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.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.