A move that has been expected for weeks was made official on Wednesday, as Michigan State formally fired football coach Mel Tucker for cause four games (only two of which he coached) into his fourth season at the school.
Tucker was suspended without pay on Sept. 10 after a report from USA TODAY detailed sexual harassment allegations the coach was facing from prominent anti-sexual violence advocate Brenda Tracy. The decision was made by athletic director Alan Haller, with the support of interim president Teresa K. Woodruff and the school's board of trustees.
In a publicly released letter addressed to Tucker, the university claimed it was terminating the football coach's contract "for his admitted and undisputed behaviors which have brought public disrespect, contempt and ridicule upon the university." The school added that those transgressions "constitute a material breach of his agreement, and moral turpitude."
REPLACING MEL TUCKER: 9 candidates for next Michigan State football coach
He finishes his stint in East Lansing with a 20-14 record, including a 2-0 mark this season before the school took disciplinary action against him. Acting coach Harlon Barnett, who assumed the role after Tucker was suspended, has been named interim head coach. Michigan State also has Mark Dantonio, who went 114-57 as the Spartans' coach from 2007-19, on staff as an associate head coach.
Why did Michigan State fire Mel Tucker?
Tucker's ouster comes in the wake of a a Title IX investigation looking into claims the coach sexually harassed Tracy, a nationally known activist who has spoken to college football programs across the country about her experience as a sexual assault survivor through her non-profit organization, Set The Expectation.
The investigation, which began in January, was led by an independent Title IX attorney hired by the university to look into the matter after Tracy filed her complaint with Michigan State's Title IX office in December 2022.
Tracy had been invited by Tucker to visit his Michigan State team three times dating back to August 2021: twice to speak to Spartans players and third time to serve as the honorary captain at the Spartans spring game.
Tucker has a clause in his contract that states it could be voided if he is convicted of a crime or engaged in “conduct which, in the University’s reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule on the University.” In adherence with a clause in Tucker's contract, Michigan State notified Tucker on Sept. 18 that it intended to fire him for cause.
The firing was made about a week before the university was scheduled to hold a formal hearing on Oct. 5 going over the investigation's findings. That date coincided with the Spartans' designated bye week. In a statement released on Sept. 19, the day after the university informed him that it intended to fire him, Tucker said that Michigan State “cut off any semblance of interest in the truth or due process by terminating me weeks before the hearing.”
What did Mel Tucker do?
Tracy alleged Tucker of sexually harassing and abusive behavior, with one notable instance coming in April 28, 2022, when she alleged him of making sexual comments about her over the phone and masturbating without her consent. Tucker was in a Florida hotel at the time.
Among other allegations, Tracy claimed Tucker on the call commented on her buttocks before saying he was an 'a-- man,' that his 'd---' was hard and that he was touching himself.
“The idea that someone could know me and say they understand my trauma but then re-inflict that trauma on me is so disgusting to me, it’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” Tracy told USA TODAY. “It’s like he sought me out just to betray me.”
Tracy was raped by four men, including two Oregon State football players, in 1998, a traumatic experience she recounts to teams when she visits with them.
Tucker later admitted he masturbated during the call, claiming it was consensual with Tracy.
Tracy also alleged Tucker of asking her in November 2021 whether she would date him if he wasn't married or a football coach. She claimed she said no, because of their professional relationship. She also accused Tucker of calling her while shirtless via FaceTime after the Spartans' 2022 spring game, and asking whether she would want to meet him alone in her hotel.
Tracy said she initially didn't move forward with allegations because she was afraid of the negative effect it would potentially have on her advocacy work, but later decided that failing to report it would be antithetical to her mission of encouraging others to speak up about sexual misconduct they've experienced.
Mel Tucker salary
Tucker earned $9.56 million in total pay during the 2021-22 athletic year, according to USA TODAY’s college football head coach salaries database.
That figure ranked him fifth among all FBS coaches, behind only Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and LSU’s Brian Kelly. He was ranked first in the Big Ten. Of that group, only Kelly — who previously led Notre Dame to a BCS championship game and two College Football Playoff appearances — had not won a national title.
In November 2021, Tucker signed a 10-year, fully guaranteed $95 million contract extension at Michigan State. The extension came amid the Spartans' 11-2 record that season. One of the only things that could void his guarantees was if he was fired with cause.
Michigan State statement
Michigan State publicly released Haller's letter of termination to Tucker on Wednesday. It reads, in part:
"Simply put, the response does not provide any information that refutes or undermines the multiple grounds for termination for cause set forth in the notice. Instead, the 25-page response, which includes a 12-page letter from your attorney and a 13-page 'export report,' provides a litany of excuses for your inappropriate behavior while expressly admitting to the problematic conduct outlined in the notice. For example, when speaking to the statements that you made during the investigation that were addressed in the notice, you maintain that you 'told the truth in that investigation without reservation.' (Response at 1).
"Later in your response, you again admit to having multiple discussions with the vendor on 'the possibility of future programming,' and to 'conversations [you] had with [the vendor] regarding her appearance, flirtation and phone sex.' (Id. at 4.) It is immaterial if, as you allege, these actions were purportedly consensual and somehow occurred outside of your workplace. As the university previously stated, '[i]t is decidedly unprofessional and unethical to flirt, make sexual comments, and masturbate while on the phone with a university vendor.' (Notice at 2).
"Your unconvincing rationalizations and misguided attempts to shift responsibility cannot and do not excuse your own behavior. Had you not engaged in this inappropriate and unprofessional conduct, the university would not be subject to public disrespect and ridicule regarding your actions."
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Why did Michigan State fire Mel Tucker? Explaining Brenda Tracy scandal