Friday, August 14, 2020

Bill Beekman says Mel Tucker has done ‘extraordinary job’ amid unprecedented challenges


8/14/20 6:00 AM

First-year Michigan State coach Mel Tucker oversees practice on Aug. 7, 2020.Photo courtesy of Michigan State athletics

By Matt Wenzel |

Mel Tucker was hired for a job that came with plenty of existing challenges.

In the six months that have passed, they have increased in ways he couldn’t have imagined.

The first-year Michigan State football coach’s progress has been continually thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic that resulted in the Big Ten on Tuesday canceling all fall sports with the possibility of playing in the spring.


“With all of that said, I think that Mel has done an absolutely extraordinary job,” Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman said during a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday. “I couldn’t be more proud of the work that he’s been able to accomplish under what, by any definition, are just the most challenging of circumstances.


“From how he’s worked with the players to help them learn the playbook, again using remote technology, and with all of them at the time in their homes, to really everything allowable under NCAA rules. … He’s done a great job with our donor base, having conversations like this with major donors and with alumni around the country.”


Mark Dantonio abruptly retired on Feb. 4 after 13 seasons coaching Michigan State and Tucker was hired eight days later after his first season as a head coach at Colorado. He finalized his assistant coaching staff before the end of the month and was ready to tackle the next challenges for a team that was coming off back-to-back 7-6 seasons.


Michigan State needed to replace half its starters on offense and defense and install new schemes under a new head coach and new coordinators on offense, defense and special teams. Just as they were about to start doing so, the rug was pulled out from under them. Spring practice was canceled on March 13 – four days before it was scheduled to begin – and players and coaches were sent home.


There wasn’t a way to actually replace losing 15 spring practices but Tucker and his staff used videoconferences to install schemes and an app to quiz players on their ability to understand them. Players returned to campus in June for COVID-19 testing ahead of voluntary workouts and transitioned into an NCAA-approved extended summer schedule on July 13. Positive COVID-19 results led to the entire team being put in quarantine for two weeks before resuming workouts on Aug. 5. Fall camp practice started two days later and just four days after that the season was scrapped.


“Is it challenging? Absolutely,” Beekman said. “Do other coaches have an advantage having a known playbook that they’ve worked on with their students for years? Probably. Some of our schools in the Big Ten had as many as 10 days of spring practice and we didn’t have any. That’s another hurdle. But at every step of the way Mel’s plan is to overcome and make no excuses and succeed on the field of play.”


The pandemic also resulted in four Michigan State players publicly opting out of the season in senior starting defensive end Jacub Panasiuk, senior starting right tackle Jordan Reid, redshirt freshman linebacker Marcel Lewis and true freshman offensive lineman Justin Stevens. Those decisions were announced before the fall season was scrapped.


Beekman is optimistic about the potential of playing a spring season, although there are plenty of complications associated with doing so. Meanwhile, the team continues to have organized workouts in small groups with strength and conditioning staff members.


Off the field, Tucker’s ability to recruit has been hampered. He was able to bring some recruits to campus in mid-March before the NCAA implemented a recruiting dead period that has been continually extended and now lasts through at least Sept. 30. With a ban on in-person recruiting, Tucker and his staff have been limited to communicating electronically with prospects.


“I can’t say enough about how, under the most daunting of circumstances, he just sort of picks up his lunch pail and goes to work and conquers the next task,” Beekman said of Tucker. “And from my perspective that’s, not to get too schmaltzy on you, that’s exactly the Spartan, can-do, blue collar, roll up your sleeves attitude that we’re looking for and that I think so many of our coaches and our student-athletes exhibit.”


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