EAST LANSING, Mich. | Mel Tucker has agreed to lead Michigan State’s football program, according to two people familiar with the decision.
The people spoke Wednesday morning to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the hiring had not been announced. One person said the school’s governing board scheduled a meeting later in the day to approve the hire.
Colorado athletic director Rick George said Tucker resigned from his position at the school before Michigan State announced it was hiring him.
“We are disappointed to see coach Tucker leave,” George said. “We are excited about the upward trajectory of our football program and we’ll get to work immediately hiring the next head coach to build on our momentum and lead our young men. We’re confident this program is on the verge of competing at the highest level and has the resources and support in place to do so for a long time.”
Michigan State announced its board was having a special meeting Wednesday to discuss a personnel action.
Tucker succeeds Mark Dantonio, the school’s all-time winningest coach, who retired less than two weeks ago.
Colorado hired Tucker in December 2018, and gave him an opportunity to run a program after he was Georgia defensive coordinator. He was given a five-year, $14.75 million contract to lead the Buffaloes and they were 5-7 last season.
Tucker has ties to Michigan State because he was a graduate assistant at the school under Nick Saban in the late 1990s.
“I’ve known Mel for well over 20 years and he is one of the brightest coaches in our profession,” Saban has said. “They are getting a guy with a great personality, who knows college football, works hard each and every day, and does it with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and positive energy.”
Tucker’s exodus caught many by surprise, especially after he and George issued statements Saturday that seemed to pause the speculation of Tucker going to Michigan State.
“I know he’s committed to the Buffs all the way and we’re committed to supporting the vision he has for our program and winning championships,” George said last weekend.
Tucker also posted on his Twitter account over the weekend: “While I am flattered to be considered for the head coaching job at Michigan State, I am committed to CU Buffs Football for the build of our program, its great athletes, coaches and supporters.” He ended it with a series of hashtags: #UnfinishedBusiness. #GoBuffs. #Relentless. #Culture. #The Build.
Even as recently as Tuesday, Tucker was making the media rounds, pumping up the Buffaloes and their bid to build the program back into a contender. He’s also been meeting with the school’s alumni and donors to drum up support.
Denver Broncos tailback and former Colorado standout Phillip Lindsay posted on his Twitter account: “Respect is given when you put words to action. Consistency and Commitment is all these young ball players want.” He concluded it with the hashtag, #wow.
After being an NFL defensive coordinator in Cleveland, Jacksonville and Chicago, Tucker became an assistant again under Saban at Alabama in 2015. He spent only one season with the Crimson Tide, helping them win a national title, before the Bulldogs hired him away. He also was the interim head coach for Jacksonville over the final five games in 2011 after Jack Del Rio was fired.
Tucker also was an assistant at Ohio State as a defensive backs coach when it won a national title under Jim Tressel, whose nephew, Mike Tressel, was Michigan State’s interim coach briefly this month.
Dantonio retired with a 114-57 record over 13 years. He won three Big Ten titles and had a College Football Playoff appearance over a six-season span from 2010 to 2015.
The Spartans have slipped in recent years. They had 7-6 records the past two seasons and were three games over .500 in the four seasons following their playoff appearance.
Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman received input from Dantonio before recommending the school’s governing board hire Tucker.
Beekman appeared to be interested in hiring Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, but he chose to stay at the American Athletic Conference school.
The first-time athletic director appeared to rally by reaching out to Tucker again during the search and making him an offer he apparently could not refuse.
Despite the presence of traditional powerhouse programs at Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan in the region, Dantonio proved a coach can win big at Michigan State.
He had at least 11 victories five times in that six-year span, becoming the first Big Ten coach to pull off that feat.
Before Dantonio began leading the Spartans in 2007, they had won eight or more games in consecutive seasons once and earned a trip to the Rose Bowl only once since their glory years in the mid-1960s under Duffy Daugherty.
Potentially, the program has a problem off the field.
Curtis Blackwell, a former Michigan State football employee, filed a lawsuit claiming his employment agreement was violated when he was disciplined while the school addressed sexual assault allegations against players in 2017. A recent filing in that case from Blackwell’s lawyer suggested deposition testimony from Dantonio may have revealed NCAA violations.
Beekman has said the allegations are patently false, to the best of the athletic department’s knowledge. At a news conference on the day he decided to retire from coaching, Dantonio insisted the court case and potential fallout from it had nothing to do with his decision.