MSU suspends head football coach Mel Tucker without pay amid sexual harassment investigation

By: - September 10, 2023 6:01 pm

Head coach Mel Tucker of the Michigan State Spartans looks on against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers during the second quarter of the game at Spartan Stadium on October 02, 2021 in East Lansing, Michigan. | Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Updated, 7:18 p.m., 9/10/23

Mel Tucker, head football coach for Michigan State University, was suspended without pay Sunday following an accusation of sexual harassment by the coach coming to light.

Tucker’s suspension comes hours after a USA Today investigation revealed Brenda Tracy, a prominent sexual assault advocate who visits sports teams to talk about sexual violence, filed a Title IX complaint to MSU saying Tucker sexually harrassed her.

Leaders at the East Lansing school announced the suspension Sunday evening at a news conference on campus.

Interim President Teresa Woodruff said she fully supports university Athletic Director Alan Haller’s decision to suspend Tucker without pay as the university’s investigative process continues.

“This morning’s news might sound like the MSU of old. It was not. It is not because an independent unbiased investigation is and continues to be conducted. That investigative process is not complete,” Woodruff said. “That process will not be complete until there is a hearing and a final decision. It is not the MSU of old because we maintain the confidence of the claimant and respondent while respecting and valuing the claimant’s and respondent’s right to share their story.”

Michigan State University Interim President Teresa Woodruff speaks during a press conference on campus on September 10, 2023,announcing Head Football Coach Mel Tucker has been suspended without pay amid an investigation into a claim of sexual harassment by Tucker.

MSU has remained in headlines for the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, as well as other controversies with MSU employees, and the school’s continued refusal to release documents requested by the state attorney general in the investigation into the university’s knowlege of Nassar’s abuse before the abuse came to light in 2016. 

Tracy’s complaint says on an April 28, 2022, phone call with Tucker, he made sexual comments and masturbated, according to the USA Today investigation.

Tracy visited MSU a few times during Tucker’s tenure. Her life’s work is traveling to talk to athletes and tell her story of surviving a gang rape by four football players at 24 years old. The incident was back in 1998 and started publically telling her story in 2014.

“When I first stepped forward in 2014, I wasn’t trying to help anyone but myself. I was tired of waking up every day wanting to die. I was sick [and] tired of being sick [and] tired,” Tracy said in a Twitter post on Sept. 4.

After the April phone call, where according to USA Today, she sat frozen on the phone, she filed a complaint in December 2022. The school hired an outside attorney to investigate the complaint and the investigation concluded in July.

The complaint of sexual harassment was not public knowlege until the USA Today investigation published Sunday morning, though the university was made aware more than nine months ago.

There will be a formal hearing the week of Oct. 5 to review the results of the investigation and determine if Tucker violated any university policies.

Tucker was hired as head coach in February 2020 on a 10-year, $95 million contract, which he risks losing pending a final decision from the university.

Harlon Barnett, a member of MSU football’s coaching staff, will be acting as head coach in Tucker’s absence, Haller said, and former head coach Mark Dantonio has offered assistance.

Michigan State University Athletic Director Alan Haller announces during a press conference on campus on September 10, 2023, Head Football Coach Mel Tucker has been suspended without pay amid an investigation into a claim of sexual harassment by Tucker.

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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols covers government and statewide issues, including criminal justice, environmental issues, education and domestic and sexual violence. Anna is a former state government reporter for The Associated Press and most recently was a reporter for the Detroit News. Anna is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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