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Mel Tucker: 'There's no reason to be friends' with U-M's Jim Harbaugh

Michigan State's head coach re-emphasized the in-state rivalry this offseason...

Could Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker form a friendship with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh?

Given the fact that the two have never worked on the same coaching staff together, and the pair currently coach on opposite sides of a heated in-state rivalry, don’t expect Tucker and Harbaugh to go on a golfing trip together any time soon.

Earlier this offseason, Tucker was invited to join Colin Cowherd on the popular television talk show host’s podcast on ‘The Volume’. Cowherd directed that exact question to Tucker, asking if there ever could be a friendship between the coaches at Michigan and Michigan State.

“I think it’s tough. I think it’s tough,” Tucker said. “I’m not saying it’s not possible, because I think it just kind of depends on your background. Because I was told that Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler were good friends – that’s what I was told. I think they had history together and were in the Miami of Ohio cradle of coaches and things like that.”

Tucker went on to explain that there are some current head coaches that he has worked with on the same staff under Nick Saban, so he would have a level of friendship with those guys.

“There’s some guys like – Lane Kiffin, I worked with. And Mario Cristobal, I worked with him. You know, Dan Lanning – I worked with Dan, and Billy Napier – I worked with Billy. Sam Pittman – great friends with Sam, he’s doing a great job with Arkansas. So, obviously, if we were in the same conference, there would be some type of friendship there, because we know each other, we’ve worked together.”

But, not so much with Harbaugh.

Tucker got his coaching career started in 1997 as a graduate assistant at Michigan State, when Saban was the head coach in East Lansing. That same year was Harbaugh’s last season as the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts.

By the time Harbaugh started his coaching career with the Oakland Raiders in 2002, Tucker had moved on to Ohio State, where he served as a defensive backs coach and eventually a co-defensive coordinator under Jim Tressell.

“Sometimes you don’t know what’s going behind the scenes with coaches, in terms of their relationships,” Tucker said. “But, with the rivalry the way it is, and us really not having…not coming from the same tree, never been on a staff together, things like that, I think it’s kind of hard because there’s no reason to be friends. There’s no reason to do that. What redeeming value would there be to try to force some kind of friendship right here in the state?”

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Tucker was an assistant in the NFL from 2005 through 2015 with the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears. During that same time period, Harbaugh was the head coach at the University of San Diego, Stanford University, the San Francisco 49ers and, ultimately, Michigan.

Meanwhile, Tucker returned to college football at Alabama in 2015, before following Kirby Smart to Georgia the following season to be the defensive coordinator. Tucker became a first-time head coach at Colorado in 2019, before landing at Michigan State in 2020.

Despite both coaches spending several years in both the NFL and college ranks, there paths had never crossed before these last two seasons.

While the Michigan-Michigan State game has always been important, the rivalry turned in favor of the Spartans a decade and a half ago when MSU hired Mark Dantonio. Now, under Tucker, the emphasis on the Battle for Paul Bunyan only continues to grow.

“I talked about it at my introductory press conference – It was not just another game, it’s the game, and it’s a game that we needed to win,” Tucker said. “And so, you act accordingly in all of your preparation with the coaching staff, with players and the support staff. You know that everything is riding on that game. That’s the game that you need to win. So, you do prepare a little differently.

“I can sit here and say – it’s just another game, we just go through our process the same way. But we spend quite a bit of time talking about, making sure our players are educated about the tradition of the game and what the game means to the former players, to all of our alums, some things that have happened in the past, some things that have been said in the past, so that everyone understands the magnitude of the situation.

“That’s part of the process, is to state clearly, to everyone, that this is not just another game. This is the biggest game of the year for us. It’s always going to be that way, and we’re going to treat it as such.”

Tucker’s full interview with Cowherd can be viewed below — they talk about the UM-MSU rivalry starting around the 2:30 mark, and circle back to Harbaugh at the 29:45 mark:

Twitter: @mlounsberry_SI