It looked like a wild party after Michigan State defeated Michigan, 37-33, during the 2021 season in front of a packed and prideful Spartan Stadium. Soon, a nearby car got flipped, a couch got burned and it’s reasonable to think the supply of alcohol in East Lansing was tested that night.
Michigan State (8-0) would ascend the next day to No. 3 in the national rankings. Heady times.
Not even two years later, the bill has come due in a big way — via salacious headlines, a reeling and lousy team on the field and, eventually, some amount of millions in buyout money for coach Mel Tucker, who will soon be gone after allegations of sexual harassment doomed him.
These aren’t fun days for the Spartans. They may still grow even less fun.
Yet the process of moving forward — presumably with a superior coach — has begun.
The school has begun the process of officially firing Tucker, who signed a market-altering 10-year, $95 million contract not long after the Michigan victory. He is still owed an estimated $77 million.
Tucker had been suspended without pay on Sept. 10 after USA Today printed details of a sexual harassment allegation made against him by Brenda Tracy, who the school had hired to give a sexual assault prevention presentation to the football team.
Tucker, who is married but says he is “estranged” from his wife, and Tracy began what Tucker calls an “intimate, adult” relationship that included late-night phone calls, flirtations and gifts. At issue was an April 2022 call where Tracy claimed Tucker engaged in conduct for which she did not provide consent.
It seemed the school would wait for a hearing on the allegations to occur on Oct. 5-6, but instead it announced it will cut ties with Tucker regardless.
“The University has become aware of various facts that have led to the unfortunate decision to terminate your employment for cause,” a letter sent to Tucker’s agent read. “At this point, the University has amassed a body of undisputed evidence of misconduct that warrants termination for cause.”
The entire story has descended into a very public, and very heated, he said/she said between Tracy and Tucker. A clear version of the truth may or may not come out, or it may depend on an individual’s viewpoint.
MSU doesn’t care about the details. At issue is that Tracy was deemed a university “vendor” and Tucker’s contract obligated him to “conduct [your]self professionally and ethically … at all times,” the letter read.
“It is decidedly unprofessional and unethical to flirt, make sexual comments, and masturbate while on the phone with a University vendor," the MSU letter stated. "The unprofessional and unethical behavior is particularly egregious given that the Vendor at issue was contracted by the University for the sole purpose of educating student-athletes on, and preventing instances of, inappropriate sexual misconduct."
All that is left is figuring out how much MSU will pay Tucker to go away. The school may prefer $0, but in reality it’ll be something.
As for the Michigan State football program and its many fans, this is a necessary step toward getting back to potential. Tucker is being fired for his conduct but he had almost no support or goodwill built up because, since that glorious Michigan victory, his teams were just 6-9 against Power Five opponents.
Without him on Saturday, the Spartans got rolled by Washington, 41-7. There is little hope for this season, but there never was, even with Tucker. Earlier this summer, the school conveniently announced it would move its season finale against Penn State to Detroit’s Ford Field, showing concern for late-season ticket sales.
Tucker hadn’t recruited well, hadn’t coached well and didn’t seem engaged in finding a solution. He recently complained about a lack of NIL support for the program, which was tone deaf considering the fresh new football facility, the general wealth of the school and, most notably, his own enormous contract.
Simply put, MSU deserves better because it can be better. It gave Tucker everything he could have ever dreamt up — and then some — and he spent his time engaged in an ill-advised relationship that had a decent chance of breaking as badly as it did.
Now, at least MSU can get the jump on identifying its next coach. There is still a lot to like about the job.
Michigan State had tremendous funding, excellent fan support, good local recruiting and belongs to the uber-wealthy Big Ten. The expanded College Football Playoff is ideal for schools such as MSU, which may struggle to put together perfect or near-perfect seasons, but should routinely compete for a spot in a 12-team field.
It no longer needs to run the gauntlet of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State to reach the playoff (it managed that anyway in 2015 under Mark Dantonio). There is room for imperfection now.
What Michigan State needs is more than a flash in the pan. It needs someone capable of embracing the resources, pulling together the various factions and making Michigan State believe once again in itself.
When MSU is good, it is really good.
And when they are bad, man, it can really get ugly. Monday was part of that ugliness. It was also part of getting past it.