On Wednesday morning during the second day of the 2022 Big Ten Football Media Days event in Indianapolis, Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker took the podium during the televised coaches’ press conferences portion. He provided an opening statement and then fielded several questions from the media.
Philosophy and Managing Expectations
In 2021, Coach Tucker attended his first Big Ten Media Day after coming off of a 2-5 season. (The 2020 Media Days event was canceled due to COVID-19.) Now, 12 months later, Tucker’s Spartans are the defending Peach Bowl champions. But, as far as Tucker and his players are concerned, this is just the beginning.
“We have shifted our culture at Michigan State,” Tucker said to open the press conference. “It’s a culture that is rooted in a relentless mindset in everything we do. Culture is how we live and behave every single day. It’s a culture of accountability, attention to detail, sense of urgency, connection, being authentic, being real, and good old-fashioned hard work. You roll your sleeves up and figure out a way to get the job done.
“A year ago, last season, (Michigan State finished) 11-2. For us, it was just really a step in the right direction. We did some good things, but nobody cares what you did last year. We certainly don’t. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We have improved tremendously this offseason, on the field and off the field.
“We are extremely hungry, and we do have a chip on our shoulder. We’ve got a lot to prove. We have a very high standard of performance, and we have decided as a program to attack that standard every single day.
“There’s a lot of work being done in East Lansing right now as we speak. We’re actually putting the work in. We’re chopping wood every day, and the goal for us is to win every game on our schedule. That’s our stated goal. Our goal is to finish first, and we need to bring a championship to East Lansing. So that’s what this is all about.
“I feel really good about this upcoming season. We’re going to have a great training camp. I can’t wait to get started.”
As for managing the elevated expectations in East Lansing, Coach Tucker had the following to say.
“We just keep chopping wood every single day,” Tucker said. “We’ve got something to prove. We’re not where we want to be. The voices inside of our building need to be louder than the voices outside the building. So we’re staying focused on the task at hand.
“Our culture is all about how we live and behave every day. Those are actions. Those are behaviors. It’s a process. What are we doing every single day to get better? Aggregation of marginal gains. Everyone just get a little bit better every single day. We’re going to continue to hammer our process, cement our culture, and that’s what’s going to create the outcomes for us.
“There’s laser focus, and there’s hunger. We’ve got a chip on our shoulder. All our guys are bought in, the coaches and the players. So it’s just a matter of continuing to work our butts off.”
One of the questions for Tucker was to explain a bit more about his philosophy in building his roster through a combination of high school recruiting and the transfer portal. From Tucker’s point of view, the situation is similar to the way rosters are built in the NFL.
“it’s not very complicated,” Tucker said. “We embrace the portal. We’re going to build our team through the high school ranks. It’s very similar to what we did while I was in the NFL. You want to build through the draft. You complement or supplement your roster through free agency.”
Tucker used the portal in the offseason to supplement the Michigan State roster at the running back position after losing Doak Walker award winner Kenneth Walker III to the Seattle Seahawks in the second round of the NFL Draft. The Spartans added transfers Jalen Berger from Wisconsin and Jarek Broussard from Colorado. Tucker was specifically asked about both newcomers.
“Berger came us to midyear,” Tucker said. “We got him in January. He’s a very talented young man. He really bought in right away to our culture and what we’re all about. He’s really started to bond with his teammates, and he’s really opened up.
“So we’ve gotten to know him over these past several months, and he is a very versatile guy. He’s an excellent runner, and he’s excellent in terms of receiving the ball out of the backfield. He’s a competitor, and I’m glad we got him.”
As for Broussard, Tucker then added the following:
“He played for us at Colorado when I was there. Tremendous, tremendous back. Also excellent ball skills. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s super hyper-competitive. We got him this summer, and he’s a guy that can do a lot of things.
“Those two guys were obviously portal guys for us that made our team better and made our running back room more competitive.”
As for other players who will be on the field next year, Tucker was asked to comment on his star wide receiver, Jayden Reed.
“He is a tremendous player,” Tucker said. “First and foremost, he is a great person. He’s a great guy. He’s a great teammate. He’s fun to coach. He’s always got a smile on his face, and he can do a lot for us.
“As a return guy, he’s elite. He is outstanding at contested throws. You just get the ball to him, and he’s going to find a way to come down with it. He’s hyper-competitive, and he practices extremely hard. That’s why he’s always getting better. He’s a great leader for us. He leads by example, but he’s also a confront-and-demand guy.
“I believe you’ve got to have three to four difference-makers on each side of the ball if you want to be really good, and he’s a difference-maker for us on offense.”
Other Offseason Experiences
When Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren introduced Mel Tucker, he mentioned a special trip that he and Coach Tucker went on together in the state of Alabama. They visited the towns of Montgomery and Selma, both of which were pivotal in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Commissioner Warren called it a “life-changing experience.”
When asked why he went on the trip and what he learned, Tucker said the following:
“I was presented with an opportunity to get better and to learn. I believe in lifelong learning, and that was certainly an opportunity.
“Commissioner Warren came up with the idea a couple summers ago. He made it happen. He invited me, and I jumped at the opportunity.
“What did I take out of it? I didn’t know as much as I thought that I knew about the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for the right to vote, slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, mass incarcerations. It was just a tremendous education.”
Finally, Tucker was asked to comment on some of the recent statements that former Michigan State defensive coordinator and current Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi made about the Spartans and the Big Ten. Tucker had a simple reply to this question.
“I really prefer not to get into hypotheticals, especially games that were played in the past and were decided on the field,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Coach Tucker and three of his players (Reed, Payton Thorne and Xavier Henderson) will have another opportunity to speak to the media on longer and more focused podium sessions. Stay tuned to The Only Colors for continuing coverage of Big Ten Football Media Days.