Michigan State has hired Colorado football coach Mel Tucker, ending a wild seven-day search to replace Mark Dantonio, who abruptly and surprisingly retired on Feb. 4 after 13 seasons.
Tucker, 48, reached a deal early Wednesday to become the Spartans’ 25th head coach, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, barely three days after Tucker interviewed with MSU’s search party and announced he was staying with the Buffaloes for a second season.
Contract terms were not immediately available.
According to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, the deal will double Tucker’s $3.2 million salary pool for assistant coaches, increase the Michigan State strength and conditioning staff budget and “more than double” Tucker’s $2.675 million salary.
Tucker’s buyout at Colorado dropped to $3 million on Dec. 31, per his five-year contract with Colorado.
Tucker’s change of heart comes after MSU struck out on front-runner Luke Fickell, who caused a stir Monday when he decided to stay at Cincinnati.
MSU was scheduled to interview Tucker over the weekend, sources told the Free Press, and on Friday athletic director Bill Beekman landed at Colorado Air and Space Port near Denver on a private plane based out of Lansing.
On Saturday, Tucker tweeted:
“While I am flattered to be considered for the HC job @MSU_football, I am committed to @CUBuffsFootball for #TheBuild of our program, its great athletes, coaches & supporters. #UnfinishedBusiness #GoBuffs
“We are #Relentless #Culture #TheBuild”
On Tuesday, he told KOA radio in Colorado: “It’s always flattering when someone shows strong interest in you. I think that shows that we must be doing something right here.”
Tucker is a Cleveland native who played defensive back at Wisconsin. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at MSU in 1997-98 under Dantonio and then-head coach Nick Saban.
He went 5-7 in his first year with Colorado in his collegiate head coaching debut in 2019. Before that, he was interim head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars at the end of 2011 and went 2-3.
Tucker was part of the 2003 Ohio State staff with Dantonio and Fickell, serving as Dantonio’s defensive backs coach under Jim Tressel. He went on to replace Dantonio and share the defensive coordinator job in 2004 before leaving for three stops in the NFL, including a four-year stop with the Jaguars as defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2012 and two years with the Chicago Bears from 2013 to 2014.
In 2015, Tucker reunited with Saban as Alabama’s associate head coach and defensive backs assistant for a year before becoming Georgia’s defensive coordinator from 2016 to 2018.
Dantonio resigned abruptly this month after becoming the Spartans’ all-time winningest coach in September. He finished his MSU career with a 114-57 record, three Big Ten titles, wins in the Rose Bowl (2013) and Cotton Bowl (2014) and a berth in the four-team College Football Playoff (2015).
MSU hired Dantonio in November 2006 away from Cincinnati, where he went 18-17 in three seasons from 2004 to 2006.
According to a USA Today salary survey, the 63-year-old was scheduled to make about $3.7 million during the 2020 season on top of the one-time $4.3 million retention bonus he qualified for on Jan. 16 when his six-year contract rolled over. He made $4.3 million last season and was set to continue to earn that much annually again beginning in 2021.
MSU hired Glenn Sugiyama, a managing partner and global sports practice leader for DHR International in Chicago, to help guide its search. Sugiyama is an MSU graduate.
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