Uncertainty Surrounds Mel Tucker’s Future Amid Michigan State’s Response to Sexual Harassment Allegation

mel tucker
Image credit : Getty Images

EAST LANSING — The future of Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker has become uncertain following the emergence of allegations of sexual harassment early Sunday morning.

Mel Tucker
Football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the LSU Tigers will be played at Tiger Stadium on October 13 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Tammy Photographer Anthony Baker

A USA TODAY inquiry uncovered that Mel Tucker is under scrutiny in a Title IX investigation related to an April 28, 2022 phone call. Allegedly, during the call with Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor who has been educating athletes about sexual violence, Tucker engaged in inappropriate behavior by masturbating without her consent.

Emily Gerkin-Guerrant, the Vice President for Media and Public Information at Michigan State, released a statement in response to the allegations on Sunday morning.

“As a matter of standard procedure, the university refrains from providing comments on potential investigations,” she stated. “I want to emphasize that in the event of any complaint regarding a potential violation of the university’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct policy, it will be meticulously assessed and addressed by MSU’s Office for Civil Rights. Maintaining confidentiality plays a pivotal role in the atmosphere surrounding incident reporting; it is essential for fostering a secure environment where individuals feel comfortable coming forward.

Our commitment to both our campus community and the public is to ensure that every complaint or concern presented is treated with the utmost seriousness, and, when appropriate, subjected to a thorough investigation. In cases where investigations are warranted, they must be carried out in a comprehensive and confidential manner.”

Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor who has been educating athletes about sexual violence- Image credit : USA Today

The announcement was announced immediately after Mel Tucker’s team defeated Richmond 45–14 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, giving them their second victory of the year. However, attempts to reach out to Athletic Director Alan Haller and a spokesperson for the MSU football program went unanswered in the early hours of Sunday, following the public disclosure of the allegations.

The current dilemma revolves around the university’s next steps regarding 51-year-old Tucker. He inked a monumental 10-year, $95-million guaranteed contract on November 24, 2021, solidifying his position as one of the highest-paid coaches in the world of sports. This significant achievement came as he guided the Spartans to an impressive 11-2 season and a top-10 finish during his second season at the helm, succeeding Mark Dantonio.

Nonetheless, Mel Tucker’s contract includes a provision that permits MSU to terminate his employment for cause and refrain from fulfilling the remainder of the agreement, particularly if actions involving “moral turpitude” are invoked.

“According to the Coach’s contract, “The University may terminate this Agreement at any time, without liability to the Coach or other penalty, and for Cause, prior to the expiration of its term.’ This termination for cause may be invoked in situations including, but not limited to: (a) the Coach’s significant breach of this Agreement; (b) the Coach’s conviction of a crime, excluding minor traffic offenses; (c) the Coach’s engagement in behavior characterized by moral turpitude or conduct, which, in the University’s reasonable judgment, would likely result in public disrespect, contempt, or ridicule towards the University (such as substantial insubordination or impropriety involving a student).”

A query directed to MSU regarding the possibility of placing Tucker on administrative leave did not receive an immediate response in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The Title IX attorney engaged by the university to examine the complaint, which was submitted in December, concluded her investigation in July. A hearing to determine whether Tucker has violated school policy is scheduled for October 5-6, coinciding with the football team’s bye week.

MSU recruited Tucker from Colorado on February 12, 2020, just eight days after Dantonio, the university’s most successful coach in terms of wins, revealed his retirement plans. Mel Tucker emerged as one of the three candidates interviewed for the position, alongside Luke Fickell and Robert Saleh.

Fickell, currently in his inaugural year at Wisconsin, initially declined MSU’s offer, despite being the apparent frontrunner. According to several sources familiar with the situation at that time, it was widely believed that the position was Fickell’s for the taking before he removed himself from consideration. Saleh, a Dearborn native who now serves as the head coach of the New York Jets, was interviewed during his tenure as the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers.

Following his initial declaration of intent to stay at Colorado, where he had been hired just a year prior, Tucker, who had previously served as a graduate assistant with the Spartans under Nick Saban in 1997 and 1998, ultimately agreed to take the MSU position. This decision came two days after Fickell’s choice and a month prior to the onset of the pandemic-related shutdown.

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Joel Ferguson, a former MSU trustee, said, “You win with good people,” and referred to Mel Tucker as “one of them,” after Tucker’s hire was approved.

During the Big Ten media day in 2021, Mel Tucker stated, ‘Michigan State has been my dream job since 1997. It’s not just another opportunity for me and for us in East Lansing. This is a dream come true.’

However, when he returned to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for this year’s media day in July, the Cleveland native and former Wisconsin defensive back revealed that ‘several people’ had advised him against taking the MSU job due to competitive challenges. He recalled their words, saying, ‘You go into the conference eighth or ninth walking in the door. You have no facilities.’ He acknowledged the existing challenges and the time it takes to build a program to meet their aspirations.”

The Spartans posted a 5-7 record last season, marking the second time they missed a bowl game in Tucker’s initial three seasons, including his 2-5 debut during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Mel Tucker, a seasoned NFL assistant coach for 10 years before returning to college, had coaching roles at Alabama and Georgia before securing his first head coaching position at Colorado in 2019. His overall record as a head coach stands at 25-21, with a 20-14 record at MSU following Saturday’s win.

As Mel Tucker addressed the audience at the podium around 7 p.m. after Saturday’s victory, he discussed shifting his team’s focus to the upcoming home game against No. 8 Washington scheduled for the following Saturday.

However, just five hours later, the situation took a dramatic and unexpected turn. The question of whether he will be present next week, either on the field or at the podium, has suddenly become the most urgent concern for MSU.

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