When Mel Tucker was just 25 years old, he received an opportunity to jump into college football coaching as a graduate assistant at Michigan State.
More than two decades after that two-year stint in East Lansing, Mich., Tucker is the head coach at Colorado, but could he be on his way back to MSU?
On Friday night, the Detroit Free Press reported that Michigan State plans to interview Tucker and Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell this weekend for its vacant head coaching position.
Tucker and CU athletic director Rick George, who were both at an event for Buffs fans in San Diego on Friday night, did not respond to messages from Buffzone.
At Friday’s event, Tucker spoke to fans about his vision for the CU program, which he took over just 14 months ago. Hired Dec. 5, 2018, for his first full-time head coaching opportunity, Tucker went 5-7 with the Buffs last season.
On Tuesday, Mark Dantonio abruptly retired after 13 seasons as Michigan State’s head coach. With the Spartans, he went 114-57 and took them to 12 bowl games, 11 winning seasons and a spot in the 2015 College Football Playoff.
Fickell, who is 26-13 in three seasons at Cincinnati, including back-to-back 11-win seasons, is considered the front-runner for the job, the Free Press reported. However, the Michigan State search committee reportedly plans to meet with Tucker, as well.
Friday’s report came just two days after Tucker and his staff put the finishing touches on a recruiting class that ranks No. 7 in the Pac-12 by 247Sports.com – CU’s highest ranking since joining the conference in 2011. The Buffs also have spring ball around the corner, with the first practice set for March 16.
Tucker signed a five-year, $14.75-million contract with CU when he was hired. Currently, he would owe CU $3 million to terminate his contract and take another job.
Last season, Tucker made $2.4 million in base and supplemental salary and is set to make $2.675 million this next season. Dantonio was paid about $4.4 million by Michigan State this past season.
In addition to a potentially higher salary, Michigan State could offer more financial resources. The Spartans had a football assistant coach salary pool of $4.9 million last season and, according to a USAToday database, MSU ranked 13th nationally in total athletic department revenue in 2017-18, at $145.64 million.
CU had an assistant coach salary pool of $3.155 million last season. Its 2017-18 athletic department revenue ranked 45th nationally, at $89.58 million.
Tucker’s relationship with the Big Ten and Dantonio goes back decades.
After growing up in Cleveland, Tucker played at Wisconsin and spent six of his first eight seasons as a coach in the Big Ten, with two seasons at Michigan State and four at Ohio State.
During Tucker’s two seasons (1997-98) as a graduate assistant at MSU, he worked under Dantonio, who was the Spartans’ defensive backs coach at the time. They also worked together from 2001-03 at Ohio State, with Dantonio as defensive coordinator and Tucker as defensive backs coach. (Fickell was OSU’s special teams coordinator from 2002-03).
East Lansing is located about three-and-a-half hours from Cleveland, where Tucker grew up and where his parents still reside.