Good Call: Michigan State Made Mel Tucker an Offer He Couldn't Refuse.
Upon further review, Mel Tucker will be the next Michigan State coach. He succeeds Mark Dantonio, who did a marvelous job of coaching the Spartans but a very mediocre job of departing.
Like the top choices, Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell and Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, Tucker had taken himself out of the MSU picture, saying he preferred to stay at Colorado, where he was coming off a very encouraging first season.
But then, the Green and White came back with a very green package. Tucker reportedly will more than double his $2.7 million salary. And MSU officials reportedly also will double his budget for assistants, near the top of the Big Ten in that area.
One, this is a good hire. Tucker, 48, a Cleveland native who was a talented DB at Wisconsin, one of Barry Alvarez’s first recruits, went on to work for some of the best coaches in the college game. He spent three stints under Nick Saban, at Michigan State, LSU and Alabama. He was with Jim Tressel at Ohio State. And he was Kirby Smart's defensive coordinator at Georgia for three years before taking the Colorado job.
He also has extensive NFL experience, as DC at Cleveland, Jacksonville and Chicago. And his first recruiting class at Colorado is regarded as the Buffaloes’ best in more than a decade.
Two, we don’t know how good of a job Michigan State is at this point. While Dantonio did a terrific job in becoming MSU’s all-time winningest coach, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State all had major issues at various times. Penn State was emerging from the Sandusky scandal, Ohio State had to fire Jim Tressel for an improper-benefits scandal and Michigan still doesn't know if it has the right coach.
All other things being equal, Michigan State shapes up as the fourth best job in one of the nation’s toughest divisions. Even in the Big Ten West, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa are probably better jobs than Michigan State, all things considered.
That said, Michigan State is a very good job. It has a great tradition, an outstanding fan base and a committed administration. The money being given to Tucker and his staff is strong evidence of that. In addition, Michigan State has a good history of recruiting in Michigan, Ohio and Chicago, which are fertile for Midwestern talent.
Tucker is personable and knows his football. Being a minority coach at a school with an outstanding heritage of embracing African-American athletes is another plus.
Job One will be to hire a strong staff, especially on offense. That is not Tucker’s side of the ball. And it was a disaster area in Dantonio’s declining seasons.
For what it's worth, I liked Tucker's style and his scheme when he was the Bears' defensive coordinator during the failed Marc Trestman experiment.
Although Dantonio had a great run for a time, his decision to depart in February put MSU in a difficult spot for a coaching search. The school shares in that mistake, because it made a loyalty bonus payable in January.
It’s understandable that Fickell, who has a good thing going at Cincinnati and is well-positioned for a big-time job down the road, passed on MSU. He saw the drawbacks of MSU and he doesn’t have Michigan State ties. That’s not essential. But it matters.
And it might be best in the long run that Narduzzi, despite great success as the Spartans’ defensive coordinator, wasn’t interested in trying to navigate the Green and White through the difficult Big Ten East waters. He hasn't wowed anybody at Pitt. And he may not have the energy the MSU job will require.
In other words, Tucker might turn out to be the best choice. He is energetic, knows his football and has good Midwestern roots.
And if he has a resume that includes many stops, that might be a good thing. It could give him the experience and maturity to deal with a job that has its share of potential and peril.