We are discovering Mel Tucker may not be the coaching Guru we were led to believe.
Let’s start with some indisputable and/or undeniable metrics.
Mel Tucker has been a Head Coach for 4 years (1yr at Colorado and 3yrs at Michigan State) and in those 4 years he has compiled three losing seasons, offset by one winning season and his cumulative record is just 23-20.
But, if we eliminate “fluff” non-conference victories vs Akron, WMU and Youngstown State for example and just take stock of games played vs PAC 12 and Big Ten opponents, then Mel Tucker has compiled an upside-down record of 15-19 (44%).
Keep in mind Mel Tucker posted a 3-6 conference record at Colorado in 2019, and then posted a 2-5 conference record at Michigan State in 2020, followed by a 3-6 conference record in 2022 and that bookended a 7-2 conference record in 2021 …but his overall conference record is just 15-19.
Let’s be honest, posting 3 losing seasons offset by one winning season is not exactly what one would expect from the $95 Million Man.
Of course, there is an abundance of denial amongst MT supporters (just wait they say, it will get better) but the cold hard facts tell us it won’t get better with time.
Shine the spotlight on Defense:
We were also told MT was a Defensive Guru, but the metrics tell us something totally different.
Over 4 years at two different Power 5 schools, in two different Power 5 conferences (a viable sample size), MT’s Defense has been abysmal.
When we strike average rankings over 4 years, MT’s Defense has compiled some of the worst stats in the land, including but not limited to: Pass Defense #103 (273 YPG) …Total Defense #93 (425 YPG) …3rd Down Defense #93…and Scoring Defense #82 (30 PPG).
Those defensive metrics may sit well at schools such as Akron, Buffalo, or Colorado State for example, but in the Big Ten, whereby the primary competition is Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State which consistently rank amongst the best offenses in the land, then the Spartans Defense simply doesn’t measure up.
Defensive Coordinators falling short:
Moreover, success starts with assembling a championship caliber coaching staff, yet it’s looking more and more like Mel Tucker doesn’t have that skill set.
For the record, Scottie Hazelton is Defensive Coordinator & Linebacker Coach, while Marco Coleman is Defensive Line Coach & Defensive Run Game Coordinator.
Together they are responsible for overseeing the Defensive Line & Linebackers which means they are the coaching nucleus of the Rush Defense and in the Big Ten, dominating Rush Defense stirs the drink.
Yet in 2022, the Spartans Rush Defense ranked #102 in the land when measured against 130 D-1/FBS Schools or #14 (dead last) when measured in Big Ten competition.
The Spartans Rush Defense yielded and incredible 1874 yards in 9 B1G games, or an eye glazing 208 YPG.
Of course, the Big Ten is a “run heavy” conference but it’s shocking the Spartans Rush Defense got blistered by Michigan for 276 yards…Minnesota 240 yards…and Ohio State 237 yards
Even lowly Indiana rang the bell for 257 Rushing Yards, while perennial doormat Rutgers hammered out 224 Rushing Yards against the Spartans Rush Defense.
So, when two of the worst Offenses in the land (Indiana and Rutgers) can cumulatively pound out nearly 500 Yards Rushing and essentially humiliate the Spartans in Spartan Stadium, we can all agree the Spartans are not only getting “out manned” in the trenches but getting “out witted” in the game of Offensive/Defensive chess.
Moreover, the decline of the Spartans Rush Defense under Mel Tucker is shocking!
Let’s remember, as recently as 2018 (just 4 short years ago) the Spartan Rush Defense (under the direction of Defensive Coordinator, Mike Tressel) was best in the land and ranked #1 when measured against 130 D-1/FBS Schools yielding just 78 Yards per game while yielding just 17 points per game.
So, let’s look back to what could have been.
Why didn’t Mel Tucker keep Mike Tressel?
For 7 years, from 2013 to 2019, the Spartans Rush Defense under Mike Tressel ruled the land,
It ranked #1 in the land twice (2014 & 2018) …ranked #2 twice (2013 & 2017) …ranked #11 in 2015 and only finished out of the Top 25 once in those 7 years.
By all measures the Spartans Rush Defense ruled the land, and it was due in large part to the gifted coaching expertise of Mike Tressel (D-Coordinator and LB Coach) as well as Ron Burton (D-Line Coach) and together they consistently built a dominating, top tier Rush Defense.
Of course, Mark Dantonio stepped down in 2020, yet Tressel and Burton were willing to accept similar roles on Mel Tucker’s staff…and assuredly Mel Tucker would gladly deploy Tressel and Burton in similar roles, right?
Curiously, upon arriving at Michigan State, Mel Tucker demoted Mike Tressel from D-Coordinator and reassigned him to coaching Safeties.
So, let me ask this question: “why in the world” would Mel Tucker demote one of the best Defensive Coordinator’s in the land? Yet that was nearly first order of business for Mel Tucker.
Of course, Tressel was subsequently replaced as D-Coordinator by Scottie Hazelton and it’s impossible to reconcile Tucker’s logic!
The Hazelton file:
Prior to Michigan State, from 1996 to 2011, Hazelton cobbled together a nomadic coaching career at D-II and/or FCS Schools such as Ft. Lewis, Missouri Southern and North Dakota State.
Thereafter, he posted 1 year as D-Coordinator at Nevada (2013) then 2 years as D-Coordinator at Wyoming (2017-2018) before getting his first Power 5 job as D-Coordinator at Kansas State in 2020 but he was only there 1 year.
In fact, Hazelton had 13 jobs in 23 years and was never in one job long enough to build anything other than journeyman’s credentials.
Keep in mind, Kansas State was Hazelton’s first and only Power 5 job before joining Michigan State (so he had precious little experience in Power 5 competition, just one year in fact), so it’s no surprise his Rush Defense at K-State ranked an uninspiring #76 yielding nearly 165 Rushing Yards per game in the pass happy Big 12 whereby it was Pass first and run if you must.
In brief, Hazelton guided an ordinary Defense at Kansas State!
Of course, if Tucker had replaced Tressel with a bona fide top tier, elite Defensive Coordinator, then it would have made a measure of logic, but Tucker replaced Tressel with a career apprentice.
Of course, we are all aware that after being demoted by Tucker in 2020, Mike Tressel was hired by Luke Fickell at Cincinnati in 2021 to guide Cinci’s Defense.
Thereafter, Cinci’s Defense became an elite force by way of posting some of the most dominating stats in the country in 2021: #1 Pass Efficiency Defense…#2 Pass Defense…#4 Red Zone Defense…#5 Scoring Defense…and #10 Total Defense
Tressel’s dominating Defense yielded less than 17 points per game, and enabled Cincinnati to earn an invitation to the College Football Playoff.
Let’s draw this comparison: Mike Tressel’s Defense at Cincinnati in 2021 was ranked #10 in the land while Michigan State’s Defense under Scottie Hazelton was ranked a dreadful #104 in 2021 complemented by the worst Pass Defense in the land, ranked #130 (or dead ass last).
Of course, Luke Fickell was recently hired as Head Coach at Wisconsin, and Mike Tressel is now D-Coordinator at Wisconsin and will arguably become a nemesis within the Big Ten, meanwhile Michigan State got Scottie Hazelton.
Call me crazy, but demoting Mike Tressel (essentially forcing him out the door) and hiring Scottie Hazelton, a career apprentice, made no sense then, and it makes no sense today.
But let’s dive deeper and look at the Spartans Defensive Line.
Ron Burton was ushered out the door too.
Of course, Ron Burton remained on Mel Tucker’s staff as D-Line Coach thru 2021 so it was no surprise the Spartan Rush Defense in 2021 was solid and ranked a respectable #15 in the land.
But just like Tressel, Ron Burton was ushered out the door by Mel Tucker after the 2021 season and replaced by Marco Coleman who at 52 years of age only had 4 years on his sketchy coaching resume.
So, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Spartan Rush Defense in 2022 under the guidance of Scottie Hazelton and Marco Coleman was unequivocally dysfunctional given their collective unfamiliarity with the Big Ten.
The Hazelton/Coleman Rush Defense collaborative yielded an eye glazing 1874 Rushing Yards, or an average of 208 Rushing Yards in 9 Big Ten games and ranked “dead ass last” in the Big Ten.
Of course, it was curious football logic to replace Mike Tressel and Ron Burton with Scottie Hazelton and Marco Coleman but then, football logic doesn’t seem to be a strong suit of the Tucker coaching administration.
Let me make this editorial comment to those who will challenge my critical assessment of Marco Coleman: I commend Marco Coleman for his remarkable and distinguished 13-year career as a player in the NFL from 1992 until 2005, but Marco Coleman is not being judged as an NFL player, he’s being judged as a D-Line Coach for the Spartans foundering Defense.
It’s notable that Coleman sat out of football for 13 long years before becoming an assistant coach for the first time in 2018. Think about that, Marco Coleman was detached from football for 13 years.
That means from 2005 thru 2018 Marco Coleman was engaged in a profession other than football, then at the age of 48 (just 4 years ago), he took his very first coaching job, but he was only in that job one year!
Then from 2019 to 2021, Coleman was hired as Defensive Ends Coach at Georgia Tech, yet GT never won more than 3 games during his tenure and its Defense consistently ranked as one of the worst in the land.
In fact, from 2019 to 2021, GT Defense posted an average rank of #105 yielding 445 YPG, while its Rush Defense posted an average rank of #102 yielding an “eye glazing” 195 Rush YPG.. GT defense was the antithesis of Dominant!
So, we have to ask the Question: why in the world would Mel Tucker essentially “fire” seasoned vets such as Mike Tressel and Ron Burton in favor of Scottie Hazelton (a bona fide apprentice), and Marco Coleman (who is learning “On the job”)?
It makes no sense, yet Mel Tucker is making an abundance of head scratching decisions.
At the bottom line: so far, Mel Tucker is falling short as the $95 Million answer.
Building a championship caliber coaching staff is arguably the single most important job of a head coach because the fortunes of a team rise and fall with the expertise of assistant coaches, but Mel Tucker seems to have forgotten the lesson.
Let’s remember, Mel Tucker inherited Mike Tressel and Ron Burton and he could have kept them and maintained a measure of defensive stability, after all, from 2013 thru 2019 the Rush Defense under the guidance of Tressel and Burton ranked #1 in the land twice (2014 & 2018) …ranked #2 twice (2013 & 2017) …ranked #11 in 2015 and only finished out of the Top 25 once in 7 years.
So we have to ask, what was Mel Tucker thinking?
Of course, Mel Tucker remains silent, but the metrics speak for him.
This past season, the Spartans Rush Defense under Hazelton and Coleman finished “dead last” in Big Ten competition yielding an “eye glazing” 208 Yards per game and thereby earned the dubious distinction as one of the worst in the land.
Moreover, the metrics tell us the fundamentals of the Spartan Defense are “broken” and won’t get better with time.
But there are other problematic metrics to consider: Mel Tucker has posted 3 losing seasons in the last 4 years, and at Michigan State earned just one bowl invitation!
That means Offensive problems abound as well, and in the near term we will take a look at coaching credentials of Chis Kapilovic (O-Line Coach & Run Game Coordinator) as well as Jay Johnson (Offensive Coordinator) who collaborated to build one of the most dysfunctional Rushing Offenses in the land in 2022 and averaged just 95 YPG in Big Ten competition.
But until that time, I wish my readers the best of good health, hope, happiness, and peace of mind during the holidays and throughout the New Year.
I am also grateful for your readership as well as your feedback and if I haven’t replied to your messages I hope you will accept my apology because sometimes I fall short due to time constraints so I hope you will accept my apology
Thank you for reading and I always welcome your comments and opinions.
I extend Holiday blessings to all…