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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Seven candidates to replace Mel Tucker at Michigan State

EAST LANSING – Just like that, we have a coaching search in East Lansing.

Michigan State on Monday moved to fired Mel Tucker amid a sexual harassment allegation made against him. That means that the Spartans will have a new coach for the 2024 season after four seasons under Tucker.

Spartans athletic director Alan Haller will spend the fall conducting his second football coaching search in less than four years as he looks for the next leader of the program he once played in.

Here are six candidates he could consider:

The former longtime Michigan State defensive coordinator is more connected to the Spartans program than any coach on the market. After leading some of the best defensive units in Michigan State history in the Mark Dantonio heyday, he’s found success in nine seasons at Pitt, winning the ACC in 2021 and going 9-4 last year.

When Tucker was hired in 2020, Narduzzi indicated publicly that he wasn’t interested in the job. But expect Michigan State to check in to see if things have changed three years later.

In his 11th season at Kentucky, it feels like Stoops has hit the ceiling for the program. He has a pair of 10-win seasons since 2018 and gone to seven straight bowl games while competing at a basketball school in the country’s toughest conference. His name often comes up around carousel season as folks wonder if he’s ready for a change of scenery.

Stoops has recruited the state of Ohio well, which is critical to success at Michigan State. He knows what it’s like to compete in a tough conference. But whether Michigan State would be a big enough step up would be a question.

The Big Ten raking in the money with its new TV deal could have its benefits in this Michigan State coaching search: the widening revenue gap could make East Lansing look pretty attractive to a coach in the ACC. It’s reasonable to think a coach who’s 12-4 in his second season at Duke could be gettable.

Elko has a defensive background and has exceeded expectations in a difficult job. But he’s only in his second season as a head coach and doesn’t have any experience in the Big Ten.

A Big Ten coaching list wouldn’t be complete without a MAC coach. Candle has won two MAC titles in seven seasons just south of the Michigan border, including last year’s title. He’d bring plenty of head coaching experience and recruiting ties to the Midwest.

But Candle’s Toledo tenure hasn’t been all success: after a 22-7 start, he went just 24-20 from 2018-21 before getting things rolling again last year.

If Michigan State goes the assistant coach route, Hartline could be an attractive option. The Ohio State offensive coordinator is known as a strong recruiter who has led some of the best offenses in the country in recent years. He’s young and would bring energy and experience from a top program. And there would be the added bonus of knocking out a key piece from the conference’s best program.

But the last time Haller did a coaching search, he made it clear that he was looking for a sitting head coach. It would take a change of strategy this time around to look at an assistant like Hartline.

The Beavers seem destined to move out of the Power 5 with the collapse of the Pac-12, and a move to the Big Ten could seem attractive to its coach. Smith has gotten things going at a tough West Coast job, going 10-3 last year and 3-0 this year.

Smith played at Oregon State and could be committed to seeing the program through its current transition. And Michigan State may not want to hire someone who spent his entire career on the West Coast. But he’s another successful sitting Power 5 head coach who could be on Haller’s list.

Michigan State’s acting coach has deep ties to Michigan State as a player and an assistant. He’s well-liked by everyone in the building and hiring him would provide continuity that nobody else could provide.

But a 41-7 loss to Washington wasn’t a good start to his acting tenure, and Michigan State will need to show plenty of improvement from that performance in the coming weeks for Barnett to have a shot at staying in the role.

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