EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University football coach Mel Tucker was suspended without pay on Sunday after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced, school officials said.
Athletic Director Alan Haller confirmed Tucker has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of an October investigation during a news conference Sunday at Spartan Stadium, MLive.com reported. Secondary coach Harlon Barnett will serve as the program’s interim coach and retired Spartans coach Mark Dantonio will serve as associate head coach, Haller told reporters.
The suspension comes after a complaint of inappropriate conduct by sexual assault advocate Brenda Tracy, USA Today reported.
Tucker, 51, is in his fourth season as Michigan State’s head coach. He signed a 10-year, $95 million contract extension, according to The Washington Post.
The detailed allegations included Tucker reportedly admitting to a Title IX investigator that he performed a lewd act during a phone call with Tracy, MLive reported. The allegations were released hours after the Spartans beat Richmond 45-14 on Saturday, according to the news outlet.
In his statement to the investigator, Tucker acknowledged his actions during the call but said that Tracy had “grossly mischaracterized” the incident, adding that they had consensual “phone sex,” USA Today reported.
“Ms. Tracy’s distortion of our mutually consensual and intimate relationship into allegations of sexual exploitation has really affected me,” Tucker wrote in a March 22 letter to the investigator. “I am not proud of my judgment and I am having difficulty forgiving myself for getting into this situation, but I did not engage in misconduct by any definition.”
Tracy, who was raped 25 years ago by four men -- two Oregon State University football players, a junior college player and a high school recruit -- said that the phone call opened old wounds.
“The idea that someone could know me and say they understand my trauma but then re-inflict that trauma on me is so disgusting to me, it’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” Tracy previously told USA Today. “It’s like he sought me out just to betray me.”
Michigan State interim president Theresa Woodruff also spoke during the news conference and said a fair and thorough process was the university’s priority, The Detroit Free Press reported.
“In the MSU of today, when any report comes into the university, it is appropriately and rigorously reviewed,” Woodruff told reporters. “This morning’s news might sound like the MSU of old; it was not. It is not because an independent unbiased investigation is and continues to be conducted.”
Over an eight-month period, Tucker and Tracy developed a professional relationship based on her advocacy work, USA Today reported. The coach invited Tracy to campus three times -- twice to speak to his players, and once to be recognized as an honorary captain at the Spartans’ spring game, according to the newspaper.
A hearing to determine whether the school’s sexual harassment policy was violated will be held on Oct. 5, USA Today reported.
Tucker’s contract is fully guaranteed but contains a clause that states he can be fired for cause, MLive reported. According to the contract, the university can void payment if Tucker “engages in any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or which, in the university’s reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule” to the school, the news outlet reported.