Mel Tucker

© Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Mel Tucker’s early Year 3 struggles eerily similar to Mark Dantonio’s

Mel Tucker is off to a slow start in his third season as Michigan State football coach. That’s a lot like Mark Dantonio.

Michigan State football’s 2022 season is in a precarious position. No one is really sure if the Spartans are going to bounce back or continue to crumble. Uncertainty reigns supreme.

Through four weeks, Michigan State is 2-2 with two blowout wins against inferior foes and two lopsided losses against opponents with a pulse. It’s been a sobering past couple of weeks.

But this tough start to “Year 3” of the Mel Tucker era isn’t unprecedented. It’s actually all too familiar. Mark Dantonio actually suffered the same fate in his third year at MSU.

Yes, Dantonio had struggles in his third year that led to people calling for Pat Narduzzi’s job and potentially Mark’s. He was in a bad spot through four games on his third year.

Dantonio’s Spartans were sitting at 1-3 through four games in 2009 and he had lost to Central Michigan at home in the second game of the season. It was one of those forgettable losses that no Spartan fan likes to recall, but for the purposes of this article, it’s requested.

Think back to how you felt after Central kicked the game-winning field goal against the Spartans to steal a 29-27 win in East Lansing. You had so much hope in Dantonio after he went 9-4 a year earlier and finished in third place in the Big Ten. He was far ahead of schedule — or so you thought. Michigan State football came back down to earth in year three of his “rebuild” with a 1-3 start and home loss to a directional school.

It was ugly.

Fans were calling for his job as well as Narduzzi’s. They were unsure if Dantonio was the right coach to turn the Spartans around.

Dantonio ended up winning the next three games before losing to Iowa and Minnesota in back-to-back heartbreaking games, putting a bowl berth in doubt. The 4-5 Spartans won the next two games before ending the year with a loss to Penn State.

No one was happy with a 6-6 season but they had to realize that the program was in a much worse place three years earlier. Dantonio’s unexpected year two success put him way ahead of schedule and, in turn, it actually ended up biting him. He set the bar too high in year three and a 6-6 season basically felt like 3-9. It was a disaster.

Sound like another coach we know?

Mel Tucker, fresh off exceeding expectations by a mile in year two, set the bar way too high way too early and now he’s off to a sluggish start in year three. It’s almost too similar. Except Tucker is 2-2 through four games instead of 1-3. People are calling for Scottie Hazelton’s job (I may be one of those people) and a bowl game may be tough to reach at this point.

We have to be patient because we’ve seen this movie before.

Dantonio ended up winning 11-plus games in five of his next six seasons, including a Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and a playoff berth. He won three Big Ten titles in the process, including the season after going 6-7.

Tucker is recruiting at a higher level, has the same hunger to win, and — like Dantonio — has coached under some legends and knows what it’ll take to get back on track.

Don’t give in to those questioning if Mel Tucker is the right guy for the job. Just be patient.