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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

John U. Bacon on Mel Tucker's firing, Michigan's hot start, and Detroit's farewell to Miggy

Michigan State University Football Stadium
Katie Raymond
Michigan Radio
Michigan State is looking at the possibility of a long legal battle and major staff and roster changes for the football program after the university fired head coach Mel Tucker on Wednesday.

Michigan State University fired football coach Mel Tucker on Wednesday.

The firing followed allegations that Tucker sexually harassed a woman who had been working with the football team to provide education about sexual violence. Tucker and his attorneys have argued against the firing.

On the field, MSU is struggling as the program heads into a period of major changes.

Meanwhile, Michigan is undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Michigan Radio Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about all of that and more sports news.

Saturday's games: Michigan State at Iowa - 3:30pm
Michigan at Nebraska - 7:30pm

Doug Tribou: MSU, as expected, fired Mel Tucker after announcing it had planned to do that earlier this month. Tucker's lawyers have argued that MSU is violating its own policies because the university's investigation is not yet complete. Tucker also says he and the woman who filed the complaint were in a consensual relationship. What is your view of the situation now that the termination is official?

John U. Bacon: It has not changed, and that is that Michigan State is not violating its own policies. The Title IX investigation is ongoing, and they're right, it's not finished. You don't need that to finish to make this call based on the terms of the contract, which are very clear, Doug.

They're allowed to fire him unilaterally for cause, for any conduct which — in the university's reasonable judgment — would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt, or ridicule upon the university. I think that's already been established. They don't need the investigation to prove it.

DT: At stake is the remaining $80 million on Tucker's contract. We can expect a lot of legal back and forth over that money in the coming days, weeks and months. How do you see that playing out?

JUB: Look, they can fire him right now and not pay him a cent. And I'm confident they'd win every lawsuit. But, what they don't want to get into as his lawsuit goes forward is the discovery phase where their texts and their emails amongst the president, the athletic director, [and] the board members are all going public. Might be embarrassing.

So, you watch. They're still going to pay him a few million bucks on the way out the door to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

"If you are a hotshot coach, and if the [MSU] president is interim and under heat, if the athletic director is going to be answering a lot of questions about the Mel Tucker investigation, ... you might think twice."
John U. Bacon on the challenges of hiring a replacement for ex-Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker

DT: All of this also raises a lot of questions about the future of the football program, John. A number of high-profile recruits have already decommitted from attending MSU. And a midseason coaching change like this triggers a window for current players to enter the NCAA transfer portal and then potentially leave MSU. How much could this set the football program back in the long run?

JUB: It's undeniably going to. If you are a hotshot coach, and if the [MSU] president is interim and under heat, if the athletic director is going to be answering a lot of questions about the Mel Tucker investigation and what [they] knew and when [they] knew it, you might think twice. That's the problem now.

DT: MSU has been blown out in the last two games under acting head coach Harlon Barnett. What can Barnett do to keep his players focused and motivated given all the off-field issues?

JUB: You can focus on Iowa's on-field issues. That's one strategy. Kirk Ferentz is a great coach, going to be in the Hall of Fame. His son, Brian Ferentz, is a horrible offensive coordinator. Yet he continues to give him the reins of the offense, which last week notched more fumbles than first downs.

By all accounts, Harlon Barnett, great guy. People like him. People respect him. And you hope to see him have some success with this team before it's all done.

DT: Let's turn to Michigan. The Wolverines are 4-0. They'll play their first road game of the season against the Cornhuskers in Nebraska Saturday.

Last week before Michigan faced Rutgers, you told me that Jim Harbaugh had to get his passing game and running game to perform equally well at the same time. They did. What do you see as the key this week?

JUB: About the same. And Nebraska has a very good defense. They're a well-coached team [led] by Matt Rhule, former NFL coach. They don't have the same level of talent that Michigan has right now, but they'll give Michigan a good battle. And I suspect through two or three quarters, it's going to be just that: a battle.

"[Cabrera's] a walk-in Hall of Famer. But if you ask me what I remember, it's the joy he brought to baseball."
John U. Bacon on Miguel Cabrera's retirement after 16 seasons with the Detroit Tigers and 21 overall in Major League Baseball

DT: John, before I let you go, we've got some bittersweet baseball news to discuss. Detroit Tigers star Miguel Cabrera is retiring at the end of the season. He is scheduled to play his final game against Cleveland on Sunday. What will you remember most about Cabrera's 16 years in Detroit?

JUB: Well, the easy numbers are 500 home runs and more than 3,000 hits. He's a walk-in Hall of Famer. But if you ask me what I remember, it's the joy he brought to baseball. Not just a tactician, not just a well-built guy, [but] a little pudgy, and always having fun with his teammates and even the opponents. That I will miss.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the Tigers would be on the road against Cleveland on Sunday. The game will be played in Detroit.

Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Radio staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Radio during the summer of 2023.
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