Michigan State Seeks to Fire Football Coach Amid Sexual Harassment Case

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Michigan State University said it would fire its head football coach, Mel Tucker, amid an investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed a woman who visited the school to educate its football team about sexual misconduct. The school had already suspended him earlier this month.

In a letter sent to Mr. Tucker on Monday, the university described “a body of undisputed evidence” that showed the former coach had breached his employment agreement. The letter said his actions constituted “moral turpitude” warranting termination.

Mr. Tucker was given seven days to respond and explain why he should not be terminated, Alan Haller, vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics at Michigan State, said in a statement, noting that the process was required as part of Mr. Tucker’s contract. The investigation remains ongoing, he said.

In an email, the woman’s lawyer said her client was not commenting on Mr. Tucker’s termination. The school did not name her in its letter to Mr. Tucker.

Mr. Tucker could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday evening. In a statement released last week, he described the allegations as “completely false,” The Associated Press reported, noting that the former coach had criticized the woman for suggesting their relationship was not consensual.

According to the letter, the woman, an activist against sexual violence and herself a survivor of gang rape, visited the university in July 2021 to teach its football team how to prevent sexual misconduct. She came forward the next year with allegations that Mr. Tucker had made “unwelcome sexual advances” and “masturbated on a phone call with her without her consent.”

The university said that it had opened an investigation in light of her complaints, and that Mr. Tucker had admitted to making comments to the woman “about her looks, body and body parts” as well as “making flirtatious comments” and “masturbating and making sexually explicit comments” about himself and the woman while on the phone with her. Mr. Tucker described these conversations as “phone sex” and “a late-night intimate conversation,” the letter said.

Given Mr. Tucker’s admitted actions, the university said it might terminate him on the grounds that he had brought “public disrespect, contempt or ridicule upon the university,” according to the letter. If he does not bring forward “sufficient reasons” to dispute the grounds for termination, he will be terminated on Sep. 26, the letter said.

Monday’s announcement evoked painful memories of the university’s role in another sexual misconduct case. Michigan State was heavily criticized for its handling of sexual abuse reports regarding Lawrence G. Nassar, the former physician for the American gymnastics team, who was long employed by the university. Mr. Nassar received multiple sentences in 2017 and 2018 for sex crimes involving hundreds of victims. He is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Mr. Tucker was appointed as head coach of Michigan State’s football team, the Spartans, in 2020. He had previously served on several N.F.L. and college coaching staffs. The university signed a 10-year, $95 million contract extension with him in 2021, making him one of the highest paid coaches in college football.

A hearing on the investigation into Mr. Tucker’s conduct is scheduled for early next month, the university said.

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