Mel Tucker was named Michigan State’s head football coach after weeks of shocking allegations and revelations at the university. Michigan State provided him with written notice of intent to terminate his contract for cause. The news comes amid MSU’s investigation into sexual harassment allegations against the coach, who signed a 10-year, $95 million contract extension two years ago amid an 11-2 run.
The program is wobbly — the Spartans were crushed by Washington in Week 3, trailing 35-0 at halftime — but the job can still be a very attractive one. It has AP top-10 finishes in three of the past nine seasons and is a conference’s top-tier program with enormous cash in the wake of the Big Ten’s massive television deal.
The job isn’t the first vacancy of the Big Ten (Northwest) season, but it’s a very attractive coaching job. Michigan State isn’t on the level of Michigan, Penn State or Ohio State, but as the conference retires its divisions, the landscape should be a little more manageable optically. Expect plenty of Power 5 head coaches to get serious consideration.
Chapter 5 Who will be considered from the rankings?
Mike Elko, Duke, head coach
Let’s start with one of the coaches that I believe Northwestern will also target. The 45-year-old from New Jersey had an impressive debut season in 2022, leading Duke to a 9-4 record. His team, currently ranked 18th, is off to a 3-0 start this season with a win over Clemson. Wow that’s all.
A former Ivy League defensive end, he played at Fordham, Richmond, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Texas A&M. MSU has a rich basketball history, like Duke, but it’s not a pure basketball school like Duke — and the ACC doesn’t have the money that the Big Ten has. It might be interesting.
Lance Leibold, Kansas, head coach
Leibold, Kan., was practically a miracle worker for what he did in Lawrence. The 59-year-old Wisconsin native, who won six Division III national titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater, led Buffalo to an AP Top 25 team, and got the Jayhawks. 25 from last year after Lawrence football’s worst decade. This year, KU is off to a 3-0 start. If you’re MSU it’s a call you’ll have to make because tLeipold is an elite football coach and he’s proven that everywhere he goes.
Chris Klyman, Kansas State, head coach
Leibold’s state rival would be a wise choice if he’s interested. Kleiman and the Wildcats were Big 12 champions last year, and although the Big Ten has better resources than the Big 12, Kleiman works for the same athletic director at K-State when North Dakota State won national titles. . Kliman is considered as good as it gets within the conference.
PJ Fleck, Minnesota, head coach
Word is the Spartans have some interest in Fleck, who has done a good job bringing a lot of stability to a program that was struggling when he left Western Michigan. The 42-year-old is 46-28 in Minnesota, including an 11-2 season and a top-10 finish in 2019. He has a good career in the Big Ten, but it’s worth noting that MSU is a program. He’s been to the College Football Playoff before, so it wouldn’t shock us if he’s considered.
Timeline of sexual harassment allegations against Mel Tucker, MSU’s investigation
Who will be considered from Group 5 ranks?
Willie Fritz, Tulane, head coach
Fritz would be a solid candidate. A former defensive end at Pittsburgh State in Kansas, he has had double-digit winning seasons at every level of college football, going 97-47 at Central Missouri, 40-15 at Sam Houston State and 17-7 at Georgia Southern.
Now he’s rolling it in New Orleans. In 2022, he led Tulane to a 12-2 season, including a Cotton Bowl victory over USC and a No. 9 ranking. Tulane was 2-1 this fall, and I could see him playing at Northwestern — and he’d be an obvious choice at Kansas if Leibold jumps to MSU.
Jason Candle, Toledo, head coach
The former MAC Coach of the Year has won at least nine games three times in his seven seasons with the Candlestick Rockets. He is a well-known offensive mind and according to sources, he is expected to receive some consideration for the job. The 43-year-old Mount Union product has won two MAC titles.
Charles Huff, Marshall, Head Coach
Huff is seen as a rising star. The 40-year-old Maryland native proved himself as a top assistant at Penn State, Mississippi State and Alabama. He is in his third season with the Thundering Herd and has gone 11-4 since 2022, including a win over Notre Dame in South Bend.
MSU gives Tucker notice of intent to terminate contract
Ken Wommack, South Alabama, head coach
Like Huff, Wommack is another rising star head coach at the Group 5 level who has been an assistant in the Big Ten. As defensive coordinator, Womack played a large role in Indiana’s 12th-ranked 2020 finish. The 36-year-old is off to an exciting start in the Sun Belt, touring south Alabama; He went 10-3 last year, including a narrow loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl. His team beat Oklahoma State 33-7 in Stillwater.
Pat Narduzzi, Pitt, head coach
A wild-card sitting head coaching option: Narduzzi, a beloved former defensive coordinator under Mark Dantonio. The 57-year-old is a great DC and brings plenty of edge to MSU. He’s been the most stalwart in Pitt’s program in nearly a decade, and has gone 20-7 over the past two years with consecutive top 25 seasons. Would he like to go back to East Lansing? I’m not sure about that. He has a good job in a big city, but he’s been there a long time, and the Big Ten has more stability than the ACC.
Bill O’Brien, New England Patriots, offensive coordinator
O’Brien is another wild card candidate who could end up in the mix. Taking the Penn State job in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, he knows all about stepping into messy situations. O’Brien did a great job of dealing with all kinds of issues and getting things back on track. He won the Pierre Bryant Award in 2012 and went 15-9 in two seasons before becoming the head coach of the Houston Texans. He had four playoff seasons and left with a 52-48 record. Whether he wants to go back to college remains a mystery, but it’s a good Big Ten job.
How good is a Michigan State job? Coaching search starts with plus and minus
Sean Lewis, Colorado, offensive coordinator
I think Lewis is the first candidate from the assistant ranks. He has head coaching experience from his time at Kent State, where he did a good job in a tough spot over his last four seasons going 18-10 in the MAC. Deion Sanders led Kent State to its first bowl win before leaving this off-season to become OC at Colorado.
As he explained Athletic Last week, the move was prompted by the fact that he got the Cincinnati head coaching job last winter, but Scott Satterfield, a coach with Power 5 experience, got it at the last second, so Lewis decided it was time for a move. In Colorado, he showed once again that he is a brilliant offensive mind. The 37-year-old former Wisconsin quarterback-tight end is well-regarded among his players and could be a compelling option for MSU.
Why Sean Lewis left Kent State to be Deion Sanders’ OC
Matt House, LSU, defensive coordinator
House is a Michigan State graduate who began his coaching career as a Spartan graduate assistant. The 45-year-old, the protege of Steve Spagnuolo, did a very impressive job at LSU last year, despite having seven new starters and missing his most talented defensive lineman in Mason Smith. The Tigers rose from 10th in the SEC to fifth in scoring defense. They are No. 1 in red zone touchdown percentage. They moved up from 13th to 3rd place. His stock will rise if LSU makes a College Football Playoff run.
Sharon Moore, Michigan, offensive coordinator
Moore is a very popular name in the coaching world, but will MSU be recruiting from its archives? And is the 37-year-old really desperate? If Jim Harbaugh leaves for the NFL one day, perhaps this winter, Moore should be his replacement. He has been a key contributor to the Wolverines’ rise over the past two seasons as his offensive line has won back-to-back Joe Moore Awards as the nation’s best unit.
After dominating rival Ohio State the past two years, Harbaugh’s work in the trenches and as a recruiter has been instrumental in helping the program rank first in the league. Those in the Michigan program are so confident in Moore, touting his ability to connect with players and say players would run through a wall for him because he’s so genuine.
Brian Hartline, Ohio State, offensive coordinator
Ohio State OC Brian Hartline is another Big Ten assistant to watch. The former NFL wideout has proven to be one of the best assistant coaches in the nation over the past few seasons, putting together one elite wideout after another and turning them into first-round draft picks. The 36-year-old Canton, Ohio, native may be an intriguing option, especially given his ability to land top talent and the attention to detail he has shown on his craft.
Harlan Barnett, Michigan State, interim head coach
Barnett, the 56-year-old former Spartans standout, has a chance to win the job, but it’s a big uphill battle that started with a 41-7 blowout loss at home against Washington. If he can lead MSU to a few upsets, he could land a full-time job. But with four ranked opponents ahead, including three top-10 teams, the odds aren’t great.
(Top photo by Mike Elko: Lance King/Getty Images)