Great Look At The Coaching Lineage Of New Spartan Coach Mel Tucker

Jeff Dullack

When looking at the resume of new Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker, one of the first things that stands out is the impressive list of coaches he had the opportunity to work with during his time in football.

After playing for Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin from 1990-1992 and then again in 1994, Tucker’s coaching career, which began at Michigan State found him working with several high profile coaches over the past 23 years, including Nick Saban (three times), Jim Tressel and Mark Dantonio along with several others.

At his introductory press conference at the Breslin Center on Wednesday night, Tucker spoke of the impact many of the coaches he’s crossed paths with and credited them for helping mold him into the coach that he is today.

“I’ve had the privilege of being mentored by some of the very best coaches in the profession, some of the very best,” he said. “I can’t mention all of them because we’ll be here all day. But from my playing career with Barry Alvarez, the Godfather, to working with Nick Saban not once, but three times, and to coach Jim Tressel and Romeo Crennel. These men shaped me, they shaped my coaching path. They not only taught me the X’s and the O’s, but they taught me the intangibles of creating a winning mindset and a winning culture, the responsibility and importance of hard work, humility and accountability and having a serving mindset and to love the game.”

Tucker’s first coaching position came in 1997, when he was a graduate assistant at Michigan State, working under Saban and Mark Dantonio, who was the defensive backs coach at the time, and remained with the Spartans through the 1998 season. Tucker was hired by Saban two other times in his career, serving as the defensive backs coach at LSU in 2000 and as the assistant head coach and defensive backs coach at Alabama in 2015.

23 years after his first coaching job with Michigan State, Tucker is now back in East Lansing as the Spartans’ 25th head coach in program history and said it’s something he had long hoped to have the opportunity to do after learning from and working alongside Saban.

“I hoped, I hoped,” he said. “My dream was to come back here and be a head coach, that was my dream. When you work for a guy like Nick Saban and you see him do it, you can’t help but aspire to be able to be in that position one day and do that. So this is truly, certainly a dream come true for me to be back here. The time has gone very fast. It seems like just yesterday that I was here - 400 bucks a month as a GA (Graduate Assistant) sleeping under my desk. I tried to make sure that when Nick Saban always walked past the GA office that I was always there, coming and going. You could hear him shaking the change in his pocket coming down the hall and you knew coach Saban was coming down and I was right there at attention. It’s special and I don’t take it lightly. I cherish this opportunity.”

Saban, who reportedly recommended Tucker to Michigan State for the head coaching position, praised Tucker as both a coach and as a person in Michigan State’s press release to announce the hire.

"I've known Mel Tucker since my days coaching at Michigan State when he was a graduate assistant on our staff. Since then, Mel has made a name for himself as one of the best and brightest coaches in our profession. I believe he will do a tremendous job as the head coach of the Spartans. MSU is getting a guy with infinite class and a great personality, who is smart, works hard, and does it with an incredible amount of enthusiasm and positive energy. Mel is a tireless recruiter who knows the game of college football and understands what it will take to be successful in East Lansing."

Following his one year stint at LSU in 2000, Tucker then spent three years at Ohio State as the program’s defensive backs coach from 2001-2003, working under head coach Jim Tressel and Dantonio, who was defensive coordinator during that period. After Dantonio left Ohio State to become the head coach at Cincinnati, Tucker served as the co-defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes in 2004.

Dantonio was also cited in Michigan State’s press release and spoke highly of Tucker both on and off the field.

"I first came in contact with Mel when he was the graduate assistant here at Michigan State for Coach Saban. He did an outstanding job with the defensive backs. When I went to Ohio State to work for Coach Tressel, he asked me who should coach the secondary, and I immediately thought of Mel. He was a part of the national championship staff and has gone on to coach at the highest levels of football. Mel is charismatic, brings good energy, and is a very forward thinker. He's also an outstanding recruiter who connects with his players, but also holds them accountable. He's from the Midwest and has a Spartan background with knowledge of the Big Ten. I'm extremely excited for Mel and his family. I'm looking to support him in any way possible. Go Green!"

Tucker said that after working with Dantonio at two different stops in his coaching career, he considers Dantonio as a mentor that he’s learned from over the years and is excited to catch up with him again.

“I was here 1997-98 as a graduate assistant coach to Coach Dantonio with a secondary coach,” he said. “I left LSU with Nick Saban to work alongside Coach Dantonio at Ohio State for Jim Tressel, and I worked with him for three years there. Obviously he is one of those great mentors that I've learned a lot from and he's helped shape some of my football philosophies and things like that. So I've always considered him a friend and just a tremendous football coach and an outstanding person. So I'm looking forward to reconnecting with him.”

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