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Michigan State football paid $3.3M-plus to outgoing Mel Tucker assistant coaches

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Michigan State fired former football coach Mel Tucker for cause Sept. 27.

While the university hopes to be off the hook for the remaining $80 million of the guaranteed 10-year contract extension Tucker signed in late 2021, the school still had to pay buyouts for its other outgoing coaches.

MSU paid more than $3.3 million in January to 10 former assistant coaches, including interim head coach Harlon Barnett, according to documents obtained by the Free Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.

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That is on top of the $3 million buyout paid to Oregon State after MSU hired new head coach Jonathan Smith. The school also paid buyouts of $50,000 apiece for six of his former assistant coaches with the Beavers who followed Smith to East Lansing, a total of $300,000. MSU also paid Minnesota $330,000 to hire new Spartans defensive coordinator Joe Rossi, bringing the total cost of total buyouts paid for old and new staff to nearly $7 million since Smith’s hiring Nov. 25.

The biggest payout went to former offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, who received a nearly $1.1 million buyout. Johnson took the same coaching role with Wyoming on Jan. 4. Former defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton received the second-highest buyout of more than $800,000.

Barnett, who last week was reportedly hired as the defensive backs coach at Northwestern, received more than $600,000 from MSU in a buyout. The former Spartan football player and longtime assistant coach under Mark Dantonio was promoted to acting coach when Tucker was suspended Sept. 10. Barnett was given a prorated boost to a $2.5 million annual salary on Sept. 22 after replacing Tucker in an interim capacity.

Smith retained only one coach from Tucker’s staff, wide receivers assistant Courtney Hawkins. His reworked contract has not yet been released by the university. The two-year contract worth $425,000 annually that Hawkins signed Jan. 10, 2022, runs through March 31.

The other 10 former Tucker assistants received a total of $3,356,540. Nine of them also got a $1,500 stipend to cover their costs to attend the American Football Coaches Association convention in January. Former analyst TJ Hollowell got $1,167.40 for his AFCA costs. Here is what MSU paid each former assistant.

  • Jay Johnson: $1,094,794.52
  • Scottie Hazelton: $810,684.89
  • Harlon Barnett: $618,150.68
  • Chris Kapilovic: $246,575.22
  • Ross Els: $141,780.90
  • Ted Gilmore: $135,616.42
  • Diron Reynolds: $123,287.77
  • Jim Salgado: $95,000
  • Effrem Reed: $66,540
  • TJ Hollowell: $24,109.60

Along with retaining Hawkins, Smith brought offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren, defensive backs coach Blue Adams, running backs coach Keith Bhonapha, offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, defensive line coach Legi Sulaunoa and tight ends coach Brian Wozniak with him from Oregon State. His other two hires did not require buyouts, with cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin’s previous contract at Oregon expiring and special teams coordinator Chad Wilt having been let go with the rest of Tom Allen’s staff at Indiana after last season.

Looming over that spending is whether or not MSU will have to pay Tucker anything after his dismissal.

Tucker signed a 10-year, $95 million extension Nov. 24, 2021, that was set to run through 2032, a deal that was fully guaranteed unless he did one of three things: commit a crime, commit an NCAA violation or engage “in any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or which, in the University’s reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt, or ridicule upon the University.” That gave MSU the right to fire him for cause and not pay anything further to Tucker, the school has contended.

In January, MSU denied Tucker’s appeal over the university’s October decision that he violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy, following an investigation that lasted more than a year. The 52-year-old, hired by MSU in February 2020 after Mark Dantonio’s retirement, has threatened legal action for wrongful termination but has yet to file a civil lawsuit.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him @chrissolari.

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