Choose your own adventure: Michigan State's quest to replace Mel Tucker
It’s all over but the suing in East Lansing. If Mel Tucker scores another win there, it will be in the courtroom rather than on the sidelines.
It’s clear that Tucker and Michigan State are eventually headed to court for a wrongful termination case, where 1 side will leave with a lot less money and a lot more egg on its face. (Or reach a settlement that keeps the majority of eggs from breaking.)
Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller’s focus — prior to any future testimony, at least — is on finding the Spartans a coach for 2024 and beyond.
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There are a number of different directions for Haller to go. And we will present them here, Choose Your Own Adventure style.
Shoot for the moon
They can’t so “no” if you don’t ask …
Bama fans are grumbling. Texas already rolled the Tide, and South Florida gave Alabama a disturbingly tough fight last week.
Lose to Ole Miss this week? Tuscaloosa turns to full-blown crisis mode. Alabama would be compelling to monitor for the remainder of 2023 for reasons we’ve never contemplated. Saban could be entering his “Bill Belichick post Tom Brady” phase.
But you know who would be happy to have him back if Bama fans riot? Michigan State.
After all, the fear of Tucker turning into the next Saban at LSU was the impetus for Tucker’s excessive 10-year, $95 million contract extension. Find a way to bring back the OG.
Hiring a coach from Colorado has previously worked wonders for Michigan State. (And then disaster. But let’s focus on the wonders of 2021 rather than the aftermath.)
Deion Sanders seems unlikely to repeat Tucker’s missteps. And for the first time since the mid-1960s, Michigan State would truly be an elite, top 10 brand in college football. (There’s a difference between top 10 team and top 10 brand, as Colorado is proving this season.)
What could be funnier than the visual/personality clash of Coach Prime battling Jim Harbaugh for supremacy in Michigan and the Big Ten as a whole?
OK. This would be funnier. But the elder Harbaugh brother probably isn’t going anywhere with the Baltimore Ravens looking like clear AFC North favorites this season. Or to college at all.
But it was worth creating the mental image.
Bill Snyder Style
Maybe that AARP lifestyle isn’t what it’s cracked up to be …
One way or the other, Dantonio is going to be heavily involved in this process.
He’s already been added to the coaching staff to assist interim head coach Harlon Barnett. And Dantonio will surely have a say in who Michigan State hires full-time.
And what if it turns out to be him?
Kansas State miracle worker Bill Snyder was retired for 3 years before coming back to the workforce to bail out the Wildcats at the age of 70. Snyder’s second tenure lasted 10 mostly successful seasons before he stepped away for good.
At 67, Dantonio could theoretically pull a page out of the same book. And it definitely would be a real book, not a Kindle.
Defensive guru head coach
Because what other type of coach does Michigan State ever hire?
The 2nd-year Duke head coach is a rising star. Because, well, he’s winning at Duke.
Elko, who grew up in New Jersey and played at Penn, is largely an East Coast guy. But he has 5 seasons as a defensive coordinator at Bowling Green and 1 at Notre Dame, so he has a good blend of Midwest and Eastern recruiting connections.
In a world where Tucker is wooed away from Michigan State after 2021, Narduzzi is probably the first call. The former Michigan State coordinator led Pitt to the Peach Bowl that same season before losing to the Spartans with star quarterback Kenny Pickett sitting out the bowl game.
However, Pitt’s offenses in the post-Pickett era have been miserable. A Narduzzi-coached team will always be competitive, but the ceiling is likely limited because of his conservative offensive desires.
Offensive guru head coach
For something completely different …
Huff is a Saban disciple who has also coached with James Franklin at Penn State and Vanderbilt and PJ Fleck at Western Michigan. And Huff got his FBS start at Maryland, where he was the offensive line coach for then-OC Franklin under Ralph Friedgen.
So the connections are altogether solid for Huff. However, his Marshall offenses have gone from 30th nationally in scoring in 2021 to 90th in 2022 to 86th this season. That’s not a great trend for a guy with offense in his blood.
Up-and-coming offensive coordinators
How about a pair of candidates in their 30s?
Can’t get Coach Prime? Get his offensive coordinator instead.
He even comes with a bonus Saban connection thanks to his 5 seasons as Kent State’s head coach. Lewis was highly regarded for his work with the Golden Flashes, but was unable to parlay it into a bigger job. So this year he made the unorthodox decision to latch on as Sanders’ offensive coordinator at Colorado.
Looks like that move will pay off. The former Wisconsin player is bound to get a good head coaching gig this offseason, and Michigan State could be the one.
Hartline is Ryan Day’s ace recruiter, which explains why he got a big pay raise and promotion from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator this offseason.
Granted, the jury is still out on Hartline’s skills as a coordinator. We’re just 3 games into the season, and Ohio State didn’t really get on track offensively until last week’s 63-10 win over Western Kentucky.
In the old days, Hartline’s first head coaching gig might be at a Group of 5 program. But the times are a-changin’. Like Ryan Walters at Purdue, Hartline could go from B1G coordinator to B1G head coach in just a season.