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MSU fallout continues after Tucker suspension; Board, Woodruff share details about their involvement

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker watches from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Central Michigan, Friday, Sept. 1, 2023, in East Lansing, Mich
Carlos Osorio
/
AP
Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker is suspended without pay until an October 5th hearing regarding a investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him.

Michigan State University head football coach is currently suspended without pay and awaiting a hearing next month regarding a Title IX investigations into allegations of sexual harassment.

In a report published by USA TODAYSunday, Tucker is alleged to have acted inappropriately during a phone conversation with Brenda Tracy, a prominent sexual assault survivor and activist.

Athletic director Allan Haller, alongside Interim President Teresa K. Woodruff, announced Tucker’s suspensionduring a news conference Sunday.

Since then, members of the Spartan community have been asking questions about what senior leadership knew about the allegations and when and why Tucker was suspended now instead of when the complaint was filed in December of 2022 or when the initial investigation concluded in July.

After Tucker and Tracytraded statements Monday, Woodruff and the university's Board of Trustees put out a collective statement regarding their knowledge of the investigation and allegations:

"The MSU Board of Trustees was notified in December 2022 that there was a complaint filed against Mel Tucker. The MSU Administration did not provide the Board details of the allegation or the identity of the claimant at any time during the ongoing investigation, following MSU protocol and best practices for RVSM-related cases. Further, the Board was advised that appropriate interim and personnel measures regarding Mel Tucker were put into place at that time. The Board found out greater details surrounding the case via the media stories breaking on Sept. 10.

“In accordance with state law, Trustees are provided final reports of Title IX and RVSM matters pertaining to employees once the entire case resolution and all appeals processes are completed. The investigation involving Mel Tucker is still ongoing.”

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Al Martin Monday afternoon before the latest statement from Woodruff and the Board about the fallout at the university and within the football program.

Interview Highlights

On who will be taking over leading the Spartans while Tucker is suspended

They are two coaches that are very familiar with the program. Alan Haller announced that the secondary coach Harlon Barnett, he'll serve as the acting head coach now, and former head coach Mark Dantonio will become associate head coach ... So, Dantonio is the program's all-time wins leader. He led the Spartans to three Big 10 championships and a college football playoff appearance. Barnett is a former Spartan football player who was an assistant under Dantonio, if you remember. He spent two years as Florida State's defensive coordinator then was hired by Tucker to be his cornerbacks coach and then secondary coach.

On how he expects the team's roster to change as a result of the allegations

I mean most of this roster at this point now, Mel Tucker in his fourth year, is filled out with Mel Tucker's recruits. You look at the college football landscape today and how prevalent the transfer portal is. Yeah. I think that's an inevitable point that we'll start to see players transfer out of Michigan State.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: Michigan State University's head football coach Mel Tucker is currently suspended without pay and awaiting a hearing next month regarding a Title IX investigations into allegations of sexual harassment.

In a report published by USA TODAY [Monday], Tucker is alleged to have acted inappropriately during a phone conversation with Brenda Tracy, a prominent sexual assault survivor and activist.

Athletic director Allan Haller, alongside interim university president Teresa K. Woodruff, announced Tucker’s suspension during a news conference Sunday.

WKAR’s Al Martin was there and now joins me in studio to discuss what’s next for the football program.

Al Martin: Good afternoon, Sophia.

Saliby: Good afternoon. So, can you provide us with some insight as to why Michigan State decided to suspend Tucker now even though the investigation was completed in July?

Martin: Well, that's the question that is on the minds of many people, Sophia. During the press conference this past weekend, MSU Athletic Director Alan Haller, he noted "As there have been new developments before the October 5th hearing, and with the best interest of everyone, I have suspended Mel Tucker without pay."

Now I spoke with Attorney Elizabeth Abdnour. She's a prominent advocate for survivors of sexual abuse by former MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar, and this is her on the timing of the suspension:

My question really is what changed between Friday and Sunday that made them determine they need to do an interim suspension? The only thing I can see is that, you know, USA TODAY published a nationally read article, breaking the story. So, that raises a lot of questions for me thinking about it from normal internal investigations when employees, even high profile employees, are alleged to have engaged in some misconduct. Usually, they're making the determination to interim suspend at the beginning of the investigation.
Elizabeth Abdnour

Martin: Now Abdnour also knows that in terms of the details as to what is being alleged by Tracy, she would be very surprised if Interim President Teresa K. Woodruff and the general counsels, meaning the attorneys that represent the university's office, did not know about the specific details as to what's being alleged in the investigation.

Now, a few hours later on Monday, Interim President Woodruff put out a statement noting that the action to suspend Tucker was "necessary" and "not taken lightly" and stressed that this is not the "MSU of old."

Saliby: And those administrators, Teresa Woodruff, Alan Haller, the Board of Trustees members did know about this complaint in December. The question is just what did they know specifically?

You know, Michigan State football is still going. They're two games into the season. Can you talk to us a bit about who takes over on the sidelines?

Martin: Yes, of course. They are two coaches that are very familiar with the program. Alan Haller announced that the secondary coach Harlon Barnett, he'll serve as the acting head coach now, and former head coach Mark Dantonio will become associate head coach.

Beginning immediately, Harlon Barnett will serve as acting head coach while Mark Dantonio will become an associate head coach. Coach Barnett has an incredible connection to our university and takes incredible pride in being a Spartan. Coach Dantonio not only is an exceptional football coach, and will be a tremendous resource for Harlon. Both men have a deep love and care for Michigan State football.
Allan Haller

Martin: So, Dantonio is the program's all-time wins leader. He led the Spartans to three Big 10 championships and a college football playoff appearance. Barnett is a former Spartan football player who was an assistant under Dantonio, if you remember. He spent two years as Florida State's defensive coordinator then was hired by Tucker to be his cornerbacks coach and then secondary coach. Now the timing couldn't be worse. Sophia, seeing as though MSU welcomes the number eight team in the nation this weekend, the Washington Huskies, a team they lost to last year by double digits.

Saliby: And just really quick, do you expect any fallout in terms of players on the team?

Martin: I do. I mean most of this roster at this point now, Mel Tucker in his fourth year, is filled out with Mel Tucker's recruits. You look at the college football landscape today and how prevalent the transfer portal is. Yeah. I think that's an inevitable point that we'll start to see players transfer out of Michigan State.

Saliby: Al Martin is WKAR's sports reporter. Thank you for joining me, Al.

Martin: Thank you, Sophia.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
Al Martin is the host of Current Sports, the daily radio call-in program from WKAR NewsTalk. Al is also on the WKAR News team as a regular sports contributor and plays a key sports reporting and content role on all other WKAR media platforms.
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