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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

John U. Bacon on the Mel Tucker scandal at Michigan State and Harbaugh's return for Michigan

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker walks the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Richmond, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 45-14. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Al Goldis/AP
FR11125 AP
Michigan State has moved to fire its football coach, Mel Tucker, after he was accused of sexually harassing a woman who'd been working with the football program to train athletes about the dangers of sexual misconduct. Tucker is currently suspended and is fighting his planned dismissal.

Michigan State University announced Monday that it plans to fire head football coach Mel Tucker over allegations that he sexually harassed a woman who was working with MSU to teach athletes about the dangers of sexual harassment and violence.

In a written response, Tucker reiterated his stance that he and his accuser were in a consensual relationship. Tucker also said he believes other motives are at play in the university's move to fire him.

Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Wolverines will have their head coach back Saturday after a three-game suspension.

Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about the investigation.

Saturday's games: Rutgers at Michigan - Noon
Maryland at Michigan State - 3:30pm

Doug Tribou: Mel Tucker is saying that MSU is violating its own rules by firing him before its own investigative process is complete. There's a lot more that will have to play out here. But even if Tucker prevails on that front, it seems unlikely he'll coach at MSU again. What about elsewhere? Have we seen the end of the career of one of the highest paid college football coaches in the country?

John U. Bacon: I suspect you've seen the end of his career coaching college because college campuses tend to be far more morally astute, frankly, than the NFL, which is an utterly amoral institution. You might get a job there, but also he doesn't need one. He's been paid about $25 million so far.

But back to the initial point about him saying that MSU has violated its own rules. No, it has not. And that is a crucial point. In his contract, it is very clear that they can fire Tucker for cause if he engages in any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or which in the university's sole judgment would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt, or ridicule upon the university.

He's confessed to the phone sex. That's good enough. Look where Michigan State is today. So they fired him very easily. He's not getting, I don't think, a dime back unless they feel like paying him.

DT: The main issue here clearly is the allegations of sexual harassment by Tucker against a person who's a prominent activist against sexual violence. And also, Michigan State is not very far removed from the massive sexual abuse scandal of former sports doctor Larry Nassar. These scandals are linked to sports, but they also have an effect on the broader MSU community. What is the way forward for MSU here, John?

JUB: Well, a distinction has to be made when we talk about the MSU culture. It's a phrase thrown around a lot with both the Nassar scandal, of course, and now this. I have found the students, the faculty, the alumni are all in very strong agreement about doing the right thing.

It's the leadership where things screw up. And it's worth noting that although they did the right thing, ultimately, with the Nassar survivors — (paying out) $500 million and heard them out — they have still to this day, have not divulged all the investigative materials, which are required by Freedom of Information laws.

That was being debated the day the Mel Tucker case broke.

And while Michigan had its equally horrible (sexual abuse) scandal, Dr. [Robert] Anderson, they produced the report to the public the day they got it. So that's what Michigan State has to do.

DT: Let's turn to Michigan. Head coach Jim Harbaugh's suspension is over this weekend. He'll be on the sideline for the first time this season when Michigan hosts Rutgers. Michigan suspended Harbaugh in response to NCAA allegations about recruiting violations and other issues. There could be more penalties from the NCAA in 2024.

Will the investigation have any long term effects on recruiting or staff hiring for Jim Harbaugh and the football program?

JUB: Zero. These are all four Level 2 violations and by self-imposing their own penalty this fall — which is, I think, very smart — before the NCAA does, they might get one or two more games, if that, but I doubt even that. And it will have no effect on recruiting or staffing.

DT: Well, Michigan is 3-0 and a heavy favorite against Rutgers. What will you be watching for during the Wolverines' first Big Ten game of the season Saturday?

JUB: Well, they're playing their first serious team. Greg Schiano, the coach of Rutgers, is a quite a good coach, (but) doesn't have all the horses. The first two games, the fans were complaining that J.J. McCarthy was setting quarterbacking, passing records, but the running game was not very good.

Last game, the running game was very good and the passing was not that great — some interceptions.

So, Michigan's challenge is putting the running game and the passing game together and my guess is they will do that.

Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's broadcast license.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Public during the summer of 2023.
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