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Q&A With Mel Tucker: Big Ten Expansion, Future At Michigan State, How NIL Impacts Recruiting

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker smiles after a win in the snow.

EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN - NOVEMBER 27: Head coach Mel Tucker of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates his team’s win against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Spartan Stadium on November 27, 2021 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

In 2020, Michigan State hired Mel Tucker as its football coach. Less than two years later, he was rewarded with a 10-year contract extension.

Tucker’s lengthy extension was well-deserved considering how the Spartans performed in 2021. His team owned an 11-2 record, which included a win over Pitt in the Peach Bowl.

We caught up with Mel Tucker to discuss his contract extension, future at Michigan State, how NIL impacts college football and more.

The Spun: Michigan State won 11 games in Year 2 under your leadership. How has that benefited the program for 2022 and beyond?

Mel Tucker: Our 11-2 record has shown people that we were able to shift the culture. We were able to work the process, execute a plan and do what we said we were going to do. We were able to turn the program around and compete at a higher level. We helped lay a foundation for the next season. Our best is yet to come. In terms of recruiting, there are a lot of people that saw us play last year, we had a lot of exposure. We were undefeated at home. We even rebranded the student section The Deep End, and the students love that. Our fans are excited and our alumni are excited. There is a buzz around about us, and it feels great. 

The Spun: Which projects away from the gridiron are you passionate about?

MT: I try to get out into the community as much as my schedule allows. I love reading so I did a book drive benefiting the Lansing public schools during the Spring Game this past year. I also spend a lot of time on the golf course, so I try to mix my passion for golf with philanthropy. I recently played in The Classic benefiting the Michigan Special Olympics. I am also passionate about developing my players off the field. We have a whole team dedicated to helping my players with career development. I want to ensure my guys are prepared for life beyond football. 

The Spun: Do your coaching methods/preparation changes from year to year? If so, how?

MT: As I continue to coach, I try to bring different perspectives in. I shouldn’t be the smartest person in the room. For example, Brandon Jordan is our new Pass Rush Specialist. He’s never been on a coaching staff before, but he has so much experience and brings a different perspective to the staff and the guys. I also brought in Navy Seals, mental training coaches, and other outside consultants to teach the guys new things. This year I am also coaching the corners - so that has been an exciting challenge. I love to coach, so to be able to coach a specific position is a dream come true for me. Players and coaches are always looking to get better. After the season, we do a real deep dive, a self-evaluation of which areas to improve upon. We then spend the offseason finding ways to improve where we need to get stronger. The game is always evolving, and we find what our players do best and we’re able to adjust our schemes. Off the field, we focus on financial literacy, career development, and social media training. From year to year, we build on what we’ve done.

The Spun: What was your initial reaction to USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten?

MT: I am excited for the guys to have a new set of challenges thrown their way: new teams to play, new stadium atmospheres, and new styles of the game. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. It’s a definite positive for our conference- they have great academics, football tradition, and strong fanbases. They command a lot of coverage and recognition. It strengthens our conference and it’s a real positive for our conference. 

The Spun: How has NIL changed your recruiting tactics?

MT: NIL has been a game-changer when it comes to recruiting, especially with this 2023 class. It’s one of the top three areas of concern for the players and their families. They prioritize education, player development, and NIL. Parents want to know our stance. I tell them we embrace NIL. We think it’s a great opportunity to benefit our players, it helps with our need to educate them and build their brands. It’s challenging for everyone that's involved because it’s new. In the long run, it will be positive for MSU and for our players. 

The Spun: What does Michigan State need to do to go from a really good team to a team that makes the College Football Playoff?

MT: Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting- that is the No. 1 thing that needs to get us over the hump. You win with people, you need to have the best people. Having been in the playoffs twice, having won a national championship in Alabama and playing for one, I have experience. You don't know which teams will be in the playoffs from year to year, but you do know what they’re going to look like. They will have 4-6 difference-makers on each side of the ball, dominant players, and game-changing players. They’re going to be big and physical in the trenches. They will have excellent, skilled players running the ball. There will be NFL 1st-rounders scattered across the field either throwing touchdowns or sacking the quarterback. That’s what the teams look like in the playoffs and they’re well coached. They have a good, strong culture. They know how to win, they know how to work hard. Beyond that- Those are the types that need to be in national championships- that is recruiting. You take recruiting, shifting our culture, setting a strong foundation, expert coaching, discipline, and playing with a chip on our shoulder. With all that, now you have a chance to take that step. 

The Spun: Would you be open to the CFP expanding?

MT: I would be open to them expanding. It would give more teams opportunities to win a national championship and it would be exciting for the game and the fans. It’s been talked about for the past couple years - I think it will happen eventually. I don’t know what the bowls will look like, but I do believe it will happen and I think when it does happen, I think it will be a positive. It will give more teams, more student-athletes, more fan bases a chance to win a national championship. That is exciting for everyone involved- the coaches, the players, the fans and alums.

The Spun: What does Michigan State's 10-year commitment mean to you?

MT: It means the world to me. They trust me to create a culture here. That being said, I am doing everything in my power to bring in people who will continue the legacy of MSU football on and off the field. We are creating programming that helps the players develop off the field as young men and on the field to win championships. Michigan State has made a commitment to winning a National Championship. We are going to put ourselves in a position to win a National Championship. It changes the perception of our program. It’s a no-limit mentality. On a national stage, with the recruits, it’s basically a statement that says we are a top-tier program. We’re here to win championships. We’re willing to put the resources behind it. 

After being named the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2021, it’s fair to say there’ll be high expectations for Mel Tucker this fall.

Michigan State will kick off the 2022 season at home against Western Michigan. 

You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here