Nick Saban helped Michigan State with its coaching search that landed Mel Tucker

Sam Cooper
·4 min read
8 Nov 1997:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Michigan State Spartans looks on during a game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross Ade Stadium in Lafayette, Indiana.  Purdue won the game 22-21. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
Nick Saban was the head coach at Michigan State from 1995 to 1999 before landing the job at LSU. (Jonathan Daniel /Allsport)

Nick Saban had a role in Michigan State’s coaching search.

Saban, the six-time national championship head coach at Alabama and LSU, spent five seasons at MSU before moving on to the SEC in 2000. And after Mark Dantonio somewhat abruptly retired earlier this month following a 13-year run leading the Spartans, the university ultimately landed on a former Saban assistant as Dantonio’s successor.

That man is Mel Tucker, who was officially hired by MSU on Wednesday.

Tucker, 48, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Saban at Michigan State and later had stints as Saban’s defensive backs coach at both LSU and Alabama. Needless to say, Tucker came highly recommended by Saban.

"I've known Mel Tucker since my days coaching at Michigan State when he was a graduate assistant on our staff. Since then, Mel has made a name for himself as one of the best and brightest coaches in our profession. I believe he will do a tremendous job as the head coach of the Spartans,” Saban said Wednesday in a statement.

“MSU is getting a guy with infinite class and a great personality, who is smart, works hard, and does it with an incredible amount of enthusiasm and positive energy. Mel is a tireless recruiter who knows the game of college football and understands what it will take to be successful in East Lansing."

How influential was Saban in MSU’s search?

When meeting with MSU’s board Wednesday to get Tucker’s contract formally approved, Beekman noted that the school consulted with a number of people, including both Saban and Dantonio, among others.

But how big of a role did Saban play? After all, he hasn’t been employed by MSU in 20 years. According to the Detroit News, however, Saban’s voice was influential in the search. After Dantonio stepped down, Saban got in touch with MSU officials and endorsed Tucker. He especially talked up Tucker’s ability to recruit in the South from his time as an SEC assistant, per the Detroit News:

In his conversations with MSU officials, Saban is said to have strongly stressed Tucker's recruiting efforts, as well as his ties to the South, which, of course, is a football recruiting hotbed. Tucker was the defensive coordinator at Georgia for three seasons. Saban also stressed to MSU that a mix of college and NFL coaching experiences is a plus, rather than an imbalance toward one over the other.

After an interview with MSU last week, Tucker said on social media that he would return to Colorado for his second season as head coach (he went 5-7 in Year 1). But when MSU struck out on hiring Luke Fickell from Cincinnati, the school circled back to Tucker and offered him a contract that will reportedly double what he was earning in Boulder. Now Tucker is returning to East Lansing.

Colorado coach Mel Tucker looks for a call during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Washington on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Colorado coach Mel Tucker looks for a call during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Washington on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

"It is a blessing and honor to return to Michigan State University where I began my coaching career with Nick Saban," Tucker said. "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. There is no way to fully express my gratitude to the Buffalo student-athletes, Rick George, and our staff. I am incredibly thankful for our time together and I will always believe in Colorado football.”

In addition to his time with Saban at MSU, LSU and Alabama, Tucker also had stints as an assistant at Ohio State (where he coached with Dantonio) and Georgia at the collegiate level and with the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears of the NFL.

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