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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 12, 2020
East Lansing, Michigan
PRESIDENT STANLEY: I'm Sam Stanley, president of Michigan State University and I'm absolutely thrilled to be able to welcome you to a very special announcement tonight.
Today we are gathered to celebrate another milestone in the life of MSU, a new football coach, and a new era for MSU Football. You're going to area a lot of great things about Mel Tucker this evening.
Personally I'm excited about his energy and positive enthusiasm, his dynamic and motivational approach to working with student athletes. They are students first, and I appreciate that our athletic department never loses sight of that fact.
I'd also like to recognize Coach Dantonio and thank him for his 13 very successful years at Michigan State University -- yes, thank you -- taking our football program to the next level and making us a national leader.
He's setting a high bar for Mel Tucker, but one that I believe Coach Tucker is ready to believe. He's already been part of our football program starting here in the 1990s with Nick Saban, but since then his experience at the collegiate and NFL levels have been top-notch and he understands the value of prioritizing student success.
Michigan State is a nationally recognized program. We are a program to be proud of and we are proud that many candidates want to be part of Michigan State University. It's an attractive program to lead and one we want to push to new milestones.
I'm thrilled with the selection of Coach Tucker. He has a bright future at Michigan State University, as do all the student athletes who come to play for him and get an excellent education at our university.
Now I'd like to one of my bosses, the Chairperson of the Michigan State Board of Trustees, the Honorable Diane Byrum.
HONORABLE DIANE BYRUM: Thank you, President Stanley.
I'd like at this time to acknowledge my colleagues on the Board of Trustees this evening. Would you please stand so we can recognize you.
On behalf of the MSU Board of Trustees I'm here to welcome Mel Tucker, his wife, JoJo and his two sons, Christian and Joseph back to Michigan State University.
So welcome, we are ecstatic to have you here.
We are ecstatic that you are all part of our Spartan family. We look forward to spending more time together once you make the full transition to East Lansing into our campus community.
I'd like to thank athletic director Bill Beekman, his staff and those on the search committee for a very swift and successful process to land our 25th football coach at MSU.
A week ago it seemed hard to believe that Coach Dantonio would not be coming back for another season, and I know some of the people worried about the football program.
We are here now a week later having landed a highly regarded individual and coach with strong credentials and experience. The board put its trust in the search process, and we appreciate that the athletic director kept us updated along the day.
From our perspective, and I know the president shares this point as well; we want a coach that values the development of student athletes on and off the field, who would continue the success of our football program has seen in the last decade, and find a way to build upon it.
From everything we've learned about Coach Tucker in the last few days, we are confident that we have the right leader to take us forward.
At this time I would like to introduce our athletic director, Bill Beekman.
BILL BEEKMAN: Good evening. I'd like to thank the other members of the search committee, my deputy athletic directors Alan Haller and Jenn Smith. I'd also like to thank Matt Larson, our associate athletic director for communications, and Kevin Pauga, assistant athletic director, who were extraordinarily valuable in this process.
I'd like to thank Coach Izzo, who despite being in the middle of a taxing season, was very, very helpful in placing phone calls, doing a lot of backgrounding and being Coach Izzo, so thank you very much.
I'd like to thank our general counsel, Brian Quinn, who was invaluable in the process.
And lastly I'd like to thank President Stanley and our Board of Trustees who were extraordinarily deft at having a hand on the rudder, but letting us work through the process to find what we all believed to be an extraordinary outcome in Coach Tucker.
I'd also like to acknowledge our head coaches who are here today. Coaches, would you please stand.
They do an extraordinary job of guiding our many athletic programs, and we just are so much better for the diversity of sport here at MSU with our 19 head coaches across 25 programs.
The criteria we established for this search was very clear at the start: We were looking first and foremost for a person of character; a person with passion for MSU; someone with head coaching experience; a track record of coaching success, a strong recruiter, especially in the Midwest; someone with Big Ten experience; and someone who is a gifted teacher.
A fit here is critical. Ultimately, we found a coach who shares our passion and our vision for Spartan Football.
So who is Coach Tucker? Well, on paper he has an extraordinary track record of success. He's got two national championships under his belt at Alabama and Ohio State. He's got extensive NFL experience as a position coach, a coordinator and an interim head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he got his start as a graduate assistant right here under Coach Nick Saban.
But it was meeting Mel in person that convinced me he was the right person for the job. His energy, his drive, his preparation, his commitment to excellent all showed through almost immediately.
He's the right coach at the right time to move Michigan State forward with passion and energy. He's Teddy Roosevelt's man in the arena and he's our 25th head coach and we are darned thrilled to have him.
Thank you, Coach Tucker.
PRESIDENT STANLEY: It's now my pleasure to introduce Antjuan Simmons, MSU senior linebacker, squeaking on behalf of the football team, embodies what it means to be a Spartan: He doesn't run from a challenge, he's one of the unquestioned leaders on this team and he was one of the players the athletic department reached out to when they wanted input on the selection of the next head coach at Michigan State University.
Please join me in welcoming Antjuan Simmons.
ANTJUAN SIMMONS: Hey, how y'all doing. I want to thank you guys for having us, having all my teammates. It's an honor being able to be here, attend something like this, and we want to say thank you to Coach D for putting in his time here, the best coach ever to coach here, you know.
And we're excited. We've been working all week. We've been working hard. And want to thank you for coming. It's an honor to have you, you know, that DB, it was intense -- (laughter) -- but we ready, we going to play for you.
And like you guys know, the head of the program changes, but the expectations don't. We still are going to have the same expectations for this program and we going to play hard.
PRESIDENT STANLEY: Now it's my pleasure to introduce someone who needs no introduction, although I'll do one anyway, and that's Coach Izzo.
Coach Izzo has been at MSU for 37 years, including 25 as a head coach. It's appropriate this weekend that we are celebrating the 2000 National Championship team with a reunion at the Maryland game.
I can't think of a better example of anyone who personifies what it means to be a Spartan and how to succeed at Michigan State University. Please join me in welcoming Coach Tom Izzo.
TOM IZZO: Wow, I got you in my house. And I would reiterate, I'm here and I'm only speaking because basketball is my second sport. I've loved football my whole life. I know that is funny, but it's the truth. When I come back, if I believe in reincarnation, I will I will be Vince Lombardi some day (laughter). If he wants to play for me after you're done, I'm fine with it.
I just want to say, you are lucky because I think that you're in a place, like some of us, had many opportunities to leave and never wanted to leave and I hope you feel the same way.
These coaches here, it's a special place because the jealousies that go on in a lot of schools; a lot of football and basketball coaches don't get along; a lot of women's volleyball and basketball don't get along. It's been an unbelievable 37 years, and 25 of them as the head coach. You're the 25th head coach. It seems like it's all right.
What makes me happier is that you have Big Ten background. I have always said, I think it's important. You worked for some of the great guys. I'm a big Barry Alvarez fan. Nick Saban and I started together as assistants and head coaches.
Mark Dantonio has been one of my better friends. I look at all the people that you worked for and ever since I came here, it was George Perles who kind of brought me in and took me under his belt because he was the old guy and I was the GA. I'm a little ticked off that I'm the old guy and you're not the GA but you're the younger version. I'm a little bummed out about that but so be it.
I'm going to be here for you, your wife, your family and whatever you need because it does take a group of people to be a champion.
I'm also, JoJo, very excited, because you being both an Illinois grad and a Rutgers law school grad. We are 3-0 against those schools and we are 1-1 against Wisconsin, but I know deep down, JoJo, you were pulling for us last night. I appreciated that.
Mel, I want to welcome you. I want to tell you that this is a cool thing. From our band to our cheerleaders to our coaches to our board to the assistants that are here, it's an exciting time for all of us.
I promise you there will be no bigger fans than the people you see sitting here. They are going to support you. They are going to help you through it, and I'm going to be there for whatever you need.
I just want to say congratulations from all of us, speaking for the coaches, and from the 37 years I've been here, there is no place like this. Had my chances to move and had my chances to go places. You know, I got married here. Had my kids here. I'm going to get buried here.
So hopefully, you know, you're going to follow in my footsteps in that way, okay. And this weekend, we are celebrating the 20 years. It's been too long, though, when you're a coach, 20 years since you've won a National Championship. Knocked on that door eight other times. One of these days it's going to open.
But one of my thrilling moments was in 2015 when we made it in football and we made it in basketball to a Final Four and that to me was one of the great days of Michigan State athletics.
I'm expecting both of us to hold that true, along with my damn golf coach, because she's on my butt every day about chasing for championships.
So I hope you have a great time here. I hope you have a great night. But thank you guys, thank you all, thank your family. It is a family affair here. You enjoy the people here and thank all of you for coming.
PRESIDENT STANLEY: Who better to introduce our new coach than his wife, JoEllyn Tucker. As Tom said, JoEllyn has Big Ten ties of her own. She earned her undergraduate degree at University of Illinois and her law degree from Rutgers. Please welcome me in welcoming JoEllyn, JoJo, to the stage.
JoELLYN TUCKER: Awesome. Thank you for having us. Thank you for being so welcoming and you know, we actually got engaged right here in East Lansing. It was a while ago. Almost 23 years ago now.
We are super excited to come back where it all began and all of our Midwest and Big Ten ties, we are so excited and we can't wait to get here, the boys and I, and just become a part of the community. Everyone's been so welcoming already and we are going to hit the ground running.
It is my honor and pleasure to introduce the fearless leader of our family and the guy that we just love to death and would follow him anywhere, next head coach of Michigan State Football, Mel Tucker.
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: Fearless leader, huh? I like that touch. Thank you. She's never called me that before. Truth comes out.
Wow, thank you. First, I'd like to thank Athletic Director Beekman, President Stanley, Board of Trustees and all of the Spartan supporters who made today possible for me. I have prepared remarks so I don't keep you hear all day. If I don't write them down, we can go for a while.
This is a special time for me. This is an incredible moment and I just want to thank everyone for being here today. I'll try to be brief. I just want to touch on a couple of things real quick. Three things, actually. Gratitude, responsibility and loving Spartan Football.
The first is gratitude and in that I have to thank God. It's hard to describe how pleased and honored I feel to be back home at Michigan State where I began my coaching career in 1997 for the great Nick Saban.
The outpouring of support that the Spartan Nation has shown me and my family, over the past 12 hours, has been overwhelming. I want to thank, many, many people. I would love to do that, but I promised I'm not going to wear you out.
Thank you to the team involved in the coaching search. Appreciate you. Thank you so much. As each of you know, and I know that you respect, it was very hard for me to leave Colorado. But thank you for never giving up on me and for your confidence in me to lead one of the finest football programs in America.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the people who were truly responsible for me being here today, standing in front of you today: My family, my mom, Brenda, who has taught me to be a lifelong learner; and my dad, Mel, senior, who was a true football dad. Thank you for always putting me and my brothers first and for showing me what real love and sacrifice is all about.
To my wife, JoJo, and my sons Joseph, who is Poo, and Christian, who is Baby -- I'm sorry, man, I had to do it -- I'm sorry (Laughter) -- you are my True North, and you make it all worth it.
The second is responsibility. You know we hear a lot about what coaches might have a secret sauce to win. You know, who they worked for; what coaching tree they came from. Well, to me, there's no secret sauce. There's just people who taught me the responsibilities that we have as coaches.
I've had the privilege of being mentored by some of the very best coaches in the profession. Some of the very best. I can't mention all of them because we'll be here all day. But for my playing career, it was Barry Alvarez, the God father, to working with Nick Saban, not once, but three times, and then Coach Tressel, Coach Jim Tressel and Romeo Crennel. These men shaped me. They shaped my coaching path. They not only taught me the X's and the O's, but they taught me the intangibles of creating a winning mindset in a winning culture.
The responsibility and importance of hard work, humility, accountability and having a serving mindset and to love the game, to love the game.
That brings me to No. 3. You have to love it. You have to love it. Anyone who knows me knows that I love the game of football. Football has given me everything I have.
And I love people who love the game. I love people who love the game. My players, coaches, fans, media; if you love it, I'll probably like you. We play it, we coach it, we watch it, we cover it, because we absolutely love it.
So today, I'm excited about Michigan State Football because I love football here, right here. We have a strong and rich history under coaches like Biggie Munn, Duffy Daugherty, winning national championships. Coach Saban taking us to the Citrus Bowl and more recently appearances in the College Football Playoffs, the Rose Bowl and three Big Ten Championships. That's pretty strong.
I love the positives of the Michigan State Football legacy. I cannot be more fired up about being part of this culture; this is a winning culture and creating a winning future here in football. I'm excited.
I promise you that we will do everything to prepare, practice and play relentless and accountable football with toughness and integrity. We will do that.
We have much to live up to and much to prove and I believe the time is right now. The time is now. Gratitude, responsibility and loving Spartan Football.
With that, I just want to say thank you again, and to all of you here, thank you. To all of our fans, and to the media who made it here on short notice, thank you for your time and being here to support us. Thank you so much. Without you, you know, we couldn't get it done. Can't do it without you.
So with that, like I said, I'll be short, I'll open it up to a friendly Q&A.
Q. Thinking back to 1997 and 1998, could you ever have envisioned yourself back here after this career you've had leading this program?
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: You know, I hoped. I hoped. My dream was to come back here and be the head coach. That was my dream. When you work for a guy like Nick Saban and you see him do it, you know, you can't help but to aspire to be able to be in that position one day and do that.
So this is truly -- this is certainly a dream come true for me. To be back here, the time has gone very fast. It seems like just yesterday. That I was here, 400 bucks a month as a GA sleeping under my desk. I tried to always make sure that when Nick Saban walked past the GA office, I was there, you know, coming and going. You could hear him, he was shaking that change in his pocket coming down the hall. You knew that Coach Saban was coming down the deal, and I was right there at attention.
So yes, it's special. You know, and I don't take it lightly. I cherish this opportunity. Thank you for that question.
Q. This fall what should fans expect to see? What is Coach Tucker's style?
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: First, we'll be best conditioned, and that's the foundation of our program. Our program is built in the courtroom. We'll play with great technique and fundamentals. We'll play smart. We don't beat ourselves. That's the goal. We'll play fast. Both sides of the ball and special teams. Players play fast when they know what they are doing. Last but not least, we'll play physical football. That's really the name of the game and that's what Michigan State Football has always been about. Hard-nosed physical football.
Q. Can you take us through the timeline from when Michigan State first reached out to you to finally agreeing, "I'm going to do this" and take us through some of the details along the way?
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: I'll do my best. It's been a little bit of a blur. But late last week, Michigan State showed interest, and I had interest, as well. Strong interest, very strong interest.
Throughout the process, you know, I decided that it was time for me to take a step back from the process. Obviously there were other great candidates and the search continued. It circled back to me; I want to say it was probably on maybe Monday morning with my representation.
You know, ultimately, sometime late last night, it was apparent to me that I needed to be here (tapping on podium). That's kind of how it went down, yeah.
Q. Obviously as you said, it been a blur the last few days are the last week. Can you describe what you were wrestling with when you first seemed to commit back to Colorado, and then came back to Michigan State? What changed there and what were you wrestling with during that time?
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: You know, everything has a process. I'm very deliberate about, you know, how I go about my business and how I evaluate things, professionally and personally.
Leaving Colorado was probably -- was actually the toughest thing that I have ever done in my -- in my career, in my life, actually. And so -- but this is -- this is the -- this is the right time for me to be here. That's really what it comes down to. You know, these -- the commitment is here. The resources are here; the want-to; the leadership is here. Everything is here. Everything we need is here right now to get done what we need to get done.
And so although we all have to make tough decisions at times, this was certainly one of them. It was the right decision, and there's no doubt in my mind about that.
Q. Anybody that watched you play knew you loved the game physically, but you love it as a student of it. This is the school that broke the color barrier. What does it mean to come back here and lead that program that 60 years ago changed college football?
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: It's an honor and it's a privilege, quite frankly. I feel extremely blessed to have this opportunity, and we're going to make the most of it. We're going to give it everything that we have every day. We owe it -- I owe it to myself. I owe it to my family, my players, all of us in the room here and all of the great people that have come here before us. You know, great players in the past and great coaches; this is a program that has a rich and storied history and tradition of excellence, diversity, and there's very few places like this in America.
Q. Antjuan mentioned the team meeting earlier and how intense that was. I was wondering what your message was to the guys that are here already, and how quickly would you like to get the staffing figured out so you could start moving forward?
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: Yeah, the message, kind of in a nutshell, is that we are all in this thing together. I have your back, you know, and we're going to support you, myself and my staff. It's not going to be easy. We're going to work really hard. We're going to have a culture of accountability, a sense of urgency, attention to detail, unselfishness. You know, relentless attitude, competition, and it's going to be worth it. It's going to be worth it.
But we're going to do it and we're going to do it together. You know, every single person, every single player, is important in our program. Everyone's got a clean slate at this point with me and we're going to move forward from this point, you know, as a football team.
And these guys, we need to graduate -- we need to graduate our players, and we spent a significant amount of time talking about that. You know, first and foremost, you're here to get an education. You're here to get a degree, and we want to help you launch your career after football.
Obviously my job is to help you get you are why first job, whether it's the National Football League, or more often than that, it's in the real world, and this is a great place to launch that career. Those are some of the things that we touched upon.
Thank you for that question.
Q. What are your impressions of the way Michigan State has grown since you were here on the inside in 1998? I was interested in your observations since you've comeback and looked around a little bit.
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: I haven't got the entire tour. It certainly looks different than it looked in 1997, 1998.
It's very impressive to me. When I walked in -- when we walked in today, I felt something different. I felt something special. I felt there was an energy; there was a vibe. It was a positive environment that's conducive to reaching your full potential. I think environment and expectations are two main factors in becoming successful.
The environment here is tremendous with the support. Everyone is supporting one another, and the expectations like we talked about earlier, have always been high, and they continue to be that.
This is truly one of the great coaching opportunities in football.
Q. Obviously the timing was unique on both sides of this. Curious, first, what are sort of your next steps in the next week or two, and are there any challenges of taking a job like this at this time?
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: Well, you know, we have to put together a staff. I told the players, I can't -- I can't guarantee that I'm going to bring in every guru or some football genius, you know, X & O guy.
We want to bring in, first and foremost, coaches with tremendous character that are great role models for our players, family guys that care about young men; that are going to treat our young men as their own children, their own family. That's a big part of what we'll be doing in the next few days and I can assure you, there's no shortage of great coaches out there who want to be here with me and these young men.
Then we're getting ready for spring ball. So there's a strength and conditioning aspect of it, and a program of running and lifting and preparing ourselves so we can compete in spring ball.
Then, I've got to get to know my peers. I've got to get to know players, coaches, everyone in our university community here. I'm really looking forward to that. I embrace that opportunity.
The challenges that we have, like I say, at this point of the year are -- you know, we're built for that, and we'll get it done. It won't take long.
Q. You've only been here for a few hours and you said the process has been a blur. Is it pretty much starting over from scratch with the team as far as your knowledge of the roster and players and the identity of what Michigan State Football has been recently?
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: I have some work to do in terms of learning our roster and that's -- I mean, that's part of what you do in the out-of-season scheme evaluation, player evaluation. Just find out what we need to do to get better.
Listen, we want to hit the ground running. Time is of the essence. We are not going to waste any time. We are going to be efficient. We are going to be effective in everything that we do. We are going to recruit. We are going to identify the players that we feel like can help us and then we are going to target them. We are going to recruit them with the intent of signing those guys.
And so everything that has to be done in a football program, quite frankly, has already started for me. And so we sleep fast. We'll be sleeping fast and getting after it. We're going to make the most of every opportunity we have.
Q. Kind of wanted to know, from you, you worked directly under Mark Dantonio previously, both here when you were at GA and when you were at Ohio State. How much Mark Dantonio is there in you and your coaching philosophy, how many things are different, and do you have any plans or decisions to make with his assistants that are still on staff?
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: Yeah, I was here 1997-98 as a graduate assistant coach to Coach Dantonio with a secondary coach, and I left LSU with Nick Saban to work alongside Coach Dantonio at Ohio State for Jim Tressel, and I worked with him for three years there. Obviously he is one of those great mentors that I've learned a lot from and he's helped shape some of my football philosophies and things like that.
So I've always considered him a friend and just a tremendous football coach and an outstanding person. So I'm looking forward to reconnecting with him.
PRESIDENT STANLEY: Like to thank everybody for coming. Any final words?
HEAD COACH MEL TUCKER: Go Green!
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