EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State plans to interview two candidates for its open head football coaching job this weekend, multiple sources with knowledge of the search told the Detroit Free Press on Friday night.
The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, considered the front-runner, and Colorado coach Mel Tucker each will meet with MSU’s search committee as they look to replace Mark Dantonio, who retired suddenly Tuesday after 13 seasons.
The 46-year-old Fickell is 32-20 overall in four seasons as a head coach, the last three with the Bearcats. He has led them to a 26-13 record, including back-to-back 11-win seasons and victories over Power 5 opponents Virginia Tech and Boston College in bowl games the past two years.
Fickell worked with Dantonio at Ohio State and was part of the Buckeyes’ 2003 national championship coaching staff as the special teams assistant, with Dantonio as defensive coordinator. The Columbus native, who was the 2010 AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year, also took over at OSU in an interim capacity when Jim Tressel was fired in 2011 and led the Buckeyes to a 6-7 record.
Fickell’s buyout dropped to $2 million on Dec. 31, per his six-year contract. He is set to make $2.4 million a year the next three years.
Tucker went 5-7 in his first year with Colorado in his collegiate head coaching debut in 2019. The 48-year-old, who was a graduate assistant at MSU in 1997-98 under Dantonio and then-head coach Nick Saban, served as interim head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars at the end of 2011 and went 2-3.
Tucker was part of the 2003 Ohio State staff with Dantonio and Fickell, serving as Dantonio’s defensive backs coach under Jim Tressel. He went on to replace Dantonio and share the defensive coordinator job in 2004 before leaving for three stops in the NFL, including a four-year stop with the Jaguars as defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2012 and two years with the Chicago Bears from 2013 to 2014.
In 2015, Tucker reunited with Saban as Alabama’s associate head coach and defensive backs assistant for a year before becoming Georgia’s defensive coordinator from 2016 to 2018.
Tucker signed a five-year, nearly $15 million contract that includes a buyout that is now $3 million, according to The Denver Post.
Dantonio resigned abruptly after becoming the Spartans’ all-time winningest coach in September. He finished his MSU career with a 114-57 record, three Big Ten titles, wins in the Rose Bowl (2013) and Cotton Bowl (2014) and a berth in the four-team College Football Playoff (2015).
MSU hired Dantonio in November 2006 away from Cincinnati, where he went 18-17 in three seasons from 2004-06.
According to a USA Today salary survey, the 63-year-old was scheduled to make about $3.7 million during the 2020 season on top of the one-time $4.3 million retention bonus he qualified for on Jan. 16 when his six-year contract rolled over. He made $4.3 million last season and was set to continue to earn that much annually again beginning in 2021.
Defensive coordinator Mike Tressel is serving as MSU’s acting head coach.