(Photo credit: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK)
Suspended Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker believes "other motives are at play" in the school's intention to fire him for cause.
Tucker said Tuesday he was notified of the school's plan the day before. He had seven days to respond to the notification in the wake of a pending sexual misconduct case brought against him by Brenda Tracy, a sexual awareness speaker.
While Field Level Media's policy is not to name alleged victims of sexual harassment or assault, Tracy agreed to be identified in her USA Today interview and provided hundreds of pages of documentation.
Tucker claimed his firing is a "miscarriage of justice" in his statement to ESPN. He also said it came because of "Ms. Tracy's improper public disclosure of the entire 1,200-page investigation file regarding her baseless complaint against me.
"Let's be clear. I don't believe MSU plans to fire me because I admitted to an entirely consensual, private relationship with another adult who gave one presentation at MSU, at my behest, over two years ago."
Tucker is one of the highest-paid coaches in college football, signing a 10-year, $95 million contract before the 2022 season. The contract is fully guaranteed if the school fires Tucker for performance.
However, it contains a clause that allows Michigan State to fire him, without payment, if he engages in "conduct which, in the University's reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule on the University," according to USA Today.
Tucker was suspended without pay Sept. 10 amid a months-long investigation into his conduct with Tracy, who told USA Today that the coach crossed the line during a phone call in 2022.
Tucker said he helped bring Tracy, a prominent activist for sexual misconduct prevention, to campus in 2021 and they developed a friendship that grew intimate over time. Tucker said he was estranged from his wife "for a long time" by that point.
In his statement, Tucker took issue with the timing of Michigan State's decision to fire him for cause after initially suspending him as an "interim measure" last week. The complaint was filed in December.
"MSU knew about the information on which it supposedly relies to end my contract since at least March 2023," Tucker stated in the letter. "Yet only after Ms. Tracy and potentially others leaked the confidential investigation report to the press, did MSU suddenly decide this same information warrants termination."
Tucker also said that he was scheduled to have a hearing in the case in early October. Instead, he was fired nearly one week after being suspended without pay.
"About one week later, with no new information, MSU moved to terminate me-sanctimoniously and illogically claiming this action has no impact on the ongoing investigation," Tucker said in the statement. "The investigation is designed to determine if I violated policy. I did not. But regardless, basic fairness requires that process play out before any sanction(s) are determined."
Tucker also claimed Michigan State ignored his request for a medical leave. He was then notified he'll be fired for cause shortly after that request was initiated.
"MSU sent its notice of intent to terminate just days after I emailed (athletic director) Alan Haller requesting a medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act for a serious health condition. I can only conclude that MSU does not care about my rights, the truth, or its future liability for policing its employees' private lives."
Tucker, 51, is in his fourth season as head coach of the Spartans. His overall record at Michigan State is 20-14 after a 5-7 season in 2022.
Defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett served as Michigan State head coach Saturday during the Spartans' 41-7 loss to Washington. Former coach Mark Dantonio advised Barnett as an associate head coach.
--Field Level Media