On a gray and rainy October day not two years ago, Michigan State outlasted Michigan, 37-33, in front of a wild Spartan Stadium crown. It moved the Spartans to 8-0 on the season and coach Mel Tucker to 2-0 as their coach against their bitter rival.
MSU would soon soar to No. 3 in the national rankings and Tucker would soon receive a massive 10-year, $95 million contract, in part out of fear that LSU or someone else would come steal a Spartan coaching savant the way they once did with Nick Saban.
Tucker had it made. Big money, big momentum.
Since then, he’s 10-9 on the field. Off of it, reality is even worse.
Sunday he was suspended without pay awaiting the conclusion of a Title IX investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed Brenda Tracy, a prominent rape survivor who works as an educator on the issue, including working with numerous athletic teams.
The decision came hours after USA Today reported, with Tracy’s consent, the details of her allegations and the ensuing investigation. It brought to light Tucker’s behavior in what he described as a “consensual and intimate relationship.”
Even if Tucker, who is 51 and married with children, is proven correct, the details are embarrassing and the relationship is wholly inappropriate.
A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5-6.
It’s almost unfathomable Tucker ever coaches another game for the Spartans.
In terms of his status with MSU, the hearing will do little more than determine how much of the $77 million he will receive from the school — and it could be zero since his contract has a clause voiding it if he engages in “conduct which, in the University’s reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule on the University.”
Well, the ridicule is everywhere. MSU hastily suspended him without pay and then staged a clumsy news conference where it did little to explain why. They cited “developments” but the only development was that the details got out.
Later reporting by ESPN stated that athletic director Allan Haller and other university administrators were aware that Tucker was under investigation but due to the system in place knew no specifics at all.
Once they read it in USA Today, they suspended him.
Which is why barring complete exoneration, which seems unlikely based on the available details, MSU is done with the man that it believed 20 months ago would be the long-term football savior for the school.
College coaches are uniquely skilled in finding outrageous ways to torpedo their careers — usually while lecturing everyone about the culture and leadership they instill in their program.
Even by those standards, Tucker will likely go down in the hall of fame.
One hot start to the season — much of it courtesy of transfer running back Kenneth Walker IV — somehow lifted an otherwise anonymous former Wisconsin defensive back and assistant coach grinder to the upper echelons of the college pay scale. The near nine-figure contract reset the coaching market.
Tucker had come to MSU after a single 5-7 season at Colorado, when the Spartans were forced to scramble to find a coach after the late retirement of Mark Dantonio. In first year on the job, Tucker went 2-5 in the Covid-shortened 2020 season.
Then came the 8-0 start. But that’s all it was, a start. Since then he’s just 5-10 against Power Five opponents and his recruiting — both via the portal and the high school ranks — has dried up. MSU is 2-0, but questions are everywhere. Tucker’s job stability was based mostly on the idea that Michigan State couldn’t afford to get rid of him.
Now they may not have to pay anything.
What Tucker was thinking when he began a relationship with Tracy or after he was hit with the allegations of harassment aren’t clear.
“I am not proud of my judgment and I am having difficulty forgiving myself for getting into this situation, but I did not engage in misconduct by any definition,” Tucker wrote to an investigator, according to the USA Today report.
Did he think the details would remain hidden? Did he just hope to get to Oct. 5 and win the case and somehow survive? As recently as August, when asked about a hazing allegation case at Northwestern, he boasted that MSU’s “culture is very strong” because it “starts with connection and authentic relationships and mutual respect.”
At that point, few knew the allegations against Tucker. That includes the MSU administration. Now the details are out, and so too it seems is Mel Tucker, who climbed as fast as he fell.