Michigan St. tells Tucker it intends to fire him

Michigan State tells Mel Tucker it intends to fire him (0:37)

Scott Van Pelt details Michigan State’s intention to fire football coach Mel Tucker. (0:37)

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    Dan Murphy

    ESPN Staff Writer

    • Covers the Big Ten
    • Joined ESPN.com in 2014
    • Graduate of the University of Notre Dame

Sep 18, 2023, 04:18 PM ET

Michigan State University informed head football coach Mel Tucker in a letter Monday of the school’s “intent to terminate” his contract for cause, citing “a body of undisputed evidence of misconduct that warrants termination.”

Michigan State delivered the notice in a five-page letter from athletic director Alan Haller, which details what the university sees as “unprofessional and unethical behavior.”

Tucker has been suspended without pay after sexual harassment allegations emerged in media reports last weekend. An independent investigator hired by the school has been examining the allegations since January, and Tucker’s suspension came after the specific allegations arose in media reports.

Prominent sexual assault awareness speaker Brenda Tracy filed a sexual misconduct complaint against Tucker in December 2022. She claims that Tucker made unwelcome advances after she was hired to speak to the Spartans football team about sexual misconduct and her experience as a rape survivor. She said Tucker also masturbated without her consent during a phone call in April 2022. Tucker admitted to masturbating, but said in a statement last week that it was part of a consensual intimate relationship.

Tracy told USA Today that after she raised concerns about Tucker’s conduct, he postponed and eventually canceled a speaking engagement at the university. Because she had an ongoing professional relationship with the athletic department, she was able to file a claim under the school’s sexual misconduct policy.

Michigan State made clear in the letter that it was firing Tucker for cause unless he can “present sufficient reasons to dispute” the grounds for termination in the next seven days.

Tucker has more than $79 million remaining on his contract, which the school is attempting to not pay him with the firing for cause.

Messages to Tucker and his agent were not immediately returned. Tracy declined to comment via her attorney.

Longtime MSU assistant Harlon Barnett has already been elevated to interim coach, and he’s being aided by former longtime Spartans coach Mark Dantonio in a consultant role.

Haller explained the university’s argument for firing Tucker with cause in a letter addressed to Tucker and his agent.

He wrote that Tucker’s admission that he commented on Tracy’s body, made frequent flirtatious comments to her and masturbated while on the phone with her were all breaches of Tucker’s contract and gave Michigan State grounds to fire Tucker for cause.

Haller also noted a combative public statement Tucker issued through his attorney last Monday as another example of him breaking his contract. Tucker’s contract said he must “keep positive and constructive in tone any public comments about University policies.” In the statement, Tucker called a pending hearing about sexual harassment claims a “sham.”

Tucker also violated the “moral turpitude” clause of his contract and harmed the school’s public image, Haller said.

“The unprofessional and unethical behavior is particularly egregious given that the Vendor at issue was contracted by the University for the sole purpose of educating student-athletes on, and preventing instances of, inappropriate sexual misconduct,” he wrote.

Haller said in his letter that the university’s hearing to determine whether Tucker violated the relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy at Michigan State will continue even though Tucker is being fired. That hearing is scheduled to take place Oct. 5 and 6.

Tracy first filed a claim of sexual harassment in December 2022. An outside investigator hired by Michigan State recommended the school hold a hearing after completing her investigation in late July.

According to a story published by USA Today earlier this month, Tucker admitted during an interview with investigators in March that he had a sexual encounter with Tracy during a phone call, along with other “undisputed facts” that Michigan State now says are grounds to fire him.

A Michigan State spokesperson told ESPN last week that the school does have a process in place that allows investigators to share information they gather about an ongoing case with university leadership if that information might lead to taking action against an employee.

The spokesperson said she did not know whether investigators informed Haller in March that Tucker had admitted to conduct that amounted to a breach of his contract. Michigan State paid Tucker about $750,000 per month, which means he has received roughly $4.5 million from the school between when he admitted the behavior and when he was suspended without pay last week.

Haller announced Tucker’s suspension on Sunday, Sept. 10, less than 24 hours after details about the claims against him were published. Tracy and her attorney shared details about Tucker’s conduct with USA Today. Both said that Tracy had wanted to keep her story private until after October’s hearing but that she felt compelled to share the story after they learned that someone else at the university had leaked her name to a reporter.

Michigan State announced Monday that it has hired the Jones Day law firm to conduct an investigation into who leaked Tracy’s name. A spokesperson said the school was “dismayed” by the breach in confidentiality.