EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State announced Mel Tucker as its 25th head football coach on Wednesday night in East Lansing after a somewhat public search process that started with Luke Fickell and circled back to Tucker.
While Michigan State initiated contact with Tucker early on, the target for the position was seemingly Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, who eventually decided to stay at Cincinnati after being courted by the Spartans.
Once Fickell's decision was final, Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman came back to Tucker and made the offer.
"Late last week, Michigan State showed interest and I had interest as well. Strong interest, very strong interest. Throughout the process, I decided that it was time for me to take a step back from the process," Tucker said. "Obviously there were other great candidates. The search continued then circled back to me, I want to say probably Monday morning with my representation. Ultimately sometime late last night, it was apparent to me that I needed to be here and that's kind of how it worked out."
Tucker left Colorado after only one year as head coach and a 5-7 record with the Buffs and accepted a six-year contract at Michigan State worth $5.5 million per year. He noted how tough the decision was to leave Colorado for Michigan State, calling it the toughest decision he has made in not just his professional career, but his life.
"It's all about relationships and people," Tucker said. "And so I have friendships there, players, staff, coaches and anytime you have those types of strong relationships and bonds where people care about each other, it's tough when you leave."
It was somewhat of a homecoming for Tucker, though, as he was a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1997 and 1998 under then-head coach Nick Saban. Tucker worked directly with the coach he is replacing, Mark Dantonio, at both Michigan State and Ohio State, and Tucker says both Saban and Dantonio are still mentors and people he admires.
Dantonio stepped away from Michigan State on Feb. 4, the day before signing day, which caused a shortened timeline and a lot of surprise within the football building. That surprise extended to Dantonio's players, who learned the news from their head coach in a team meeting.
Linebacker Antjuan Simmons spoke at Tucker's news conference on behalf of the players and described how difficult it was to hear Dantonio tell them he was resigning.
"It was rough. No, nobody [knew]. The way he started off, I could tell as soon as he started off," Simmons said. "He was like, 'I tell you guys all the time there could be a new face up here one day.' It was good though. You could feel it was genuine ... We love Coach D, we're happy he can be around, but we're just as excited to have Coach Tucker as our head coach and we're going to play just as hard for him."
Tucker met with the team before his news conference, a meeting Simmons described as intense, to introduce himself and give his first impression to his future team. Simmons and the Spartans gave Tucker an impression of themselves as well, letting him know they have not given up and are ready to put in the work required to get back to a winning level.
"We've been working hard the past few days," Simmons said. "We haven't let everything on the outside affect us for the most part. We've still been working hard, we've had the decision to call a workout off or not show up for a workout, but we're not doing that.
"We're going to show up and we're going to work hard."
Understanding the unique timeline of this coaching change, Tucker knows he needs to move quickly to fill his staff and build relationships with the incoming 2020 recruiting class, mainly prospects he did not recruit.
He emphasized that there is no shortage of quality coaches, developers and recruiters out there who would have interest in the job and are capable of joining his staff.
While the timing is unfortunate and the candidate pool might have shrunk because the coaching carousel has concluded, Tucker felt no concerns over his decision to leave Colorado for Michigan State. After discussions with his family and after the official offer was made, Tucker knew this was the right choice at the right time.
"This is the right time for me to be here. That's really what it comes down to," Tucker said. "The commitment's here, the resources are here, the want to, the leadership is here. Everything is here. Everything we need is here right now to get done what we need to get done."