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Michigan State coach Mel Tucker suspended without pay after sexual harassment allegations

Tucker is accused of sexually harassing an anti-rape activist working with the football team

Content warning: This story contains depictions of graphic alleged sexual harassment.

Michigan State head football coach Mel Tucker has been suspended after reports he sexually harassed anti-rape activist Brenda Tracy.

Multiple media outlets reported late Saturday night Tucker allegedly harassed Tracy as she was working with his team. Tracy, a rape survivor who works with college football teams and other organizations regarding sexual assault education, filed a complaint with Michigan State regarding Tucker’s alleged actions and he’s been the subject of a Title IX investigation at the school.

Sunday afternoon, Michigan State announced Tucker had been suspended without pay. Athletic director Alan Haller said secondary coach Harlon Barnett would be the team's interim coach while Tucker is suspended and former Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio would serve as a special assistant.

When asked about the timing of Tucker's suspension, Haller referred to ongoing processes at the school and didn't provide any specifics as to why Michigan State made the decision to suspend Tucker hours after the accusations became public. Tracy's complaint against Tucker was filed with the school in December.

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 29:  Michigan State Spartans head coach Mel Tucker watches the action on the field during a college football game between the Michigan State Spartans and the Michigan Wolverines on October 29, 2022 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Mel Tucker is in his third season at Michigan State. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tucker, 51, is 19-14 in his time as Michigan State’s head coach, though 11 of those wins came in one season. He was hired by the Spartans ahead of the 2020 season after one year as Colorado’s head coach. After a 2-5 debut season, Michigan State went 11-2 in 2021 and won the Peach Bowl. The rapid improvement earned Tucker a 10-year contract extension with $95 million guaranteed and made him one of the highest-paid coaches in college football.

That money, however, is guaranteed only if Tucker is fired without cause and is at risk if the school finds Tucker “engaged in any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or which in the university’s reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule.”

Tracy’s complaint against Tucker is reportedly set for a Title IX hearing at the school during Michigan State’s bye week in early October.

Tracy’s accusations

Tracy says Tucker made sexual comments about her and masturbated during a phone call between the two in April 2022. According to USA Today, Tucker acknowledged his conduct during the call to Michigan State investigators and said in a letter to investigators the two were having consensual “phone sex.”

According to the USA Today report, Tucker, who is married, pursued Tracy romantically after she started working with the team. She reportedly told investigators she rebuffed Tucker’s advances before he called her for over a half-hour on April 26.

“In her interview, [Tracy] became extremely tearful, to the point of sobbing, describing this portion of the parties’ encounter,” a report from Michigan State obtained by USA Today said. “[Tracy] could hear [Tucker] masturbating, including ‘every stroke.’ She could hear the noise of some kind of lubrication being used. [Tracy] said it was ‘so loud and gross.’ She could hear [Tucker] ‘moaning and groaning.’ [Tracy] ‘kind of froze’ in the moment at first. [Tracy] thought to herself ‘Oh my god, this is happening and I can’t stop it, it’s going to happen whether I like it or not.’ [Tracy] was trying to figure out what to do. It didn’t occur to [Tracy] that she could hang up. [Tracy] kept thinking over and over that she has to say something and that she can’t let this happen again, referring to her prior experience of being a victim/survivor of sexual assault.”

According to the report, Tucker told investigators he made that phone call from East Lansing. However, investigators found documentation that Tucker had been in Florida for a charity golf tournament at the time and he had filed an expense report with the school that detailed the trip as an "administrative" one.

Tracy said she didn’t speak to Tucker after that phone call until early August. She began working with Michigan State in the summer of 2021 and was even named an honorary captain for Michigan State’s 2022 spring game. She has worked with dozens of football teams in the past decade.

Michigan State’s recent performance

Michigan State’s breakout season in 2021 was followed up by a disappointing 2022 season. The Spartans went 5-7 a season ago as the offense took a significant step back and failed to make a bowl game thanks to a late-season home loss to Indiana.

Its top two offensive contributors then left via the transfer portal after spring practice. Starting quarterback Payton Thorne transferred to Auburn while leading receiver Keon Coleman transferred to Florida State. Their departures left Michigan State very inexperienced on offense ahead of a season that includes games against four top-10 opponents in Washington, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

Tucker was hired at Michigan State after Dantonio retired in February 2020. Dantonio was the head coach of the Spartans for 13 years and MSU went 114-57 in his time with the school.