It felt like Mel Tucker decompressed some.
Michigan State football’s coach gave a glimpse into a different side of himself during his first year with a new program.
Answers during Tuesday’s weekly news conference, after the Spartans’ got blasted 52-12 by No. 4 Ohio State, were expanded and explanatory. His tone turned from testy to teaching.
His mood? Not as surly — a natural reaction for coaches who have yet to examine the film after a loss yet know there were major issues — as Saturday’s. But he tried to paint what his vision for the Spartans will look like come next fall.
“Every Tuesday, we get on this Zoom and you’re asking me questions, and I’m asking questions. And so you’re evaluating me and my demeanor and how I answer questions, and how I treat you, with respect or not,” Tucker said. “And you’re making a judgment on me and what type of person you think I am, what my competency level is. Do you think that you can trust me on what I’m saying, do you think that I know what I’m talking about, do you think that I’m worthy, do you think that I can build a program?”
That is part of the microscope that hovers above the fishbowl of college football coaching; every in-game decision is scrutinized, every personnel move second-guessed. But in facing the criticism head-on after MSU lost three of its last four games by a combined 125-17, Tucker showed more of a personality that should seem pretty familiar to MSU fans.
Tucker the person and coach might be less Mark Dantonio, his predecessor, than he is Tom Izzo — less cryptic and guarded and a little more honest with his staff and players beyond his dealings with the media.
The Hall of Fame basketball coach, who said he ducked over briefly to watch some of Saturday’s football game, has been counseling Tucker throughout his debut season. There have been calls, texts and visits to MSU football practice.
“We gotta hang in there with Mel,” Izzo said Sunday. “Because what he’s been through … He’s been tough.”
And it’s a relationship dating back to when Tucker was working for Nick Saban as a graduate assistant in 1997 and ’98.
“And then I would see him throughout the years,” Tucker said of Izzo. “When we were at LSU, he’d come down here and coach Saban and I would see him there. When Nick’s daughter got married in Tuscaloosa, I got a chance to see him here and some of the other Michigan State people. So we do have a relationship, and it’s not a one-way street. I reach out to him, he’s reached out to me, and we’re always constantly talking.
“I feel like we see a lot of things the same way, just about toughness and hard coaching and not making excuses and finding a way to get it done. And being appreciative of the opportunity that we do have and never relaxing. And always fighting and being basically bootstrappers.”
Tucker’s inherited veteran players, who spent much of their careers under Dantonio, have noticed it in Tucker’s staff.
“Their coaching style is pretty unique I would say,” junior tight end Tyler Hunt said. “They make whatever problems you have, they made sure to address them before those problems turn into other problems. They’re really personable coaches.”
Said defensive end Drew Beesley: “They definitely bring a sense of energy, this energy I’ve never felt before. Regardless if you’re up by 20 or down by 20, whatever the case may be, you finish the game, you play all 60 minutes and you just go all-out and give it all your effort and give a relentless effort.”
Tucker talked about consistency in performance Tuesday, something he has preached all fall. That is vital Saturday when MSU travels to Penn State to face the Nittany Lions, who opened the season with five straight losses before winning their past two games.
Izzo installed a bedrock of confidence during the infancy of his program before his vision evolved from his mentor Jud Heathcote.
Izzo’s model began to take shape right around the time he and Tucker first met.
“I feel like I want and need his support, because he’s been here for so long and he’s done so many great things,” Tucker said of Izzo. “He’s a Hall of Fame coach, and I can learn a lot from him. And getting support from him goes a long way for me and for my program and for my coaching staff. … I don’t think he will support me if he didn’t believe in me, because he’s not that type of guy he is.”
Contact Chris Solari: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Mel Tucker explain longtime mutual respect