Nick Saban has established himself as arguably the greatest coach in college football history at Alabama. He got his first major head coaching opportunity at Michigan State, and as it turns out, played a role in the school’s new hire of Mel Tucker.
Saban served as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach in East Lansing from 1983-87. After a brief stint with the NFL’s Houston Oilers, one year as head coach at Toledo, and four under Bill Belichick as Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator, he returned to MSU as head coach. From 1995-99, Saban ran up a 34-21-1 record with the Spartans.
From there, Saban took over LSU, winning a national title in his fourth season. The rest is history. While his legacy has been stamped in the SEC with the Tigers and, since 2007, Alabama, Saban’s roots run farther North. The West Virginia native played and coached at Kent State, and obviously his time at Michigan State made a pretty big impact. His statement on the passing of his former boss George Perles shows that.
Mel Tucker had two stints under Nick Saban. In 2000, he was Saban’s first defensive backs coach at LSU for a year, before jumping to Ohio State. He later spent a year under Saban at Alabama, serving as assistant head coach and defensive backs coach in 2015, before going with Kirby Smart to Georgia, where he spent three seasons as defensive coordinator, the job he parlayed into his head coaching opportunity at Colorado. Saban still thinks very highly of Michigan State, and reportedly reached out when another of his former assistants, Mark Dantonio, stepped down. He sold MSU on Mel Tucker for the job.
Yes, MSU hired an *official* search firm to find its next football coach.
It also had an *unofficial* search firm: A man named Nick Saban.
— Tony Paul (@TonyPaul1984) February 12, 2020
Saban reportedly reached out shortly after Dantonio’s announcement, and had a “lengthy phone conversation” with athletic director Bill Beekman about the hire. From The Detroit News:
“‘I’m very interested in Michigan State having the right person,'” Saban said in the phone call, according to the source. “And they weren’t bashful about asking Nick.”
In his conversations with MSU officials, Saban is said to have stressed Tucker’s recruiting efforts, as well as his ties to the South, which is a football recruiting hotbed. Tucker was defensive coordinator at Georgia for three seasons. Saban also stressed to MSU that a mix of college and NFL coaching experiences is a plus, rather than an imbalance toward one over the other.
The process didn’t go super smoothly for MSU, of course. Tucker was on the radar early, but he initially turned them down, and publicly reiterated a commitment to Colorado. The school also interested in Michigan native Robert Saleh, the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator, and Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell reportedly rejected an offer.
MSU circled back on Tucker, offering to double his salary and his assistant coach salary pool, something that was understandably too good to pass up. Colorado reportedly wasn’t given the opportunity to match, though it seems doubtful that the school would have.