Michigan State fired Mel Tucker on Wednesday, saying the suspended football coach failed to present adequate reasons why he should not be fired for cause after having what he described as consensual phone sex with an activist and rape survivor.
The school said it terminated what's left of Tucker's $95 million, 10-year contract for acknowledging actions that subjected the institution to ridicule, breaching his contract and moral turpitude.
Brenda Tracy, the activist and rape survivor, said Tucker sexually harassed her during the phone call in April 2022. Several months later, Tracy filed a complaint with the school’s Title IX office.
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Michigan State informed the 51-year-old Tucker that it planned to fire him on Sept. 18 and gave him a week to respond, which he did on Monday.
“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,” athletic director Alan Haller said. “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.”
Messages seeking comment were left with Tucker's attorney and agent. He has acknowledged having phone sex with her but said it was consensual.
Michigan State’s investigation was completed in July and a hearing scheduled for next week.
Attorney Jennifer Belveal said the school knew Tucker acknowledged during the investigation in March that he had had phone sex with Tracy.
“The notice, which is entirely premised on information you knew at least seven months ago, if not earlier, now affirms Tucker’s belief that the investigation was never interested in the truth,” she wrote.
She denied in a statement that Tucker’s actions were acts of moral turpitude — “by any stretch of the imagination” — at the university that operates in the shadow of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of more than 100 athletes.
Belveal also cited Tucker’s “serious medical condition” in stating that the embattled coach reserves his right to fully respond to the university’s planned firing when he’s medically cleared.
Tucker asked for a medical leave for “a serious health condition” while he was suspended and the school denied the request, saying it was “unnecessary,” according to his attorney.
The school told Tucker he would be fired for cause and without compensation for misconduct with Tracy, whom it considers a vendor because she was once paid to speak with the team, and gave him seven days to respond.
Tucker signed a $95 million, 10-year contract in November 2021. If the school gets its way, he will lose about $80 million he was due to make through Jan. 15, 2032.
Tracy’s allegations were made public by USA Today earlier this month, and on the same day that the report was published, Tucker was suspended.
Tucker, who said he has been estranged from his wife for years and has two children, said the allegations against him are “completely false.”
“I can only conclude that there is an ulterior motive designed to terminate my contract based on some other factor such as a desire to avoid any (Nassar) taint, or my race or gender,” Tucker, who is Black, said in a response his attorney shared earlier this month.
Tracy is known for her work with college teams educating athletes about sexual violence. Michigan State paid her $10,000 to share her story with the football team.
Tucker began his coaching career with Nick Saban as a graduate assistant for the Spartans in 1997. He returned to the school with one of the biggest contracts in college sports after leading Colorado for one season and serving as an assistant coach at Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State.
Tucker also worked in the NFL, leading the Jacksonville Jaguars as interim coach during the 2011 season.
He was 20-14 in three-plus seasons at Michigan State, which he led to 11 wins in 2021, and his career record as a college football head coach is 25-21.
The Spartans (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) play at Iowa (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday, and will be led by interim coach Harlon Barnett for a third game.