Michigan State Firing Mel Tucker for Cause Amid Sexual Harassment Investigation

By Dan Hope on September 18, 2023 at 4:16 pm
Mel Tucker
Junfu Han/USA TODAY Network

Mel Tucker’s tenure as Michigan State’s head coach is officially coming to an end.

Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller announced Monday afternoon that the university intends to terminate Tucker’s contract for cause, ending his tenure as the Spartans’ head coach amid a university investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Tucker.

Tucker received a 10-year, $95 million contract extension from Michigan State in 2021, but the contract included a clause that stated Tucker could be fired for cause if he “engaged in any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or, which in the university's reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt, or ridicule.”

Tucker was initially suspended by MSU last week after a USA TODAY report revealed allegations by sexual violence prevention educator Brenda Tracy, who accused Tucker of making sexual comments about her and masturbating during an April 2022 phone call. Tucker acknowledged those details during an interview with a Title IX investigator earlier this year, which Michigan State determined met the contract’s criteria for firing Tucker with cause.

“Your admitted behavior 1) constitutes a material breach of your duties under the Agreement, 2) demonstrates ‘conduct which constitutes moral turpitude,’ and 3) has brought ‘public disrespect, contempt, or ridicule upon the university,’” Haller wrote in his letter to Tucker. “Each of these grounds provide an independent basis under which the University may terminate the Agreement, which the University elects to now terminate.”

Tucker said in a statement last week that “Tracy’s allegations of harassment are completely false,” describing the phone call as a “mutual, private event between two adults” that Tracy did not object to. Tracy responded with a statement of her own, saying “Coach Tucker has been delaying and trying to stop the investigative process since the beginning.”

In an official response to the university issued by his attorney on Tuesday, Tucker indicated he would fight back against Michigan State’s move to fire him for cause, saying he believes “other motives are at play.”

Michigan State’s investigation into the allegations against Tucker will continue. A hearing is scheduled to take place during the week of Oct. 5.

While Michigan State’s Title IX office received the complaint from Tracy in December, university leaders said they were unaware of the details of the allegations until the USA TODAY report. Tracy said she chose to make the allegations public only because her name had been leaked to media members as the source of the complaint, and Michigan State announced Monday that it has hired the Jones Day law firm to investigate “alleged breaches of confidentiality by MSU officials.”

Harlon Barnett has been serving as Michigan State’s acting head coach since Tucker was suspended last week and is now expected to continue in that capacity for the remainder of the season. Former MSU head coach Mark Dantonio is also back with the Spartans as an associate head coach for the rest of the season.

Michigan State, which is now 2-1 on the season after suffering its first loss of the year against Washington on Saturday, will play at Ohio State on Nov. 11.

Tucker is now the second Big Ten head coach to be fired amid an off-field investigation this year. Former Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired by Northwestern in July following an investigation into hazing within the Northwestern football program.

Michigan State hired Tucker to be its head coach in 2020 after Dantonio announced his retirement. He went 20-14 in 34 games as the Spartans’ head coach.