Michigan State has suspended football coach Mel Tucker without pay, the school announced Sunday, following media reports revealing a sexual harassment investigation.
The university held a press conference Sunday afternoon to address the embattled coach’s status. A previously reported hearing may ultimately determine Tucker’s future and remains scheduled for the week of Oct. 5 during Michigan State’s bye week.
Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller, who revealed the suspension, added that an investigation into Tucker’s behavior is ongoing and will not be concluded until after that hearing.
Tucker was allowed to coach the Spartans’ first two games before the allegations became public.
“The action AD Haller took comes with the full weight of my support,” Michigan State interim president Teresa K. Woodruff said. “As he shared, these new developments before the formal hearing can impact the case and the community. This step, to place Mel Tucker on an unpaid leave, is equally necessary and appropriate for today’s circumstances.”
Per multiple reports, secondary coach Harlon Barnett will serve as Michigan State’s interim coach, with former coach Mark Dantonio assisting as an associate head coach.
Tucker is the subject of a months-long investigation into whether he violated the school’s policy banning sexual harassment and exploitation as reported on by USA Today early Sunday.
In a lengthy article published Sunday, Tucker’s accuser — Brenda Tracy — described to USA Today how she met Tucker and told her story through to the night that led to the allegation. While Field Level Media’s policy is not to name alleged victims of sexual harassment or assault, Tracy agreed to be identified in her USA Today interview and provided hundreds of pages of documentation.
Tracy, a rape survivor, works to educate athletes about sexual violence. She was paid to speak to the football team twice, and she was named an honorary captain for the Spartans’ 2022 spring football game.
Tracy and Tucker apparently had a working relationship that became friendly, but Tracy said Tucker crossed the line during an April 28, 2022, telephone call. According to USA Today, she filed a complaint last December with the university’s Title IX office that said Tucker “made sexual comments about her and masturbated” during that call.
That report triggered a Title IX investigation, done by an outside attorney and completed in July, per the report.
In a statement to the Title IX investigator, Tucker said the two had consensual “phone sex” and acknowledged masturbating.
“Ms. Tracy’s distortion of our mutually consensual and intimate relationship into allegations of sexual exploitation has really affected me,” Tucker wrote in a March 22 letter to the investigator, per the report. “I am not proud of my judgment and I am having difficulty forgiving myself for getting into this situation, but I did not engage in misconduct by any definition.”
Tracy denies there was anything consensual about the call and said she had discouraged romantic advances from Tucker. She told USA Today that Tucker is trying to ruin her career and reputation.
Tucker hung up on a USA Today reporter who was seeking comment Saturday night, and Michigan State officials declined to make a statement, citing the investigation and the need for confidentiality.
Tracy is an influential advocate against gender-based violence through her nonprofit organization, Set The Expectation.
Tucker is one of the highest-paid coaches in college football, signing a 10-year, $95 million contract before the 2022 season. The contract is fully guaranteed if the school fires Tucker for performance.
However, it contains a clause that allows Michigan State to fire him, without payment, if he engages in “conduct which, in the University’s reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule on the University,” per the report.
At the upcoming hearing, both sides can present evidence to corroborate their cases. USA Today said another outside Title IX attorney, hired by Michigan State, will review the initial report and all evidence to determine whether Tucker violated school rules.
Michigan State is no stranger to acts of sexual harassment and assault.
The university has paid out more than $510 million to hundreds of women who sued, claiming they were abused by former Michigan State sports doctor Larry Nassar under the guise of medical treatment. As part of their case, the women said the university ignored complaints for years and kept him in his job.
He was sentenced to at least 100 years in prison.
Tucker, 51, is in his fourth season as head coach of the Spartans, who are off to a 2-0 start.
A longtime college and NFL assistant coach, Tucker got his first head coaching job in 2019 with Colorado. Despite Tucker’s 5-7 record with the Buffaloes, Michigan State plucked him away for its coaching job before the 2020 season. In 2021, the Spartans were 11-2 and won the Peach Bowl, and Tucker was rewarded with the massive contract.
His overall record at Michigan State is 20-14 after a 5-7 season in 2022.
–Field Level Media