basically he was covering his bases with Colorado fans that were worried about him leaving after his interview.
Tucker was always interested, but he knew Fickell was the Spartans’ top option early on. When he said no, the Spartans went back to Tucker and he jumped at the offer.
So when he says that this was his “dream job”, he’s probably telling the truth, although a massive contract from LSU could change things. If Michigan State matches the offer (which it will), he will likely tell the Tigers that he’s where he wants to be.
Not only did Tucker call MSU his “dream job” but he also said he wants to bring a national title home to East Lansing.
I doubt he wants to uproot his family for the third time in four years, leaving what he called his “dream job” at a school where he actually met his wife.
This alone is a huge factor for Tucker.
1. Tucker has proven he can compete at Michigan State
When a coach is approached by a powerhouse program and is offered a job, it’s likely because that program believes it can offer an opportunity to compete that his current school cannot.
Some examples would be Vanderbilt’s James Franklin being poached by Penn State, Brady Hoke being persuaded to leave San Diego State for Michigan, Tom Herman leaving Houston for Texas, and even Tucker leaving Colorado for Michigan State. There is a larger opportunity for success at all of the programs these coaches left for and that’s why it was an easier decision.
Two decades ago, Nick Saban left Michigan State for LSU because he knew he could win there much easier compared to in East Lansing for a program that hadn’t been nationally relevant in quite some time.
Tucker is going to be approached by LSU but he’s proven that he can compete at a high level in East Lansing and push for a playoff spot. Mark Dantonio did it with lower-ranked recruits and Tucker is already 7-0 in year two without his guys on the roster. His Spartans are ranked No. 9 in the country and there’s talk about Michigan State playing for a Big Ten title in year two of Tucker.
While LSU can offer plenty of resources and it has a track record of national titles since 2000, Michigan State has the ability to make playoff pushes and Tucker has even said he wants to bring a national title to East Lansing.
Michigan State does have quality resources, the football facilities are being upgraded, and he has the athletic director he wanted and all the job security. What more could a coach ask for?
2. The defense finally played hero for the Spartans
It’s a good sign that the offense struggled and the defense still picked up the slack and the Spartans won 20-15 on the road. The offense wasn’t in rhythm all afternoon long and the defense still found a way to make some key stops, including two interceptions and a huge forced fumble late in the game to ice the game.
I’ve been tough on the defense all year long, but without them, the Spartans lose this game.
Jack Tuttle found some success early on, but he finished just 18-of-52 for 188 yards and two picks. Yes, he averaged just 3.6 yards per reception and the run game totaled just 134 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries. The Hoosiers didn’t have any truly explosive plays which really helped seal the win for the Spartans.
And after allowing nine points in the first half, the Spartans held the Hoosiers to just six points in the second half. Indiana scored just one touchdown all game long and that’s a product of good defense.
Mel Tucker has to feel good that this side of the ball stepped up when the offense was experiencing an off-day.
3. Michigan State is likely going to match whatever LSU may offer
One of the most common misconceptions in college football is that Michigan State can’t pony up and offer coaches like some of the top programs. That’s just not true. That’s a narrative that’s as old as Nick Saban and it goes back to when he left Michigan State for LSU.
The difference now? Michigan State has two of the wealthiest donors in the nation in Dan Gilbert and Matt Ishbia who are both essentially trying to out-donate each other.
Those two billionaires weren’t the men they are today back when Saban was swiped from Michigan State’s grasp by LSU. The athletic department, led by Allen Hallar (who happens to be the AD Tucker wanted), has the ability to ask for a nice donation from its billionaire donors to help keep Tucker in town if and when LSU throws a blank check at him.
Back when Saban was leaving Michigan State, the athletic department didn’t have that option. Now, the Spartans can and will match any offer the Tigers throw at him — within reason.
He could leave and start over somewhere else or continue to build what he’s started at Michigan State with the same paycheck.