Michigan State officially fires coach Mel Tucker for cause

Michigan State University fired football coach Mel Tucker for cause Wednesday, formally completing a process that was initiated last week.

Tucker is under university investigation for a sexual misconduct complaint brought by Brenda Tracy, a sexual assault awareness speaker.

In a statement, the university said it had terminated Tucker's contract "for his admitted and undisputed behaviors which have brought public disrespect, contempt and ridicule upon the university; and constitute a material breach of his agreement, and moral turpitude."

Michigan State suspended Tucker without pay Sept. 10, and athletic director Alan Haller informed Tucker in a letter Sept. 18 that the university intended to fire him for cause. The school opened up an investigation into Tracy's complaint back in December 2022, and there remains an upcoming university hearing on the matter.

The formal firing loomed as the final step in the university separating from Tucker, who has nearly $79 million remaining on his contract. By firing him for cause, Michigan State is attempting to not pay Tucker any of the remaining money.

Haller claimed in the letter that the school had "amassed a body of undisputed evidence of misconduct that warrants termination for cause."

Tucker and his attorneys pushed back in pointed language against the firing for cause in a statement last week and in a letter from his attorneys Monday that called the proposed termination "unjustified for several reasons." In a statement Sept. 19, Tucker said MSU "does not care about my rights, the truth, or its future liability for policing its employees' private lives."

Haller said in Wednesday's termination notice that Tucker's responses provided "a litany of excuses."

"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," Haller said in a statement Wednesday. "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."

Tucker's responses included the formal response from his attorneys within the seven-day window that MSU had noted in the Sept. 18 letter that it was contractually required to give him. The 25-page formal response argued point by point, at times, with MSU.

Those responses have set the stage for a potential legal battle over the remaining $79 million on his contract.

"I look forward to one day obtaining discovery against MSU, including the Trustees and the Athletic Department, to see what they really knew and said about this matter, as well as their motives in handling the entire investigative process," Tucker said in his statement Sept. 19.

In her complaint, Tracy claims Tucker masturbated without her consent during a phone call in April 2022. Tucker denies that encounter wasn't consensual and added that the investigator acknowledged a "personal relationship" between them.

"The conversations Tucker had with Ms. Tracy regarding her appearance, flirtation, and phone sex, occurred exclusively in their private lives, unrelated to either Tucker's work or her work, and were entirely consensual," said the letter from Tucker's lawyers Monday.

Despite the firing, a hearing to decide whether Tucker violated university policy will still take place in early October. Tucker's lawyers have pushed back on the university's investigation, calling it "terribly flawed, unfair, biased, and devoid of due process."

They also criticized the school's ability to keep confidentiality after a story by USA Today in early September detailed the allegations against Tucker. Tracy and her lawyer said they were compelled to share the information after they received word her name had leaked out. The school has hired a law firm, Jones Day, to look into the alleged leak.

Tucker's career at Michigan State officially concludes with a 20-14 record, which includes an 11-2 campaign in 2021 that ended with a Peach Bowl victory. The Spartans reached as high as No. 5 in the nation that year, and MSU brass rewarded Tucker with a 10-year, $95 million contract that made him among the highest-paid coaches in the sport.

Harlon Barnett has been the acting head coach since Tucker's suspension and will be elevated to interim head coach, subject to board approval, in October. Michigan State has lost its first two games under Barnett by a combined score of 72-16.

The Spartans play at Iowa on Saturday night.

ESPN's Dan Murphy contributed to this report.