Newly appointed Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker has juggled assembling his staff, recruiting and making appearances at multiple Spartan athletic games since his hiring on Feb. 12. But if there’s one thing he has set in stone, it’s that his team will “bring the juice.”
“Juice is relentless focus, energy, a sense of urgency, day in, day out, for a common goal where people want to be a part of something that's bigger than themselves,” Tucker, 48, said. “Whether it's coaches or players that's what I'm looking for. Our staff, as we recruit, everything we do is about bringing the juice.”
Shortly after Tucker’s first official press conference as head coach on Feb. 24, MSU football announced its spring game that will take place on April 18. Tucker said his priority task above all else will be bringing MSU football back to what it is “supposed to be.”
“Changing the culture, that’s going to be really the first order of business,” Tucker said. “Michigan State football, we all know what it’s supposed to look like, so it’s going to be about getting back to that. Whether it’s coaches whether it’s players, we’re starting at ground zero with an attitude of we have to prove it each and every day, we have something to be proved.”
Coaches and players starting on a clean slate
Tucker described his hiring process, which so far has included seven assistant coach hires out of 10, as “deliberate and methodical with a sense of urgency and poise.”
Tucker has kept defensive coaches Mike Tressel and Ron Burton from Mark Dantonio’s staff, while newly hiring wide receivers coach Courtney Hawkins, defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett, quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson, offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic and tight ends coach Ted Gilmore.
Kapilovic and Johnson both worked under Tucker at Colorado.
“One of the things I like about Jay is that he is very adaptable and he's multiple. He has great experience and wisdom, he's kind of ‘been there, done that,’” Tucker said. “We see football the same way. He understands that you have to do what your players can do, you never want to try to fit a square peg into a round hole so to speak, so part of what we're doing now is getting to know our players.”
Tucker described himself in the getting to know each other stage of meeting his players. He said at this point, his relationships with the athletes is all about building trust and using every opportunity to strengthen bonds between them.
“I told all the players on my first day on the job here that everyone's got a clean slate with me,” Tucker said. “Our mentality is going to be an earn it, prove it mentality, that's going to be our approach as coaches and players. I don't believe in self-imposed limitations, the sky's the limit for what we can do with our guys. I want our players to feel the same way.”
Putting offensive play into motion
With spring play upon them, Tucker is not delaying the process of getting his players back in shape. Tucker described his vision for his Spartan team.
“First and foremost, our team has to be the best conditioned team, that's the foundation, our team was built in the weight room,” Tucker said. “We want a team that's going to be smarter … execution at a high level, rooted in technique and fundamentals at every position.”
Sculpting a 5-7 record during his single year as head coach at Colorado, Tucker said he will hope to put some offensive range into play in a Spartan program deeply rooted in defensive toughness.
“We need to better take care of the football, the biggest determination of winning and losing in college and pro is the turnover margin," Tucker said. "We need to be first in all of the special situations ... be proficient and be explosive. That's going to create big plays in the running game and the passing game.”