Big Ten Media Days isn't happening as planned, but we can always pretend!
We were so hurt by the news that we wouldn't get to hear from our beloved cast of Big Ten coaches in person this year that we decided to take matters into our own hands and throw our own pretend rendition of Big Ten Media Days – complete with fake questions and some even more fake answers.
Our faux Big Ten Media Days interview sessions work: our interviewers ask each Big Ten coach a question – ranging from serious to extremely not serious – followed by a brief explanation of why that question is worth asking, and potentially how that coach would go about answering the question, with some role play mixed in, of course.
To the questions!
Ramzy Nasrallah: Coach Tucker, you’re the latest Michigan State coach with an Ohio State national championship ring and multiple sets of Gold Pants. At the same time, you served an extended stretch with the Cleveland Browns so you carry a degree of humility to the craft. Your staff does not appear to have any of your washed-up poker buddies on it, either. This is all very concerning for the rest of the conference. Can you please articulate Michigan State’s offensive strategy and how it differs from Coach Dantonio’s?
Mel Tucker, probably: "Same pain-in-the-ass defense but now with 50% less Openly Shaving Points on the offensive side of the ball. Be afraid, in like two years."
Kyle Jones: Coach Tucker, you worked for Nick Saban on three different occasions as an assistant, and twice with Mark Dantonio. How much of their systems will you bring back to East Lansing as opposed to what you picked up elsewhere?
Tucker began his career working for both Saban and Dantonio at Michigan State in the late 90s, but is best known among Buckeye fans for his work on Jim Tressel’s staff where he helped win the 2002 national title. After a trio of coordinator roles in the NFL which found mixed results, Tucker revived his career by joining Saban’s Alabama staff for a season in 2015, and then followed Kirby Smart to Georgia where he was the coordinator for a unit running a carbon copy of Saban’s playbook.
In his lone season as a head coach at Colorado, his team showed quite a bit of similarity to those in Athens and Tuscaloosa, but it wasn’t identical. In a place like East Lansing, where defense has long been the calling card, he has the choice of building on a foundation left behind by Dantonio’s Quarters system, installing the Saban/Smart playbook, or bringing in something entirely different. There’s no correct answer right now, but the road he chooses may go a long way in determining how much success he finds in the Big Ten.
David Regimbal: Mark Dantonio prioritized the rivalry matchup against Michigan with great early results. From 2008-15, the Spartans won seven of eight games. But Jim Harbaugh is helping tip the scales, winning three of the last four games by nine, 14 and 34 points.
Do you think you and your coaching staff can close the gap again? Because that would be hilarious.
Michigan State's recent run of success can be traced back to 2007, when former Wolverines running back Mike Hart called Michigan State "little brother" after beating a Spartans team battling for a .500 record.
Beating the Wolverines consistently is one of the biggest keys to Michigan State contending for East Division titles again.
Zack Carpenter: Coach, just how hard are you going to hit the state of Ohio on the recruiting trail and why is that going to be such an important recruiting strategy for you to get this program back into being a Big Ten contender?
It’s really the question that everyone — well, maybe not everyone, maybe just us recruiting weirdos — wants to know about Mel Tucker at Michigan State.
Under Mark Dantonio, the Spartans made a living for a long time by grabbing the under-recruited Ohio players who the Buckeyes passed up.
Tucker has already been adamant that his program is going to hit the state of Ohio hard on the recruiting trail. If he does so successfully, that could be the spark to get the Spartans back into a Big Ten Championship Game. (Even if it looks like Ohio State is set up to reach the conference title game from here to eternity.)
Matt Gutridge: Coach Tucker, nine consecutive Michigan State head coaches have lost to Ohio State the first time they played the Buckeyes. Mark Dantonio, John L. Smith, Nick Saban and George Perles left the field as losers. In the history of the series, a first-year Michigan State head coach has never defeated Ohio State. Will you be the first to accomplish this?
Mel Tucker, probably: “I might have a chance at beating the team from Columbus is if I stay at a Holiday Inn Express the week heading into the game. Unfortunately, the only ties Michigan State has to the hotel business is Tom Bodett. The last time I checked, staying at a Motel 6 doesn’t make you smarter. At least they’ll leave the light on for me after the Buckeyes beat our ass.”
Dan Hope: How has the pandemic set you back in your first offseason as Michigan State’s coach?
For a head coach entering his first season with a new team, the offseason is a vital time for him and his staff to get to know their players, implement their schemes and begin building the culture they want to see within the program. For Tucker, however, most of that offseason has been spent away from his players – at least physically – due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While that is true for all head coaches this year, Tucker had just one month with the Spartans before the pandemic shut down spring practices, as he was not hired until February. Now, they’ve suffered yet another setback, as the entire team is currently in the midst of a 14-day quarantine after multiple staff members and players tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
If the Big Ten football season starts in early September, that could leave the Spartans with just one month to make up for lost time before their first game once their quarantine is over. That’s very little time for a coaching staff that returns just two assistants from last year, and will likely force Tucker and his staff to make some major adjustments going into their first season, which is something he’ll surely be asked about whenever he next meets with the media.
Johnny Ginter: Michigan State was sitting pretty in B-Tier heaven last season going into the Ohio State game. Ranked, 4-1, fielding a functional-ish offense, and a couple of Big Ten wins meant that maybe the team thought that they could've taken out at least one of the four top-15 teams they had to play in the middle of the season.
Instead, they lost to all of them by a combined score of 27-144 and wedged in a loss to Illinois in between them. The reason I point this out, Mel, is because Colorado also went on a five-game skid in 2019 after a semi-promising start, so how are you going to make sure that 2020 is different?
Alternatively, you can answer my question about whether you'll be encouraging Michigan State to genetically breed a giant bulgy Spartan man that can be led with ropes and run out around the field pregame like Ralphie the Bison at Colorado. That'd be neat.
Michigan State has and will always be an abyss of causality; there's no real rhyme or reason for anything to happen the way that it does in East Lansing, and Spartan fans just kind of have to roll with it. People like Mel Tucker and he's viewed as a good option for Michigan State, but I believe that he's a good option because he's just as likely to carry on the tradition of chaos that Sparty (very) occasionally thrives in.