Michigan State Football: Who was Mel Tucker’s best staff hire?

Mel Tucker has officially completed his full-time on-field staff with Michigan State football, but who stands out as his best overall hire?

The final round of hires has concluded as Mel Tucker has sewn up his coaching staff for 2020 and beyond. The Spartans have a group of guys who should get the program back on track and who love working with the first-year head coach.

The staff ranges from Colorado assistants, Michigan State assistants, a Wisconsin assistant, a Kansas State assistant, a high school coach and athletic director and an offensive analyst.

Now with the staff complete, which hires were the best by Tucker for Michigan State?

First, let’s take a look at the group of coaches.

  • Offensive coordinator: Jay Johnson (also QBs coach)
  • Defensive coordinator: Scottie Hazelton
  • OL coach: Chris Kapilovic
  • RB coach: Will Peagler
  • WR coach: Courtney Hawkins
  • TE coach: Ted Gilmore
  • DL coach: Ron Burton
  • LB coach: Unspecified (Hazelton, Ross Els or Mike Tressel?)
  • DB coach: Harlon Barnett
  • Safeties coach: Mike Tressel
  • Special teams coach: Ross Els

Coaches who are more in the ‘wait and see’ category from this list are Johnson, Els and Peagler but all three could be pleasant surprises. For that reason, I’m excluding them from consideration for best hires although they have received high praise.

So if I were to pick the best hires by Tucker, it’d be down to Barnett, Tressel, Hazelton, Burton, Gilmore, Hawkins and Kapilovic.

I’m going to knock Hawkins out because he has yet to coach at the collegiate level, coming from Flint Beecher as the head coach and athletic director. He could be a great recruiter in the state of Michigan and he can connect with the younger guys as he, too, played for Michigan State and is one of the greatest receivers in school history.

Tressel will also be eliminated because, well, I think he’s under-utilized as a safeties coach. He should be taking over the linebackers as well because he’s capable of leading a solid group of defenders — and Barnett is already in charge of defensive backs.

Gilmore is a good hire because of his ability to recruit and his past success as a receivers and tight ends coach, but he’s just not on the same level as Kapilovic, Hazelton and Barnett in terms of home run hires — though he’s very close.

Kapilovic was huge because the offensive line needed someone to turn it around quickly and he’s the perfect coach for the job. He will be an excellent coach here at MSU, but he comes in at No. 3 on the ‘best hires’ list for Tucker.

Sitting at No. 2 has to be Barnett who was even being considered by some as a head coaching candidate for the Spartans and — who knows — he may have been hired to replace Mark Dantonio if he never left for Florida State’s defensive coordinator position. He’ll do an unbelievable job with the defensive backs and he, too, is a great recruiter.

But if I am going to select the No. 1 hire by Tucker, it would have to be Hazelton. The defensive coordinator helped turn Kansas State’s defense around in his first season and has worked just about everywhere, having success at all levels. Moreover, he’s earned praise from people at the NFL and collegiate levels. He’s an incredible defensive mind and he will get the Spartans back to their dominant days.

Next: 3 reasons Mel Tucker will get MSU back on track

So there you have it, Hazelton is who I would peg as Tucker’s best hire and he’s being paid as such with just under $1 million/year salary. The excitement is back in East Lansing.

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