EAST LANSING, Mich. — Mel Tucker’s players heard the rumors. It’s clear he has, too.
Yet Michigan State football's coach kept his focus on the task at hand: facing Michigan.
Asked Monday about being tied to the LSU opening the past two weeks and the timing of it coming up before No. 7 MSU hosts No. 6 Michigan in one of the most anticipated games in the history of the rivalry, Tucker tried to brush off the rumors.
“My focus is on the upcoming game against the school down the road,” he said during his first media availability since the report. “That's where my concentration and my focus is, and I really appreciate you understanding that.”
Just before the Spartans took the field at Indiana on Oct. 16, an eventual 20-15 victory that improved them to 7-0 and 4-0 in the Big Ten, Tucker’s name surfaced in a report from reporter Bruce Feldman on the Fox "Big Noon Kickoff" show as a potential candidate should the LSU job come open.
A day later, Orgeron and the Tigers reportedly reached a separation agreement that will result in his departure at the end of the season. A number of prominent candidates have been mentioned since, but Tucker’s name came first.
“Another name to keep an eye on is Mel Tucker at Michigan State,” Feldman said on Fox. “I am told that there are some very influential people inside LSU who are really, really high on Mel Tucker.”
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MSU senior safety Xavier Henderson said Tucker had not addressed the team about the report, though he and other players know it is out there.
“I saw it and I took it with a grain of salt, really, because that’s for him,” Henderson said. “He's not worried about it right now. Obviously, he’s worried about this game.”
Tucker also has recent SEC experience after returning from a 10-year stint in the NFL, which included serving as interim coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. He rejoined Nick Saban at Alabama as associate head coach and defensive backs assistant for Alabama's 2015 national championship season, then spent three seasons as defensive coordinator and DB coach at Georgia from 2016-18 before taking his first college head coaching position at Colorado for one season.
“He knows the SEC very well,” Feldman said on Oct. 16. “But would he make another move? He was at Colorado, now he’s at Michigan State. Would he make another move in a short time? This I know – people inside LSU who matter, they are really high on Mel Tucker.”
A recent USA Today survey of Football Bowl Subdivision coaching salaries ranked Tucker 13th at nearly $5.6 million in his second season of a six-year deal. Orgeron is making $9.01 million at LSU, the second best-paid coach in the country behind Saban ($9.75 million). Tucker would owe MSU $2.5 million if he leaves before Jan. 16, 2022, and his buyout drops by $500,000 in each of the ensuing years of his deal on that date.
Tucker more than doubled his salary in replacing Mark Dantonio in February 2020 after making $2.4 million in his one season at Colorado last year, according to USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State's Mel Tucker brushes off LSU football coach rumors