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MSU fires Mel Tucker as head football coach

September 27, 2023
Head Coach Mel Tucker during Michigan State’s last game at home against Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 at Spartan Stadium. Indiana ultimately beat the Spartans, 39-31.
Head Coach Mel Tucker during Michigan State’s last game at home against Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 at Spartan Stadium. Indiana ultimately beat the Spartans, 39-31. —
Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

 Mel Tucker was officially fired as MSU football coach by Athletic Director Alan Haller on Wednesday amid allegations of sexual harassment from a prominent rape survivor and advocate who was consulting for the team.

"The university terminated Tucker’s contract for his admitted and undisputed behaviors which have brought public disrespect, contempt and ridicule upon the university; and constitute a material breach of his agreement, and moral turpitude," according to a press release announcing the termination.

Acting head football coach Harlon Barnett is being named interim head coach, pending approval from the Board of Trustees at its Oct. 27 meeting.

The release notes that Haller's decision was supported by MSU's administration and Board of Trustees.

This action also doesn't stop the ongoing Office of Institutional Equity investigation into Tucker's conduct, according to the release. A hearing on Oct. 5 and 6 will decide whether he violated MSU's policies on relationship violence and sexual misconduct.

Haller first announced his intent to fire Tucker Sept. 18. He claimed Tucker engaged in "conduct which constitutes moral turpitude," and brought "public disrespect, contempt, or ridicule upon the University”; behavior that violates his ten-year, $95 million contract with the university.

Tucker had seven days to present sufficient reasoning for his contract not to be terminated after the notice was sent to him last week. Yesterday, he sent his official response, in a statement written on behalf of Tucker by his attorneys Jennifer Belveal and John Birmingham. He argued that the “moral turpitude” clause is “flimsy” and hard to define.

“​​If the University investigated your private life or that of any other employee, it would certainly find something ‘embarrassing’ to presumably justify your or their termination,” Tucker wrote in the letter to Haller.

Tucker also faulted MSU for allowing the investigation to come to light, as it was supposed to be confidential.

In the firing announcement, Haller refuted Tucker's claims.

“Simply put, Mr. Tucker’s response does not provide any information that refutes or undermines the multiple grounds for termination for cause set forth in the notice,” Haller said in the release. “Instead, his 25-page response, which includes a 12-page letter from his attorney and a 13-page ‘expert report,’ provides a litany of excuses for his inappropriate behavior while expressly admitting to the problematic conduct outlined in the notice.”

The investigation was first made public on Sept. 10 through a USA Today report that revealed details of an ongoing sexual harassment investigation. Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor and advocate who worked with Tucker's team in the past to teach them about healthy sexual conduct, alleged that during an April 2022 phone call, Tucker engaged in sexually explicit behavior and masturbated without her consent.

Tracy voluntarily shared documents pertaining to the investigation to USA Today, but wanted to wait for the investigation and hearing to be completed before coming out with her story. On Sept. 12, Tracy claimed she was forced to publicly come forward sooner than she hoped because someone gave her name to the media.

That same day, "the process of commencing the investigation began," according to a statement released by the university nearly a week later on Sept. 18. The statement also confirmed that MSU has contracted with an outside firm, Jones Day, to conduct the investigation. 

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