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Howes: 'Welcome to the asylum, Coach Mel Tucker'

Mel Tucker in East Lansing
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

After a week of the usual chaos, Michigan State University has a new football coach.

Welcome to the asylum, Coach Mel Tucker. It’s where the inmates otherwise known as the Board of Trustees repeatedly show zero understanding of the difference between management and governance, and where MSU’s new president, Samuel Stanley, is nowhere to be found beyond a simple news release.

This is not encouraging. Tucker has only one year as the head man at Colorado. And he might suspect that he answers to trustees Joel Ferguson and Brian Mosallam. A former Spartan lineman, Mosallam spent more time than the president or the athletic director talking publicly about Mark Dantonio’s abrupt departure and the search for his replacement.

And all that does is reinforce the perception that the only locus of power at MSU is the Trustees’ board room. It doesn’t work this way on a properly functioning board that should leave managing, hiring and almost all firing to, well, management.

Credit Daniel Howes / Detroit News
Detroit News

The University of Michigan did it right when it hired Jim Harbaugh from the NFL, say people close to the process used by interim athletic director Jim Hackett. Or when Michigan hired the two previous outsiders to coach its iconic football team.

It did it right when Michigan’s largest donor, New York real estate mogul Stephen Ross, wanted a subcommittee to pick the football coach. Hackett refused, in part because Ross owns the Miami Dolphins and NFL rules say an owner cannot be involved in wooing a coach from a rival team. And because Hackett didn’t want the school’s top donor perceived as picking the football coach.

“We weren’t involved at all,” says Andrea Fischer Newman, a Michigan regent for 24 years.

Until it comes time for a university’s governing board to approve the new coach’s contract, that’s the way it should be. But if the past and this week’s public board angst are any indication, that’s not how it usually goes down in ol’ E.L.

It seems MSU’s trustees haven’t learned much from the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, its legal aftermath, and what it says about the school’s management culture. Second, President Stanley appears content to acquiesce to the MSU way. And, third, the rookie athletic director failed to have much of a backup plan when his top choice – not Mel Tucker – said, “no thanks.”

Who could blame Luke Fickell? The Cincinnati coach, just 46, was smart enough to see the dysfunction at State, the prospect of NCAA sanctions, and being labeled a “waffling flake” by Mosallam. The question answers itself – to the extent deniers concede it.

But Mosallam also got it right this week when he said on sports talk radio: “At the end of the day, we can’t make somebody want to come here.”

Absolutely right. And exactly what would give the guy who wants to be here confidence that he’s not inheriting a situation set up for failure – besides the big money, that is? That’s a question for Coach Tucker to answer.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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Daniel Howes is columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News. A former European correspondent for The News, he has reported from nearly 25 countries on three continents and in the Middle East. Before heading to Europe in 1999, Howes was senior automotive writer and a business projects writer. He is a frequent contributor to NewsTalk 760-WJR in Detroit and a weekly contributor to Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.
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