Mel Tucker’s efforts in his second year at Michigan State aren’t going unnoticed. The Spartans coach has his team at 9-1 on the season and currently ranked No. 7 in the country, per the latest College Football Playoff rankings.
As a result, Tucker’s name was heavily connected to two of college football’s most high-profile openings at USC and LSU. But now, it appears as though he’ll be staying in East Lansing for the foreseeable future. According to a report from the Detroit Free-Press, Michigan State is working up a contract extension that would run for 10 years and pay the 49-year-old $95 million during that span.
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That would make him the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten, and among the highest in the country, trailing only Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney in terms of annual salary. Here’s everything to know about Tucker’s impending contract extension, plus how — and why — it came together.
Mel Tucker contract details, salary
As the Free Press reported, Tucker’s new deal is expected to run for 10 years and pay him $95 million total — $9.5 million annually — putting him in the upper echelon not just in college coaches, but all American sports.
The money reportedly is being provided by two Michigan State alumni — Matt Ishiba and Steve St. Andre — according to multiple reports. The source of Tucker’s extension originally was revealed on the “Inside the Locker Room” podcast, whose hosts include a former member of Michigan State’s board of trustees, Brian Mosallam. The Free Press later confirmed the initial report, citing university sources.
“When this gets done, it’s gonna send a message to the country that Michigan State University means business and we’re here to play with the big boys,” Brian Mosallam said on his podcast. He was also quick to point out the deal isn’t finished yet, but that if it does get completed it’ll “send shockwaves throughout college football.”
Tucker’s predecessor, Mark Dantonio, was previously given a contract in 2011 that named him “a Spartan for life,” and paid him $1.83 million annually. Dantonio was given that extension five years into his stint with the Spartans. He eventually retired in 2019 after 114 wins and three Big Ten titles with Michigan State.
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Why did Michigan State offer Mel Tucker an extension?
Tucker has become a hot commodity in recent weeks as the Spartans’ stock continues to rise. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports and The Athletic — as well as others — have linked Tucker’s name to the impending vacancy at LSU, as Ed Orgeron will finish the season before leaving the program. Tucker coached defensive backs in Baton Rouge, La. in 2000 under former Tigers coach Nick Saban (who coincidentally encouraged Michigan State to consider Tucker for the Spartans coaching job).
Tucker has since denied rumors tying him to LSU, or that he was interested in the job.
Michigan State also went through a period of relative stagnation after a stretch of five 11-plus-win seasons in a six-year span: The end of Dantonio’s tenure featured a 3-9 season and two 7-6 seasons in his final four years. It’s possible the Spartans view such a large investment into Tucker and the program as a way not only to keep other schools from poaching him, but also to keep pace with Ohio State atop the Big Ten.
Mel Tucker’s record at Michigan State
Michigan State isn’t Tucker’s first head coaching job, but it is the one where he has had the most success.
Tucker’s first stint as a head coach came in the NFL. He served as the interim coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars for five games in 2011 after taking over for Jack Del Rio, who was fired after a 3-8 start. Tucker went 2-3, and then bounced around between the NFL and college football before landing another head coaching gig with Colorado in 2019.
He went 5-7 in his lone season in Boulder, Colo. before getting the call from Michigan State in 2020. Tucker’s first season in East Lansing was an interesting one. The Spartans won just two games, though both were over ranked opponents: No. 13 Michigan and No. 11 Northwestern. Notably, Tucker is the only coach in program history to beat Michigan in each of his first two seasons. Both were considered upset wins.
So far in his two years at Michigan State, Tucker is 11-6.
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Highest-paid college football coaches
If Tucker signs on the dotted line and accepts the reported deal, it will have major historical implications from a salary perspective.
Currently, Tucker is one of just 13 Black head coaches in the FBS (following the firing of Washington’s Jimmy Lake) and one of three in the Big Ten. His new deal would make him the highest-paid Black coach in all of American sports.
Stanford’s David Shaw currently makes the most of any Black college football coach, though Tucker’s deal would put him past Shaw, as well as professional coaches Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Doc Rivers of the Philadelphia 76ers, who each make a reported $8 million a year.
Here’s a look at the highest-paid coaches in college football, and where Tucker would rank in terms of annual salary should his reported extension be confirmed:
|Nick Saban||Alabama||$9.753 million|
|Dabo Swinney||Clemson||$9.508 million|
|Mel Tucker||Michigan State||$9.5 million|
|Ed Orgeron||LSU||$9.012 million|
|David Shaw||Stanford||$8.924 million|
|Lincoln Riley||Oklahoma||$7.672 million|
|Dan Mullen||Florida||$7.57 million|
|Jimbo Fisher||Texas A&M||$7.5 million|
|Kirby Smart||Georgia||$7.133 million|
|James Franklin||Penn State||$7 million|
|Ryan Day||Ohio State||$6.614 million|
(Data from USA Today)