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What Mel Tucker’s hire at MSU means for Michigan Football

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The state of Michigan is no longer a layup on the recruiting trail against the Spartans.

Washington v Colorado Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

There have been plenty of Michigan Wolverines coaching changes with the football program since the formation of this website back in the mid-2000s (which predates me, as I was in middle school and still thought I’d be making comic books or something).

What there has not been since 2007 is a coaching change up the road at Michigan State, as Mark Dantonio railroaded the program last week and abruptly retired 24 hours before National Signing Day. That led to a week-long coaching search that saw almost every name rumored for the gig drop out, including the white whale candidate in Luke Fickell, a member of the MSU Board of Trustees showing his rear-end to the world during a radio interview and more.

The Spartans have their guy in Mel Tucker, who had previously publicly rebuffed Michigan State’s offer before leadership there came back to the table and made him an offer he could not refuse. They doubled his salary from what he was making last year as the head coach at Colorado and have pledged over $6 million in resources for him to surround himself with top-end assistants.

We’ll come back to Tucker in a bit, though.

We wrote about Dantonio’s exit last week, but more information has seemingly come to light about his departure. The word on the street is that he was planning on coaching this season and retiring after it was over with the intention of hand-picking his successor (presumably Mike Tressel or Harlon Barnett). MSU apparently was on board with the retirement but looked into hiring a search firm to start gauging candidates instead. Dantonio allegedly got wind of this and was angry and instead retired immediately.

That Dantonio had the audacity to think he could hand-pick the guy that had the job after him as if he was Bobby Bowden when he actually took what he built, which was pretty good, and ran it into the ground the last four seasons is hubris on a level that surpasses what MSU fans accuse Michigan of having. This guy held the Spartans hostage for the last few years by refusing to adapt and electing to keep his buddies around on the coaching staff and he wanted to thrust that upon them even in his retirement.

From that standpoint alone, Michigan State Football is in a better place than it was a week ago.

After everything that has gone down from the culture concerns, an AD in over his head in Bill Beekman, a BOT that cannot stay out of the way, etc., Tucker feels like as good a hire as the Spartans could have potentially gotten here. They had no choice but to pony up the money they did for him and the fact that they threw money into the assistants’ pool says they are serious about supporting him. And good on them for that. MSU is not all that appealing on the recruiting trail right now and they needed a guy that commands attention in that area having worked at Alabama and Georgia and with a taste of NFL experience. He will likely surround himself with guys that can also sell the program positively.

And this is where we tie Michigan into this. Now, Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines will continue to recruit the way they have with some of the 5-10 best classes in college football in a given year, but recruiting in the state and in the city of Detroit is no longer going to be a layup for them. It seems logical that he and his staff will empty the tank and do everything they can on the trail to close the growing gap between the Wolverines and the Spartans.

What’s the expectation for a program like MSU? It does not seem like all that hot of a take to suggest Tucker can get them back into the top 25-30 in the country and perhaps higher depending on if things go well there. But the gap should close with in-state battles in recruiting and product on the field. It would not be wise to assume that the Block M is going to sell itself. Moving forward, it likely comes down to which staff is going to put the most work in.

Don’t let yourself get outworked.

We assume that Tucker is going to recruit fairly well, especially if he assembles a good staff with the money that MSU is giving him to use. The key for them is if he can actually coach or develop the players he brings in, which makes this not entirely unlike Michigan’s hire of Juwan Howard to coach the men’s basketball team. Like John Beilein’s departure, MSU is not going to replicate the success that Dantonio had by doing it the old way.

Player development is critical. And that’s an area that Michigan has struggled in a bit under Harbaugh when it comes to some of the higher-ranked recruits they have brought in. They continue to churn out NFL players at an impressive rate, but some of these classes have not entirely lived up to the billing. Heck, it may just be player retention when you go back and look at what’s left from the 2017 class.

I would expect Tucker to come in from the jump and set his sights on Michigan, much like his predecessor did and like what Ohio State still does. Nick Saban gave Tucker his start in coaching at MSU and he’s a Cleveland, Ohio guy who also has spent time at OSU with Jim Tressel. There might be some more decorum between him and Harbaugh than Dantonio had, but the rivalry will not lose any importance up the road, nor should it in Ann Arbor.

MSU is going to be putrid next season and I could see them winning anywhere from 2-4 games, so 2020 is a wash for them. In 2021, they’ll be looking to fight for bowl eligibility. From there, we will see what happens. This is either going to be a boom for the Spartans that sees Tucker leaving for a better job in 3-4 years or he will be fired in 3-4 years if there’s not enough progress made. I’m not so sure there’s a middle ground here. Unlike Michigan where fans expect them to make a push for the Big Ten East title every season, MSU is probably in a spot where getting to Indianapolis every four or five years might be something they’re ok with given the behemoth south of the border in Columbus and how tough the East is in-general.

So good on the Spartans for investing because as I’ve stated numerous times, both MSU and Michigan being competitive is good for moving football forward in our state. Is it a blast to pummel a rival after 364 days of relentless trash talk? It sure is, but it takes the fun out of it long-term, as well. We will have to wait and see if that continues or not, but this was nowhere near as big a disaster as it could have been for the Spartans. What looked like something that may end comedically is something that should be taken seriously moving forward.