EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State hired Mel Tucker as its football coach Wednesday, rallying to land a veteran leader with ties to the school who decided to leave Colorado after a single season.
The Spartans lured Tucker away from Colorado with a six-year contract worth about $30 million after appearing to be interested in coaches including Luke Fickell, Robert Saleh and Pat Shurmur. Tucker replaces Mark Dantonio, who retired two weeks ago after 13 mostly successful seasons.
“Mel brings a championship pedigree, NFL experience, connections to our region, success on the recruiting trail and head coaching experience to our program,” athletic director Bill Beekman said.
Michigan State’s board formally approved Tucker’s contract.
Colorado hired Tucker in December 2018, and gave him an opportunity to run the Pac-12 program after he was Georgia’s defensive coordinator. He was given a five-year, $14.75 million contract to lead the Buffaloes, and they were 5-7 last season to match the program’s record from each of the previous two years.
“We are disappointed to see coach Tucker leave,” Colorado athletic director Rick George said.
Michigan State offered Tucker a chance to more than double the value of his contract in a more powerful conference in a region he calls home. The 48-year-old Tucker is from Cleveland and was a Big Ten championship-winning defensive back at Wisconsin.
His coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Michigan State under Nick Saban in the late 1990s.
Tucker’s departure caught many by surprise, especially after he and George issued statements Saturday that seemed intended to quell speculation about him going to Michigan State.
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.”
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 has also been meeting with alumni and donors to drum up support.
“Returning home to Michigan State is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and my family, but it created the toughest decision of my life — to leave Colorado,” Tucker said. “There is no way to fully express my gratitude to the Buffalo student-athletes, Rick George, and our staff.”
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. He also was the interim head coach for Jacksonville over the final five games in 2011 after Jack Del Rio was fired.
Tucker was a defensive backs coach at Ohio State 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.
Beekman received input from Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo before recommending the school’s governing board hire Tucker.
Beekman appeared to be interested in hiring Fickell, but he chose to stay at Cincinnati. Saleh is a former Michigan State assistant who is now the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Shurmur, a former Spartans player and assistant, was fired after the season as coach of the New York Giants and hired as offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos.