Rooney: Mel Tucker-Michigan State drama will have implications for CU Buffs football

Coach reasserts commitment to CU, but fallout could ensue

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BOULDER, CO – OCTOBER 25: Head coach Mel Tucker of the Colorado Buffaloes leads players onto the field before a game against the USC Trojans at Folsom Field on October 25, 2019 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Well, that was a fun 12 hours or so.

Mel Tucker quelled the palpitating hearts of Colorado Buffaloes football fans on Saturday afternoon, issuing a statement via his Twitter account reasserting his devotion to the CU program. All is well again in Buff Nation.

Or is it?

In another few weeks, and certainly by the time the 2020 football season kicks off on Sept. 5 at Colorado State, Tucker’s brief flirtation with Michigan State will be a distant memory. Yet make no mistake — while Tucker’s reported interest in the head coach job at Michigan State, or MSU’s interest in him, as the case may be, might not prove Tucker has one foot out the door after just one season in Boulder, that door nonetheless remains open for more attractive suitors.

For Buffs fans who somehow missed the tumult that erupted Friday night, a report from the Detroit Free Press said that Tucker, after just one 5-7 season at CU, was set to interview for the job at Michigan State, which became vacant this week when Mark Dantonio abruptly retired after 13 seasons in charge of the Spartans.  The Detroit Free Press report also noted that Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell is considered a front-runner for the position.

Tucker’s statement of reassurance on Saturday didn’t explain whether he actually interviewed for the job, and as of late Saturday afternoon messages from to Tucker and CU athletic director Rick George had gone unreturned. Meaning that if no one is making an effort to refute the report, it’s safe to assume Tucker indeed at least kicked the tires on the job in Lansing.

Even with his rumor-squashing statement, the revelation dampened the momentum that has been gathering behind Tucker for 14 months, a run that culminated in CU’s 2020 recruiting class getting ranked 35th overall in the nation and seventh in the Pac-12 Conference by — the Buffs’ best mark since joining the league in 2011.

It would be easy to skewer Tucker for the perceived hypocrisy, or to rehash the ill-advised and slightly ignorant “there’s no transfer portal in the real world” declaration from this past season. Life indeed is full of transfer portals, and if Tucker didn’t actually enter one this time around, he might very well next time. Yet criticizing Tucker for reviewing his options would be dismissing college football for what it is — a big business in which the major players might genuinely care about the futures of the young men in their program, yet rarely at the expense of a bigger opportunity.

Tucker has a history at Michigan State, beginning his coaching career there as a graduate assistant. He is from the Midwest and played in the Big Ten at Wisconsin. Michigan State is a much more natural fit for Tucker than Boulder ever has been, and he is well within his rights to explore his opportunities.

Yet regardless of how this drama played out, there will be ramifications for the Buffs. Tucker might be reassuring his team and fans alike that he is at CU to see the job through to its completion, yet unless he comes out and says he never accepted the interview request and didn’t even consider the option, he never again will be able to state such things with 100 percent credibility. Every time another job opens that might be a fit for the well-traveled Tucker, the Mel Watch will resume. Don’t think for a second the recruits for 2021 and beyond aren’t watching and wondering the same thing.

Had Tucker bolted, his lasting legacy at CU would have been the way he caved to the wishes of a recruit by un-retiring the jersey numbers of legendary Buffs Byron “Whizzer” White, Joe Romig, and Bobby Anderson. Instead, Tucker will have an opportunity to follow through on his promises of building a tough, relentless, Pac-12 championship-caliber program in Boulder.

At least until the next intriguing program comes calling.