Mel Tucker is out as Michigan State’s head football coach after a stunning few weeks of allegations and revelations at the university. Michigan State provided him with written notice of intent to terminate his contract for cause. The news comes as MSU investigates sexual harassment allegations against the coach who signed a $95 million contract extension less than two years ago during an 11-2 run.
The schedule is spinning — the Spartans were crushed at home by Washington in Week 3, trailing 35-0 at halftime — but the job will still be very attractive. It has three AP top-10 finishes in the last nine seasons and is a top-tier program in a conference that draws huge cash thanks to a massive TV deal with the Big Ten.
This job isn’t the first vacancy of the season in the Big Ten (Northwestern is), but this is a much more attractive coaching job. Michigan State isn’t quite on the level of arch-rivals Michigan, Penn State or Ohio State, but as the conference moves away from its divisions, the landscape should be a little more manageable optically. Expect plenty of Power 5 head coaches to be in serious consideration.
Who will get attention from the Power 5?
Mike Elko, Duke, head coach
Let’s start with one of the coaches I believe Northwestern would target as well. The 45-year-old from New Jersey had a stellar rookie season in 2022, leading Duke to a 9-4 record. His team, currently ranked 18th, got off to a strong start this season by defeating Clemson and is off to a 3-0 start. That’s all wow stuff.
The former Ivy League defensive back played at Fordham, Richmond, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Texas A&M. MSU has a rich basketball history, like Duke, but it’s not as pure a basketball school as Duke — and the ACC doesn’t have the money like the Big Ten. This could be interesting.
Lance Leipold, Kansas, head coach
Leipold is practically a miracle for what he accomplished in Lawrence, Canada. The 59-year-old Wisconsin native, who won six Division III national titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater before turning Buffalo into an AP Top 25 team, got the Jayhawks into the Top 25 last year after a rotten decade of football in Lawrence. KU is off to a 3-0 start this year. This is a challenge if you’re MSU you probably have to do because tLeipold is an elite football coach and he’s done it everywhere he’s been.
Chris Klieman, Kansas State, head coach
Leipold’s state rival would be a wise choice if interested. Klieman and the Wildcats were Big 12 champions last year, and although the Big Ten has far better resources than the Big 12, Klieman works for the same athletic director at K-State he had when he won national titles at North Dakota State. . Klieman is considered as good as it gets in the conference.
PJ Fleck, Minnesota, head coach
The Spartans are said to have some interest in Fleck, who has done a good job bringing a lot of stability to a program that was reeling when he left Western Michigan. The 42-year-old is 46-28 at Minnesota, and that includes an 11-2 season and a top-10 finish in 2019. He has a solid job in the Big Ten, but it’s worth noting that MSU is a program that has already made the College Football Playoff , so it wouldn’t shock us if he were considering it.
Timeline of Mel Tucker sexual harassment allegations, MSU investigation
Who will be given attention from the group of 5 positions?
Willie Fritz, Tulane, head coach
Fritz would be a solid candidate. The former Pittsburg, Kansas State defensive back has back-to-back 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 it’s rolling in New Orleans. In 2022, he led Tulane to a 12-2 season that included a Cotton Bowl win over USC and a No. 9 seed. Tulane is 2-1 this fall and I could see him playing at Northwestern — and he’d be a clear pick at Kansas , if Leipold jumped at MSU.
Jason Candle, Toledo, head coach
Candle, a former MAC Coach of the Year, won at least nine games three times in seven seasons with the Rockets. He is a recognized offensive mind and is expected to receive some consideration for the job, according to sources. The 43-year-old Mount Union product has won two MAC titles.
Charles Huff, Marshall, Head Coach
Huff is considered a rising star. The 40-year-old Maryland native proved himself as a top assistant at Penn State, Mississippi State and Alabama before becoming the main man. He is in his third season with the Thundering Herd and is 11-4 since 2022, including a win over Notre Dame in South Bend.
MSU provides Tucker with notice of intent to terminate contract
Kane 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. Wommack played a big role in Indiana finishing 12th in 2020 while he was the defensive coordinator. The 36-year-old is off to an impressive start in the Sun Belt, swinging around South Alabama; last year he went 10-3, including a close loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl. His team just blew out Oklahoma State 33-7 in Stillwater.
Pat Narduzzi, Pitt, head coach
One sitting wild-card head coaching option: Narduzzi, the beloved former defensive coordinator under Mark Dantonio. The 57-year-old was an excellent DC and brought plenty of upside to MSU. He’s been really solid in his nearly ten years running Pitt’s program, going 20-7 with back-to-back Top 25 seasons the past two years. Would he like to return to East Lansing? I’m not sure about that. He has a good job in a great city, but he’s been there a long time and the Big Ten has a lot 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. He knows all about getting into sticky situations when he accepted a job at Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal. O’Brien did a great job dealing with all kinds of issues and getting things back on track. He won the Bear Bryant Award in 2012 and went 15-9 in two seasons before leaving to become 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 again remains a mystery, but this is a job well done by the Big Ten.
How good are jobs in the state of Michigan? Pros, cons, how the coaching search begins
Sean Lewis, Colorado, offensive coordinator
I think the best assistant candidate will be Lewis. He has head coaching experience from his time at Kent State, where he did a really good job in a tough spot to have some consistent success, going 18-10 in the MAC over the past four seasons. He led Kent State to its first bowl game before leaving this offseason to become Deion Sanders’ OC at Colorado.
As he explained Athletic last week, the move was prompted by him nearly getting the head coaching job in Cincinnati last winter, but Scott Satterfield, a coach with Power 5 experience, ended up getting it at the last minute, so Lewis decided it was time for a pivot. In Colorado, he showed again that he is a brilliant offensive mind. The 37-year-old former Wisconsin linebacker-turned-tight end was highly regarded among his players and would be a compelling pick for MSU.
Why Sean Lewis left Kent State to become 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, a protégé of Steve Spagnuolo, did a really impressive job at LSU last year despite having seven new starters and missing his most talented defensive lineman in Maason Smith. The Tigers went from 10th in the SEC in scoring defense to fifth. They also jumped from No. 13 to No. 3 in red zone touchdown percentage. His stock will rise if LSU ends up in the College Football Playoff.
Sherrone Moore, Michigan, offensive coordinator
Moore is a hot name in the coaching world, but would MSU try to hire from its archrival? And would the 37-year-old really be tempted? If Jim Harbaugh ever leaves for the NFL, and maybe that could happen this winter, Moore would make a lot of sense to 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 top unit.
His work in the trenches and as a recruiter played a key role in Harbaugh taking the program to the top of the league and dominating rival Ohio State the past two years. People in the Michigan program have tremendous faith in Moore, rave about his ability to connect with players, and say players will run through a wall for him, in part because he’s so genuine.
Brian Hartline, Ohio State, offensive coordinator
Another Big Ten assistant to watch is Ohio State OC Brian Hartline. The former NFL player has proven to be arguably the best assistant coach in the country over the past few seasons, recruiting one elite pick after another and developing them into first-round draft picks. The 36-year-old native of Canton, Ohio could be an interesting pick, especially given his ability to acquire top talent and the attention to detail he has brought to his craft.
Harlon Barnett, Michigan State, Interim Head Coach
Barnett, a 56-year-old former Spartan standout, has a chance to win the job, but it’s an uphill battle that began with a 41-7 loss at home against Washington. If he can lead MSU to a few upsets, he could land the job full-time. But with four opponents in the standings ahead, including three teams in the top 10, the odds aren’t great.
(Top photo by Mike Elka: Lance King/Getty Images)