Michigan State settles for waffling flake, Mel Tucker, to lead its football program

(AP Photo/Al Goldis)

After the abrupt retirement of all-time winning head coach Mark Dantonio, the MSU Spartans were sent into a frantic coaching search to hire its fifth coach in 25 years. On February 12th, after a series of precarious events and initially being told no, the Spartans announced the hiring of former University of Colorado Buffaloes head coach, Mel Tucker.

Prior to hiring Coach Dantonio in 2007, the MSU football program had its share of successes but the Spartans were also a team that had lost eight of 10 games to the University of Michigan and had suffered five losing seasons in 10 years.

With the hiring of Dantonio from the University of Cincinnati, the Spartans experienced arguably its greatest stretch of success; three Big Ten titles, a Rose Bowl championship, a berth in the college football playoff, and eight wins over Michigan.

All of this success earned Coach Dantonio the reputation of being one of the best coaches in the nation, but recently an undying loyalty to inferior assistant coaching and uninspiring recruiting — MSU has finished ranked 43rd, 33rd, and 31st nationally — put the Spartans in the position where people began to question if Coach D was still the man for the job.

Even with all of the doubts and questions, no one envisioned that the history of MSU would be forever changed on February 4th when Coach Dantonio announced his retirement. Citing the need to spend more time with his family as the primary reason for retirement, there was still many who were shocked by the announcement.

For Spartan fans, this was just the beginning of what would take the entire fan base on a rollercoaster ride that probably won’t end for a few years.

Needing to find a replacement for its best coach ever, MSU was sent down a path that it hadn’t been since 2007 and the names rattled off as potential replacements sounded more like a DMX song:


Matt Campbell

Robert Selah

Pat Shurmur

Butch Jones

Chris Creighton

Brett Bielema

Jim McElwain

Harlon Barnett

Mike Tressell

Mel Tucker


Most were hopeful conjecture, but because of the improved cache’ and reputation of the Spartans program, many thought that this search would be quick and easy…

But it wasn’t

After being turned down by the more prominent names, MSU Athletic Director Bill Beekman turned his focus to who many felt was a perfect fit for a football team in transition, Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell.

Fickell checked off many of the boxes that MSU looked for:

– built a successful coaching resume as a coordinator at multiple locations

– understood the importance of midwest recruiting

– rebuilt a mid-tier school into a ranked contender

–  possessed an inherent disdain for that school in Ann Arbor


Even though it seemed to be a perfect fit, Fickell had reservations about the campus culture of MSU. Because of that uncertainty, despite reports that Fickell at one point agreed to accept the job, Fickell chose to remain as the UC coach drawing the ire of board of trustee member Brian Mossellem.

“…we can’t force somebody to come here. Spartan Nation should want somebody that wants to be here. We don’t want a waffling flake who views this is as a destination job.”

With Fickell saying no, the Spartans were forced to double back to Colorado Buffaloes head coach Mel Tucker in hopes that he would have a change of heart.


Money is a major issue


Not wanting to make the search more of a disaster than it was already becoming, MSU upped the ante with Tucker, offering to not only double Tucker’s salary — from $2.67 million to $5.7 million — but also increased the assistant coaches budget to $6 million. Not only was this enough money for Tucker to say yes to MSU, but it was enough for him to mislead a room full boosters who he told he was staying, despite already having agreed to coach MSU in principle.


Tucker could very well turn into the right coach to follow behind Coach Dantonio, but why isn’t that same criticism about Fickell being a flake, not directed towards Tucker because not only did he turn the job down twice, but he also was dishonest to key members of the CU family.

Maybe it’s because money changes things — who wouldn’t say no to a company doubling your salary — but at some point, money can’t be the ONLY thing that drives career decisions especially when so many others are involved.

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