For Mel Tucker, rebuilding Michigan State football is personal
If you weren’t ready to run through a wall for Mel Tucker before Big Ten Media Days, you’re ready to run through two now.
From checking off all of the proper Big Ten football buzzwords to describe his program: tough, hard-nosed, lunch pail, meat and potatoes; to the emphatic, “Go Green” as he prepared to step away from the lectern, there was a real authenticity to Tucker as he enters his second year on the job.
Maybe it’s due to not seeing Tucker at a press conference, other than over Zoom, for the first time since early March 2020, but his performance Friday in Indianapolis was striking — largely because it didn’t feel like a performance. It felt personal.
The last-second nature of Tucker’s hiring last spring was widely panned as some sort of third-choice option for the program, and a bit of a strange move for Tucker, who had only recently pledged his devotion to his current job at the time with Colorado. What was the motive for Tucker opting to pack his bags and move to East Lansing on such short notice?
Simple, he explained Friday. Michigan State is a destination, not a stepping stone.
“Michigan State has been my dream job sine 1997,” Tucker said. “This isn’t just another opportunity for me and for us in East Lansing. This is a dream come true, and we need to make it work.”
Tucker’s coaching timeline actually started in ’97 as a GA for the Spartans, a few years after he wrapped up his defensive back career as a player for Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. It was there as a Badger that Tucker learned all about rebuilding a program, going from 1-10 his freshman year to winning the Rose Bowl 3 years later.
The Spartans may not exactly be on that type of fast track to success, as the team welcomes over 30 new players this season between transfers and incoming recruits, but Tucker’s persona makes it easy to believe that a return to the Mark Dantonio heydays may not be that farfetched.
It’s one thing to have players buy in when the head coach feels like a car salesmen spitting cliches, but with Tucker, it feels as though he’s just as invested into turning around the program as he expects every single player, coach and staff member to be in return.
“We have been able to indoctrinate the new players to our program,” Tucker said. “Now, at this point in the summer, we’re all moving forward together, united and as a football team, not just as a collection of players.”
There’s something to be said about a team with just 2 wins in the middle of December still playing like it cares in a loss to Penn State, just a week removed from losing by 40 to Ohio State.
Mel Tucker will ask nothing more from his players than what he would do himself. Even though in all likelihood the administration would give him a grace period, there’s a desire to get it done now. There’s no need for a free pass when you have a chip on your shoulder. That’s the Michigan State Way.
“It’s not Year 1. It’s Year 2, and we’ve got to get this thing moving,” Tucker said. “There’s a sense of urgency in our program and our building, and I’m excited about that.”
While there may not be much excitement for the program on a national level as Tucker continues playing catch-up the the rest of the Big Ten, it sure seems like Tucker is here to stay. After all, it’s not just business. It’s something personal. Very personal.