Michigan State coach Mel Tucker always on brand to promote

Nick King/Lansing State Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Mel Tucker smokes cigars and poses with expensive cars on social media, hoping to grab the attention of recruits from coast to coast and perhaps pique interest of fans near and far.

The third-year football coach for No. 15 Michigan State, hoping more people would get to know him better, invited five reporters to spend a day with him on a golf course, at a restaurant, in the team’s football facility and into his home.

While a Group of Five football coach may provide similar access, it’s rare that the leader of a Power Five program would give media members about 12 hours of his time in pursuit of publicity.

“I tell the recruits and their parents that we’re an open book – what you see is what you get,” Tucker said in an interview with The Associated Press in his on-campus office. “Allowing access, to kind of go behind the curtain, behind the scenes, I think is a good thing. We don’t have anything to hide here. I don’t have anything to hide.”

Tucker always seems to be on brand, going outside the ordinary box most college football coaches stay confined to, in a calculated quest to promote himself and the program as he chases a championship.

“We recruit nationally so anything we can do on social media to sell our program, we’re going to do it,” he said simply.

The Spartans were one of college football’s biggest surprises last year, winning 11 games, including a New Year’s Six bowl game. It was quite a turnaround after going 2-5 in the pandemic-shortened year that stunted Tucker’s debut season as Mark Dantonio‘s successor.

Making a proactive move to keep a coach who potentially could have left for LSU or the NFL, donors decided to give him a raise as part of a 10-year, $95 million contract to stay.

What Michigan State did on the field last year, though, was not good enough for Tucker. He is relentlessly working toward winning a national championship, which only the school’s 1952 team achieved as recognized by the AP.

To win it all at Michigan State, Tucker knows he has to do more.

Much more.

Instead of relegating himself to the media relations help that Michigan State’s athletic department provides, earlier this year Tucker hired a public relations and marketing firm that has clients such as Amazon to assist him with branding.

“He was so different than any entrepreneur I’ve ever been around that I said, `We need to work together,”‘ said Shelley Reinstein, whose company, Autumn Communications, assisted with Tucker’s charity work and media opportunities this offseason. “I’m blown away by how smart and eager to learn he is.”

A certified cigar sommelier is, too.

Tables were set up on the upper level of Tucker’s sprawling deck to display an array of cigars and bourbons while he hosted a small group of reporters to wrap up a long day.

While Tucker occasionally enjoys a cigar, sometimes in a room downstairs that is ventilated and decorated with a painting of him and Sparty, the school’s mascot, he is not an aficionado.

In what was called Cigar 101, the 50-year-old Clevelander peppered certified cigar sommelier Dillon Rodriguez with inquisitive questions.

“He wanted to know all kinds of things like how long it takes a seed to grow,” Rodriguez recalled. “You would think guys at that stage in life wouldn’t have time for a little guy like me, but he listened to every word and gave me respect.

“After the reporters left, he invited me and the two people I was with to stay for a cigar and a pour. We would’ve loved to because he’s so down to earth, but we were on the clock.”

Tucker always seems to be working.

While he was spending time with reporters, his wife, a travel advisor, and their two sons were on a trip in Mexico. When his football players had a day off earlier this month, Tucker joined basketball coach Tom Izzo to be the grand marshals of a NASCAR race in southern Michigan.

Much of what Tucker does is designed to attract talent, from high schools or via the transfer portal, but he clearly cares about his current players as well.

Michigan State linebacker Darius Snow said Tucker has helped him pursue his dreams on and off the field.

“I like to call him a contemporary because he embraces social media and NIL and that clicks with young men our age,” Snow said in a telephone interview. “He knows I’m a graphic designer, so he has created opportunities for me to have my work put out there on the team’s social media accounts. I’m not sure there would be many, if any, other coaches that would do that.”

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.