Michigan State football is fresh off its first 10-plus-win season since 2017 and Mel Tucker is clearly ahead of schedule. Where did we expect him to be?
When Michigan State football was looking for Mark Dantonio’s replacement following a sudden retirement, Luke Fickell was the first name that came to mind.
Fans were enamored with the idea of bringing in the former Buckeye to East Lansing to replace his good friend and he had already proven himself as a collegiate head coach, capable of turning a program around into a powerhouse. He did so at Cincinnati and Michigan State fans were hoping he’d head north to do that in East Lansing, too.
Rumors swirled about Fickell’s interest in taking over at Michigan State because he ultimately saw himself coaching in the Big Ten and the program Dantonio built was high on his list.
After what seemed like an eternity (which was really just a weekend of speculation), Fickell ultimately turned down the offer and remained at Cincinnati.
Mel Tucker, who had tweeted just a few days earlier that he was staying at Colorado, was given the full-court press by Bill Beekman and the athletic department and he received an offer that he just couldn’t refuse. Michigan State made sure it finished with one of its top two options and they paid a hefty price that surprised some people.
Michigan State was the butt of jokes from fans around college football as they called the Spartans “desperate” and “idiotic” for paying so much for a guy who had a 5-7 career record as a head coach and only spent one year at that position at Colorado.
Spartan fans, for the most part, embraced Tucker and sang his praises because of his social media presence and the fact that he said all the right things.
He called Michigan State his “dream job” and vowed to get the program back on top.
After a disastrous ending to the Dantonio era, it felt like it would take a little while for this to happen. Fans expected it to take a handful of years to really get back to those winning ways, especially after a 2-5 opening season for Tucker, but then he shocked everyone by winning 11 games in 2021.
So where did we expect Tucker to be after two seasons? If you would have said he led Michigan State to its most wins in a single season since 2015, I would have said “make him a lifer.”
Michigan State didn’t do quite that, but a massive 10-year extension was made and he will be in East Lansing for a while. In year two, after a 2-5 season, fans would have been happy with a bowl berth and 6-7 wins. He exceeded that, and then some. He won 10 regular-season games, including a second straight claim of the Paul Bunyan Trophy, along with a New Year’s Six bowl, taking down Pitt in the Peach Bowl.
No one expected this. This was a fourth or fifth-year hope for Tucker, not year two. Well, really just year 1.5. Ten wins was something that we had hoped for within the first five years of Tucker and he did it just a year after being hired in the middle of a COVID-19-plagued offseason.
His entire first recruiting class was basically recruited all on Zoom and it finished No. 46 in the country but he did bring in about a dozen transfers, including the eventual Doak Walker Award winner in Kenneth Walker III. He recruited fairly well for a coach who had never been able to do so in person and who was trying to sell a program fresh off a 16-17 record over the previous three seasons.
Michigan State ended up going 11-2 with a New Year’s Six win and finishing No. 9 in the AP Top 25. He generated a ton of recruiting juice and landed the No. 23 recruiting class for 2022 and another batch of quality transfers.
Already recruiting at a higher level than Dantonio and recording his first 10-plus-win season quicker than his predecessor did after taking over the program that was in a bad place, Tucker is about 2-3 years ahead of schedule.
Michigan State fans should feel fortunate to have a head coach who is a heck of a recruiter, developer of talent, and has the gifts of hiring the right coaches and also creating some juice on social media. He is way ahead of schedule and it just feels like the start of something special.