The case for Mel Tucker rebuffing LSU and staying at Michigan State
If the reports are correct — and considering the source, I’d bet they are — then Mel Tucker is a wanted man down on the Bayou.
After LSU announced it was parting ways with Ed Orgeron after the season, The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman said on Saturday, “I am told that there are some very influential people inside LSU who are really, really high on Mel Tucker.” Feldman, as plugged in as it gets around college football, also broke the news of Tucker leaving Colorado for Michigan State back in 2020, so it’s likely that there is more than a sliver of truth here.
It makes sense. Tucker should be the National Coach of the Year. Heading into the bye week, Michigan State is 7-0 and ranked No. 9 in the country. Even the most optimistic Michigan State fan couldn’t have seen this one coming. In the preseason media poll conducted by cleveland.com, Michigan State was picked last in the East.
So yeah, LSU should want someone who can build a program as quickly as Tucker. They should want someone with the SEC ties that Tucker has, even if he only spent 1 year at LSU and it was all the way back in 2000.
But I don’t think Tucker should want LSU. At least not at this stage of his career.
I know there was a head coach who left Michigan State for LSU 21 years ago, and it worked out pretty well for that guy. But Tucker should stand pat for now. Since Michigan State is on a bye this week, Tucker won’t have his weekly press conference and get his Jimbo Fisher moment in front of the cameras where he gets to triumphantly state why he isn’t going anywhere. So I’ll do it for him.
This is Tucker’s third season as a head coach. Does he really want his fourth season as a head coach to be with his third team? Since Tucker left Colorado after 1 season, leaving Michigan State after 2 seasons starts to give off some Lane Kiffin vibes. And I know that Kiffin has reinvented himself and become cool again, but Tucker just doesn’t seem like that kind of a guy, to me. Surely, another short tenure would be used against him in recruiting, that he’s the type of coach who will up and leave the second a better opportunity comes along.
A quick look at Tucker’s resume, and yeah, he has bounced around a bit, as many assistants do when trying to advance their careers. In the last decade, Tucker has been with 6 teams (the Jaguars and Bears in the NFL, then Alabama, Georgia, Colorado and now Michigan State in college). I think that’s all the more reason to plant his flag in East Lansing and build something long term.
Jumping to LSU would surely result in a pay raise, as LSU was paying Orgeron north of $9 million per season, the second-highest salary in the country behind only former Michigan State coach Nick Saban. Tucker is paid very well right now at over $5.5 million per season. But there has to be more nuance than simply dollars and cents. Yes, life is often about the almighty dollar, but it also has to be about sense.
Tucker has been around a long time, but he is still a young head coach. He is still learning. He is still growing. Making the leap to what many would consider a top-5 job this early in his head coaching journey could be disastrous for his head coaching prospects long term. If he doesn’t win big right away, he’s going to be on the hot seat within a year or 2.
That’s because the SEC chews up and spits out coaches more than any conference in America. Gene Chizik and Orgeron were out of a job 2 seasons after winning a national championship. Gus Malzahn beat Nick Saban 3 times, reached a national title game and finished in the top 25 in 5 of his 8 seasons at Auburn, and that wasn’t good enough. Dan Mullen has won 73 percent of his games at Florida, and yet, he is more likely to get fired than get an extension.
The environment is just different in the Big Ten. Kirk Ferentz is the longest tenured coach in college football, and Pat Fitzgerald is in the top 5 among Power 5 programs. You get the feeling that Scott Frost would coach at Nebraska forever if it let him, and same for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. Guys like Tom Allen, Greg Schiano and PJ Fleck feel like the perfect fit at their respective schools. Really, the only guys you could potentially see leaving are James Franklin (those USC rumors should heat up over the next month or 2) and Ryan Day, if he ever decides to go to the NFL. Tucker’s predecessor at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio, was there for 13 years. There just isn’t that same urge to burn it all down after a bad season or 2 like there is in the SEC. That’s a great setup for a young head coach. Tucker is 49 years old. What’s the rush?
Besides, the coaches who build and sustain something without jumping ship at the first opportunity are so well respected in college football circles. Chris Peterson at Boise State comes to mind. Mark Stoops at Kentucky comes to mind. Matt Campbell at Iowa State comes to mind. Luke Fickell at Cincinnati comes to mind. Those guys are always going to get opportunities, because they are viewed as loyal. They aren’t opportunists.
Mel Tucker has built something in East Lansing. He hasn’t sustained it quite yet, though. That takes time. Earning that respect will be the more valuable thing in the long run rather than jumping to his fourth school in 5 years.