Sep 9, 2023; Durham, North Carolina, USA;  Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Elko looks on before the game against the Lafayette Leopards at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Take 5: Ranking Michigan State’s top options to replace Mel Tucker

Chaos is in full swing in East Lansing, Mich., before the calendar hits October.

Michigan State is a double-digit underdog at Iowa on Saturday after officially firing coach Mel Tucker this week. While Tucker was on administrative leave, the Spartans lost their first two games against Power 5 schools this season by a combined score of 72-16.

If there’s a silver lining — and you have to look deep with Tucker planning to file a wrongful termination lawsuit — it’s that athletic director Alan Haller can get a head start on finding his replacement.

Here are five candidates the Spartans might put at the top of their wish list:

5. Charles Huff (Marshall head coach)
Huff made national headlines when the Thundering Herd upset Notre Dame last season when the Irish were ranked No. 8. He has a 19-10 record at Marshall in his third season, but also boasts ties to Nick Saban, having served as Alabama’s running backs coach from 2019-20. Just 40 years old, Huff spent four seasons on James Franklin’s staff at Penn State and is considered an up-and-coming coach who is likely to land a Power 5 gig sooner than later.

4. Sean Lewis (Colorado offensive coordinator)
The former Kent State head coach is only 37 years old and has received plenty of national attention while running Deion Sanders’ offense in Boulder. Though the Spartans have a reputation for preferring defensive-minded coaches, the game is changing with the transfer portal and several more powerhouse programs set to join the Big Ten next year. Lewis would bring recruiting credibility – especially in the transfer portal if the Spartans are seeking a quick turnaround.

3. Lance Leipold (Kansas head coach)
Leipold built a Division III powerhouse at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he won six national titles, before moving on to Buffalo and winning two MAC Coach of the Year awards. The 59-year-old got his first crack with a Power 5 program at lowly Kansas, where he is in the midst of performing another remarkable turnaround with the Jayhawks off to a 4-0 start after the program’s first bowl game appearance last year since 2008. The Spartans would face a few significant hurdles if they choose to pursue Leipold — beginning with a buyout of more than $12 million. Leipold, whose contract runs through 2029, said this week that he has work left to do at Kansas.

2. Mike Tressel (Wisconsin defensive coordinator)
For an embattled program like MSU, a respected connection to the past could be very appealing. Tressel, the nephew of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, was on the Spartans’ defensive staff for 14 years and took over as the interim head coach after Mark Dantonio’s retirement. He stayed on when Tucker was hired before leaving to join Luke Fickell’s staff with Cincinnati in 2021. Tressel followed him to Wisconsin this year.

1. Mike Elko (Duke head coach)
Elko is one of the hottest names in coaching circles as he continues to guide the Blue Devils to remarkable success after earning ACC Coach of the Year honors in his debut season in 2022. Duke is 13-4 under Elko after going a combined 10-25 in the three seasons before he arrived. Duke upset Clemson to open this season and Elko’s status will continue to rise if the Blue Devils can knock off Notre Dame, where he served as the Irish’s defensive coordinator in 2017, on Saturday. The quick success is a tribute to Elko’s ability to work the transfer portal, and Michigan State could find plenty of competition for the 46-year-old — if Elko is even open to leaving Raleigh after just two seasons.

There are numerous potential candidates for the Spartans to assess. Tops among them could be Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith and Washington State’s Jake Dickert, who both have their teams ranked in the top 25 for programs that face an uncertain future as the lone remaining members of the Pac-12 in 2024 as of now.

One coach who apparently won’t be under consideration for Haller is Kansas State’s Chris Klieman, who said in an interview with Sirius XM this week that he “will not be a candidate for that job” when asked about Michigan State.

–Field Level Media