Michigan State Football: Why Mel Tucker belongs in East Lansing

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker and players march towards Spartan Stadium before the Youngstown State game in East Lansing on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.
Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker and players march towards Spartan Stadium before the Youngstown State game in East Lansing on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. /

On Saturday, Oct. 30, college football fans in East Lansing and all around the country were given a truly elite matchup to get their afternoons started and kick off Halloween shenanigans, as Mel Tucker’s eighth-ranked Michigan State Spartans erased a 16-point, third-quarter deficit to defeat their visitors, sixth-ranked in-state rival Michigan, 37-33.

Kenneth Walker III cemented his status as a Heisman favorite and an MSU legend with his historic 197-yard, five-touchdown performance against a second-ranked Wolverine defense. He scored his final touchdown of the day with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter to put the Spartans in the lead and then, after a Wolverine turnover on downs and a subsequent MSU three-and-out, State’s Charles Brantley picked off Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara with a minute to go.

Victory formation ensued.

East Lansing was electric. Three game day shows were in town before the game. The stadium was rocking nearly the whole time. Michigan tried to take the crowd out of the game, but The Woodshed was just as relentless as Ken Walker. The whole experience was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been going to games since before I could comprehend what football even was.

Now, everyone is talking about Michigan State. The Spartans are in the AP’s top five this week, and many believe they will be a top-four team in the College Football Playoff committee’s first rankings of the season. More specifically, however, everyone is talking about the coach who kept the Paul Bunyan Trophy in East Lansing.

Tucker has already done something that Dantonio, Saban were unable to do

Tucker is now 2-0 versus Michigan. He’s the only Spartan coach to do this, let alone do it en route to an 8-0 record on the year. And so, with a high-caliber job opening down south and speculation already being present before the weekend, everyone knew he would be a major talking point this week.

People all over the country are talking about Coach Tuck possibly following in Saban’s footsteps: leaving East Lansing and heading down to Baton Rouge to take the head coaching position at LSU. If you glance at the situation, it does make sense. LSU will absolutely reach out. Saban is Mel’s idol, LSU has big money, and Tucker seems like a great fit for their program.

What fewer people are talking about is why he might not end up in Louisiana.

Tucker has said before that Saban is the guy he wants to be like, the guy he’s chasing — and that’s great. Saban is a great role model to have if you want to be a successful head coach, and college football fans don’t need to be told why. The Crimson Tide remind them constantly.

When looking at this scenario, though, one thing fans need to remember is that there is great value and importance in forging one’s own path. With a decision to stay put, Tucker would do just that.

He has what he needs in East Lansing to be a successful head coach

Tuck doesn’t need to go to LSU to see success. He’s 8-0 so far in his first full season at State. He’s recruiting like a mad man and clearly won the transfer portal this past offseason by landing Walker and some other great talents. He’s proven that he doesn’t need LSU’s resources to improve his recruiting (although it certainly wouldn’t hurt, admittedly) and that he can win huge — not just big, but huge — football games in the position he’s currently in.

Plus, it’s possible that Tucker could see greater success sooner in East Lansing than he would in Baton Rouge, and that could possibly hurt him in the end.

That’s not to say he wouldn’t eventually be successful at LSU, because he probably would be; it’s a top SEC program with history and a lot of resources, and he is a very good coach. However, with the two best coaches in the game — Saban and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart — in that conference already, he might live in their shadows for a handful of years at least, while he tries to build up to their status and waits for them to retire.

How can Mel trust that LSU has the patience for that? Yes, Ed Orgeron has very apparently acted like a fool, but he won a championship less than two years ago, and that’s the goal as a program. Why not show grace and give it one more try to make it work?

Also, his antics don’t change what happened to Les Miles. And yes, Coach O stepped up and won a trophy after Miles’ departure, but he also came from his staff. Les gave the Tigers two national championship coaches in a row and they both got pushed out the door.

Tucker surely knows by now that MSU wants to keep him, but with LSU there would be uncertainty. How many decent years without a title would they grant him before giving him the boot? Do they have the patience for a rebuild, if needed? Yes, he’s turned MSU around quickly, and his ceiling is high, but obviously he’s not on the level of Saban and Smart yet, and it’s not outlandish to think that LSU might end up letting pride in winning get in their way again.

Sound familiar?

Speaking of Michigan — and going back to the point about Saban and Smart — it’s hard to make that same argument for coaches like Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Penn State’s James Franklin. Concerning OSU head coach Ryan Day, it’s too soon to say. One thing is for sure, though: the MSU-OSU matchup on Nov. 20 is an important one, and it’s going to be interesting.

Don’t forget that Michigan State football has money, too

The last point to discuss here is money. LSU has a lot of it. But so does MSU, and people who pull out the money argument don’t know or understand how much has changed at MSU since the athletic department let Saban slip through its fingers.

The football program was not championship-caliber when Saban was there. It hadn’t been for years. Right now, even after a few rough seasons, it is a more well-established program with more resources, and the people within and around the program are surely aware that if one forgets the past, one is sure to repeat it. MSU learned its lesson.

This isn’t supposed to make you think undoubtedly that Tucker won’t at least consider taking that job, because he would be crazy not to. All of this is just a friendly reminder that he wouldn’t be crazy for deciding to stay. Spartan Nation needs to know that they shouldn’t be as scared of him leaving as other fans — especially Michigan fans — are saying they should be.

So, just do what Mel and his players are doing. Forget the noise, enjoy the win, and remind Taylor Lewan and Braylon Edwards that they are idiots. And then, look forward to the Purdue game.

It’s a great week to be a Spartan fan. Go Green.

Next. Report card from MSU's win over Michigan. dark