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Michigan State Football News: Updates on coaching search, and several Spartans set to participate in the NFL Combine

Temple v Cincinnati Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans need a new head football coach, following the sudden decision of Mark Dantonio to step down from the program. The university does not expect to name a head coach until late next week at the earliest, but is reportedly moving the process along this weekend.

Michigan State to interview two head coaching candidates:

According to the Detroit Free Press, which cites multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, MSU will interview both Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell and Colorado head coach Mel Tucker some time over the weekend.

Fickell, 46, is considered the frontrunner for the job, and seems to be the first option amongst the fanbase as well. He is close with Mark Dantonio, having coached with him at Ohio State in 2002 and 2003.

Fickell has of course turned the Bearcats program around as of late, winning 11 games in back-to-back seasons, as well as winning back-to-back bowl games and finishing ranked in the top-25 both years.

If Michigan State were to pry him away, Fickell would owe the University of Cincinnati $2 million, per his contract buyout.

As for Tucker, he went 5-7 in his first year at the helm for the Buffaloes. Tucker actually started his coaching career at Michigan State as a graduate assistant in 1997 and 1998. He coached with both Dantonio and Nick Saban while in East Lansing.

As a Jaguars fan, I am quite familiar with Tucker. He was Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator from 2009 through 2011. He was named interim coach in November 2011 after the team fired head coach Jack Del Rio. Tucker went 2-3 in the interim role, which really isn’t bad on a team that finished 5-11. Tucker then stayed on with the Jags under Mike Mularkey in 2012 as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.

After his time in Jacksonville, Tucker became the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears for two years, before moving back to the college ranks with Saban at Alabama. His last gig before Colorado was on Kirby Smart’s staff at Georgia as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Update: Mel Tucker appears to be staying put in Boulder, Colorado (beautiful city, by the way):

Michigan State University has hired headhunter Glenn Sugiyama of DHR International for the national coaching search. He is an MSU grad, and has worked with many schools to find the right fits for various head coaching jobs. He is considered as one of the top professionals in this field.

Additionally, Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo is assisting with the coaching search. He was also on the committee that brought Dantonio to MSU in 2006. Izzo is eager to use the many connections he has to help find the right candidate.

In other coaching news, Robert Saleh, the DC for the San Francisco 49ers, declined to interview with MSU. Saleh, who is a Dearborn, Michigan native, also got his coaching start at Michigan State. He cited “unfinished business” with the 49ers, after the team’s Super Bowl loss, for why he wants to stay in the Bay Area. He also is a strong candidate to be a future NFL head coach:

Michigan State will be well represented at NFL Combine

In other MSU football news, several Spartans were invited to the NFL Combine, held in Indianapolis from Thursday, Feb. 27 through Sunday, March 1.

Quarterback Brian Lewerke, wide receivers Cody White and Darrell Stewart Jr., defensive linemen Kenny Willekes and Raequan Williams, linebacker Joe Bachie and cornerback Josiah Scott are all set to participate in the event.

This an opportunity for these players to show off their athleticism and IQ as NFL Draft season gets into the thick of things, leading up to the Draft itself in April in Las Vegas.

Willekes, Williams and Bachie should be surefire draft picks but have the chance to improve their stock in Indy. Meanwhile Lewerke, Stewart, White and Scott look to impress scouts and land on NFL teams’ draft boards. I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least five Spartans drafted this year, but I hate speculating these things because frankly you never know, and a lot changes between now and late April.