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College Football

Michigan State Has Begun The Process Of Firing Mel Tucker

5:56 PM EDT on September 18, 2023

Head coach Mel Tucker of the Michigan State Spartans looks on in the fourth quarter of a game agains the Richmond Spiders at Spartan Stadium on September 09, 2023 in East Lansing, Michigan.
Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Michigan State announced Monday that it had begun the process of terminating its contract with head football coach Mel Tucker. Tucker currently has a 10-year, $95 million deal with the university that makes him one of the highest paid coaches in college football. He also has been suspended without pay since news broke last week that Tucker is the subject of a sexual harassment investigation by Michigan State. The investigation began after anti-rape advocate Brenda Tracy reported to the university that Tucker had harassed her, including masturbating during a phone call without her consent.

Tracy reported Tucker's actions to the university in December. Michigan State hired an independent investigator, who turned in more than 100 pages of findings to the university in July, according to USA Today, and a hearing is scheduled for early October. (This is, admittedly, a very brief synopsis of everything that happened and has been reported, so I suggest you read my earlier blog if you need more details about what lead up to this point.)

Before the investigation became public knowledge, Michigan State seemed to be treating this football season like any other, at least to outside observers. Once it did become public, the university held a press conference in which athletic director Alan Haller said Michigan State would suspend Tucker without pay. (It also later clarified through a spokesperson that Haller hadn't known all of the details uncovered by the investigator about what happened until after USA Today reported them.) After his suspension was announced, Tucker issued a lengthy statement saying the allegations were "completely false." Tracy then issued a statement saying she had never intended to go public with the investigation and only did so after her named got leaked to the media. A university trustee and the governor also weighed in, with the trustee asking for an investigation into who leaked Tracy's name.

On Monday, Michigan State said it had sent to Tucker notice that leadership intended to terminate his contract for cause. (The seven days notice, as pointed out by The Athletic's Nicole Auerbach, is required by his contract.)

The notice is five pages long, and Auerbach shared the document in its entirety. The university's letter says that Tucker has a clause in his contract that says he can be terminated for "any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or which, in the University's reasonable judgement, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt, or ridicule upon the University." According to the university, the results of the investigation already prove that Tucker breached his contract.

During the period where you both discussed further [Set the Expectation] presentations, and while married, you admitted to the following behaviors:

  • Commenting to the Vendor about her looks, body, and body parts, specifically her “ass”
  • Making flirtatious comments to the Vendor in conversations that you stated “happened often” 
  • Masturbating and making sexually explicit comments about yourself and the Vendor while on the phone with the Vendor, which you describe as “phone sex” and “a late-night intimate conversation”

While The Formal Grievance process proceeds, the above-described undisputed facts provide multiple grounds for termination under the Agreements Early Termination Provision. Your admitted behavior (1) constitutes a material breach of your duties under the Agreement, (2) demonstrates "conduct which constitutes moral turpitude," and (3) has brought "public disrespect, contempt, or ridicule upon the S077 University." (Section IILB.1 (a) and (c).) Each of these grounds provide an independent basis under which the University may terminate the Agreement, which the University elects to now terminate.

Since Tucker's suspension, the Spartans have been coached by assistant coach Harlon Barnett. Former Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio also was brought back to help. Dantonio is the winningest football coach in Spartans history. He retired about two years ago, after ESPN reported that more than a dozen football players during his Spartans tenure were accused of sexual assault or violence against women.

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