Mel Tucker is the new coach of Michigan State football, the team’s first new hire since late 2006. He replaces longtime head coach Mark Dantonio.
Today, we got some information on Tucker’s contract. The former Colorado head coach, who went 5-7 in one season before jumping to MSU, will be the conference’s fourth-highest paid head coach. He’s set to make at least $5.5 million per year in total, double what he made with the Buffaloes, and actually more than $1 million more than Dantonio made in 2019.
The deal is set to run for six years. With the $5.5 million salary, only Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm, and Penn State’s James Franklin come in ahead of him in the Big Ten. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald is just behind him on the Big Ten and national salary rankings.
More details are starting to come out about Mel Tucker’s deal as well. The biggest question, as usual with new college football hires: what does the buyout look like? Based on the numbers, Michigan State isn’t super worried about him taking off for another job, and gave him plenty of cushion in the case of poor performance. From Chris Vannini of The Athletic:
Mel Tucker's buyout if he leaves for another job is $6 million before Jan. 15, 2021, but drops to $2.5 million the next year w/ annual $500k drops from there.
Buyout if he's fired is 85% of remaining contract (so ~$23m after year 1) subject to offset, paid monthly.
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) February 13, 2020
Tucker clearly entered his second round of negotiations with Michigan State with a ton of leverage. He reportedly turned the school down the first time around, days after Dantonio’s resignation.
The school was also shot down by Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell. Robert Saleh was reportedly a target as well, but things did not progress with the San Francisco 49ers head coach. When it looked like the Spartans were out of top-line options, they circled back to Tucker, a former Michigan State graduate assistant with stamps of approval by Dantonio and former MSU head coach Nick Saban, who advised the athletic department on the hire.
He doesn’t come without risks, though. Tucker only has one year as a head coach under his belt: last season’s 5-7 campaign at Colorado. The Buffaloes improved from the final season under Mike MacIntyre in some ways, but it finished with the same record, and actually went down slightly in the SP+ metric, falling from 80th in 2018 to 81st in 2019. Obviously it is unfair to judge a coach for his first season with a rebuilding program, but this is a massive deal for a largely unproven head coach, and one that could be very expensive for Michigan State to get out from under if he doesn’t work out.