In Defense of Mel Tucker and the Coordinators

We are all frustrated with how this season has gone. It’s frustrating to watch a team go from 11-2 to 5-7. It’s frustrating to watch a team give up a 17-point lead with bowl eligibility on the line. It’s frustrating watching your team get whooped by Washington, Ohio State, Michigan, and (especially) Minnesota. Perhaps it’s most frustrating watching "the tunnel incident" and the subsequent media domination. All this on a year where Michigan is having their best two-year stretch in decades. No doubt it was a terrible year for MSU football fans.

Fire Mel Tucker!

Firing Tucker is NOT going to happen because his contract is fully guaranteed. This means that MSU would have to pay Tucker’s full contract ($9.5 M per year) PLUS whatever they pay the new guy (let’s use Matt Rhule’s $9 M per year) for a total of $18.5 M per year. It’s just not happening.

Even the coordinators have fully guaranteed contracts. They’re much more reasonable at around $1M per year (two years left), so this might happen. They might also get their duties reassigned. If Tucker chooses not to replace the coordinators, but to demote them (i.e., what Dantonio did), he might not even announce it. I wanted to shout out whoever posited this theory but couldn’t find it. Someone said they thought Tucker was calling the defense in the second half of the season. If so, this was done without so much as telling the media. This is the way Tucker does stuff. While it’s frustrating for us, it’s better for the team because he can keep the recruits that have already committed and have relationships with his coordinators. Alternatively, assuming the position coaches’ contracts aren’t guaranteed, it’s cheaper to demote Hazelton and fire Marco Coleman than vice versa. Tucker’s fully guaranteed salary allows him to do this stuff because it doesn’t matter what we think since he’s not getting fired.

There were A LOT of injuries this year

How many players do you think started on defense this year? It’s going to be more than 11. Playing 17 would mean HALF of the starters were injured at one point - yikes! How about 22? That means everyone or you’re playing third-stringers, too. That would be really tough. When Dillon Tatum started on Saturday, he became the 27th starter on defense. In his first game as a starter, he also played all 72 snaps. That’s crazy.

In case you’re curious, I made a little chart of who was injured or suspended on the defense, which I thought was going to be the better unit of this team for this year. I’m probably missing a bunch because I’m going on memory and a depth chart, but here it goes crossing off guys who missed entire games (not just the typical bumps, bruises, and sprains):

SDE: Jeff P, Fletcher, Dunn

DT1: Slade, Harmon, Hunt

DT2: Barrow, Mallory, Hansen

WDE: Bogle, Brown, Wright, Young

LB1: Snow, Windmon, BVS

LB2: Haladay, Brule, Ma’a

CB1: Speed, Brantley,

CB2: Williams, Lowery, Crump,

NB: Grose, White, Kimbrough,

S1: X, Mangham, Jones, Majeed

S2: Brooks, Tatum, Spencer

Imagine this defense was healthy. Jeff P and Bogle on the ends with Slade and Barrow up front. Snow flying around and Haladay wracking up tackles. Windmon comes off the bench (hard to even think about that). Speed and Williams don’t need to hang out in coverage so long. X and Brooks playing Safety. Grose stays at nickel where he actually had some success. No offense to the following guys but they’re just not B1G level starters. Imagine BVS not looking lost all game because he’s not playing. Imagine Kimbrough not getting picked on for the first half of the season because he’s not playing. Imagine third-and-longs where Windmon subs for Jeff P or third-and-shorts where Windmon subs for Grose.

Offense and defense are a little easier to explain. Pretty much our entire offense played dinged up all year. The only games missed were by Carrick, Reed, and Horst, but the injuries to the rest of the OL in the spring hurt the team, as did Thorne’s injury. Special teams were pretty healthy except for Reed’s injury and having to use three long snappers.

Personally, I drank the Kool-Aide and thought MSU had a good roster of starters besides the thin OL and question marks in key spots (e.g., DE, CB). I thought they would put together a good season. I don’t think anyone drank the Kool-Aide enough to think they would be competitive with so many injuries.

At this point, there still isn’t enough statistical or anecdotal evidence to know whether or not the injuries were due to something Tucker is doing or just bad luck. If the bad injuries continue over the next couple of years, that case could be made to say that Tucker is doing something wrong. We don’t know enough to say that now. If you want to speculate, go for it. If you think Tucker is a bad coach, your argument should include something he is doing to create so many injuries and you might be right on that.

Digging in a little further into the Xs and Os

Reading the debates in TOC, I started paying more attention to whether it was coaching or players toward the end of the season. Granted, by this point, we were down to playing a lot of young guys and third stringers.

Go back and watch the Indiana game. You’ll see BVS and X completely out of position on the 34-yard TD. Brooks and Haladay missed their assignments on the run. There was the kickoff TD with the block in the back and at least one other missed assignment after the kicker as safety. Tucker ran the final run of regulation to the right, but Collins bent it left. That's a player mistake on O. I mean, that's 24 points right there AND they're all mistakes by seniors.

Go back and watch the PSU game. You’ll see freshman walk-on Khalil Majeed and X miscommunicate (probably Majeed’s fault) on the wide-open touchdown to the TE. You’ll see guys not knowing where to line up and lots of confusion. You’ll see BVS completely lost in coverage on several occasions. You’ll see Brule basically jogging around the middle of the field during the screen play.

I also went back and watched as much of the Maryland game as I could stomach (two drives for each team). Brule and Haladay literally touch each other in zone coverage. Speed lets his guy get inside leverage on him on 3rd-and-8 with safety help over the top. Our LB alignment on the 4th-and-1 is ridiculous in giving them numbers on the left side. Brooks takes a terrible angle on the TD for an LB, let alone a safety. Our OL can’t run block against a brisk wind. Nonetheless, JJ calls a good, creative couple of drives. For those who want us to play 4-3 exclusively, go watch Brule get burned on the bubble screen at 4:26.

When you go back and watch the games, you will see lots of missed tackles. That’s what happens when you don’t tackle in practice due to the above injuries. Tough to fault the coaches for not tackling in practice when there are so many guys injured and suspended. After all, you have field a team on Saturdays.

A lot of people will say something to the effect of if you have so many injuries, you need to simplify the defense and that shows bad coaching. It’s a catch-22. You can do that and it will be easier to execute. Of course, if you do, you’ll make it easier for the opposing OC to dissect your defense. That’s what we had at the start of the year and it was disgusting to watch. I called it "bend-and-break" as opposed to "bend-but-don’t-break." Keeping it complex obviously makes it difficult for your team to execute. Personally, I’d rather see them make it complex. At least then the young guys can learn on the job and the recruits can see that you’re creative on defense. Plus, at least this way you have a chance to win the game if the guys do what they’re supposed to do.

The defense’s inability to get stops limited the offense’s ability to find any sort of rhythm. The OL injuries limited the offense’s ability to do much of anything. Even toward the end of the season as the running game improved, I always felt like it was more that they were getting good chunks for periods of time rather than consistently beating the other team. Unlike last year’s team which was more balanced (credit K9), this year’s team was never able to get that ground game going. I personally do fault JJ for not leaning more on the passing game. If you think the current coaching staff is bad, build this into your argument, too.

Is any of this coaching?

Oh yes, of course. Maybe he can do something to prevent some injuries. We’re going to need to get last year’s run defense clicking with a good passing defense, which we haven’t seen yet.

I think JJ is too stubborn. For some reason, he loved running out of the bunch despite the fact that we didn’t have any success with it. He wanted us to be a run-first team, when we clearly weren’t. He wasn’t able to get the ball enough to Coleman and Reed in key situations. He stuck with Hunt as the starting TE because he was a better blocker than Carr or Baker, despite the fact that Carr and Baker created mismatches in the passing game, which were hard to come across this year. Later in the year, you saw him start to lean more on the passing game to open up the running game. I think he could legitimately improve in this area and still be a good coordinator.

Special teams were a huge problem all year. The only bright spot was Barringer. Kicking FGs was probably the worst spot on the team and cost us at least one win. Our inability to kick touchbacks cost us against Indiana more than the TD. Still, we didn’t try an onside kick even once this year, despite our limitations to kick the ball in the end zone. Punt and kick returns yielded very little. I guess our punt coverage was solid but that might have had to do more with Barringer. Even there, we almost had a lot of punts blocked. All this and remember we were using starters on special teams. Many teams get more production with backups. Granted, special teams might have gotten bumped down the priority list with all the injuries. If so, it’s tough to blame Els for not teaching the guys in practices they're not doing. Still, if a coordinator were to go, I’d guess it would be Els.

What then should Tucker do moving forward?

All we see is the result on Saturday afternoons (not looking good) and the recruiting results (looking good). We don't see the preparation, practices, recruiting, etc. We don’t see how the coaches interact. See above how all the injuries meant that guys had to play out of position. You can’t fault the position coaches for losing all their guys (unless they did something to make it happen) or for "lending" their guys to another position. Regardless, position coaches only matter so much. It is possible changes are made, but it’s also possible they aren’t and given all the above, if they aren’t, I think we can still be successful moving forward.

If changes are made to coordinators, I’d like to see Tucker bring in really good Xs-and-Os guys, especially on offense. Tucker is a defensive guy, so it will be a lot better for him if he can be hands-off with the offense. We know he can recruit and he can get position coaches to help with that, but someone needs to run the team (especially the offense) during the game and game plan during the week. If he can get some really creative coordinators (or the current guys can be really creative), it will really help him do what he does best. It will also help with recruiting because he’ll have that success.

Writing this on November 27, a lot will change over the coming weeks. The season isn’t technically even over yet, although I think we’ve played our last game. Coaching changes might happen. A LOT of players have to decide what they’re doing next year. There are several recruits considering MSU next year including Dante Moore (please!), Samson Okunlola (unlikely), Morgan Pearson, Ashton Porter, and a couple of GT RBs. The portal doesn’t even open for eight days, but with only 12 recruits, you have to imagine Tucker is going to hit the portal HARD this year again.

Regardless, all this comes down to whether or not you trust Tucker, and I do.

This is a FanPost, written by a member of the TOC community. It does not represent the official positions of The Only Colors, Inc.--largely because we have no official positions.