The NCAA saw a whirlwind of reactions on Monday, as the Michigan State Spartans announced their intentions of firing head coach Mel Tucker, with athletic director Alan Haller sharing that a letter has been sent serving notice.
Tucker, who is expected to be fired for cause, was in the midst of a ten-year, $95 million contract, but will not see the remainder of the money left on his deal.
Longtime assistant Harlon Barnett has already been elevated to the interim role, but the Spartans have a big question to answer, which likely comes following the 2023 season: who will be their next coach?
Providing a list of the top options to replace Tucker at Michigan State, CBS Sports’s Dennis Dodd included an intriguing name: former Badgers interim head coach Jim Leonhard, who currently is a defensive analyst with the Illinois Fighting Illini after being bypassed for Wisconsin’s head coaching gig last November.
Leonhard has a stout reputation as a defensive coordinator, having fielded several top units from 2017-2022 during his time as the play-caller at Wisconsin, and has long been touted as a potential head coach at the collegiate level.
Here’s what Dodd had to say about Leonhard and the Michigan State opportunity.
“Once considered the best defensive coordinator in the nation, Leonhard became Wisconsin’s interim coach when Paul Chryst was fired last year. Surprisingly, there weren’t any openings that fit him in the last coaching cycle. Michigan State could do a lot worse.”
College analyst Mike Farrell agrees with the sentiment, calling Leonhard a great fit at Michigan State, while understanding the potential scrutiny around the position currently.
“There will be some solid candidates, but this is also a job that isn’t amongst the tops in the country with the Mel Tucker scandal and leftover athletic department issues. A coach will be seriously scrutinized internally from many aspects and a lateral move is unlikely to occur from a current head coach.”
“But for Leonhard it’s a great fit. He lost out on the Wisconsin job and that still burns. He’s a young defensive mind with a good resume as a player and coach and as an analyst at Illinois he’s learning under Bret Bielema which is a massive bonus. This is a great fit for both parties.”
Leonhard isn't the only one being considered, as defensive coordinator Mike Tressel may have an even bigger chance to be selected for the opportunity, given the coach’s connection to Michigan State as their former defensive coordinator.
Could one of the coaches land the premier opportunity?