Michigan State Athletics is building ‘a culture of excellence’

When Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller was in the process of signing the Spartans new hockey coach, Adam Nightingalehe asked Tom Izzo and Mel Tucker to meet him.

Not to gauge his hockey prowess — Haller had a separate team for that — but to establish how they think he would fit into MSU athletics.

“We are building a culture of excellence, within that culture of excellence in our Spartan family, fitness is important and how does this next coach fit into our family,” he said Monday afternoon. at the Detroit Economic Club’s annual Spartan Luncheon at the MotorCity Casino. “They know this importance.”

In front of more than 500 DEC members, the trio preached the importance of unity within the department, as Haller recalled one day last fall when he stopped by basketball practice. male of the MSU.

Men’s golf coach Casey Lubahn was already there with one of his team’s top recruiting targets. Haller watched Izzo stop practice, bring his guys to the middle of the track, and introduce him to the team.

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He then recalled that Tucker had done something similar when the football coach stopped practice of women’s gymnastics in the middle of a glove stretch in their season. Tucker gave the team a pep talk, letting them know that the football program and the entire college were behind them.

“I’m not going to give him all the credit,” Haller laughed, “but from this point on we go on and take second place in the conference, go to NCAA regionals and advance to an NCAA regional final. , something that hadn’t been done in 30 years in gymnastics.

“(Winning) is important, but also who we add to our family is important. They to have to adapt to what we do”

Izzo has long been the face of the athletic department, with Haller now the sixth AD in his tenure and Tucker the fifth football coach. Izzo detailed his time in Northern Michigan, saying that’s where his cohesive athletic department mentality began.

He said that at a Division II school, there wasn’t enough money for in-fighting, envy, or competition; everyone had to work together.

He added that when he arrived at MSU, there was already a good culture of this, with football coach George Perles, basketball coach and mentor Jud Heathcote, and hockey coach Ron Mason.

“They had a really good bond back then,” Izzo said. “I was brought into this, it’s not something I developed, but I give everyone credit (for keeping him). Mel is at Izzone, I’m on the bench at his games I’m in the locker room with some of the top rookies for the Michigan game… there’s just certain things we do and I think he would be okay with it, he’s been in a lot of places, we have something unique.

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“I think it’s something that Alan wants to capture and keep and grow and it’s everybody’s long, there’s not a lot of jealousy and it’s pretty special.”

The trio echoed each other on Monday, saying the chemistry and communication with paying programs also extends to all teams on campus.

Tucker will organize his practice time to ensure that every team, from softball to football, spends time in his state-of-the-art practice facility.

Izzo and head women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant change their practice schedules to allow the volleyball team to play and practice at Breslin Center, instead of Jennison Hall.

“It’s that kind of family atmosphere that we create and that will be important moving forward,” Haller said.

Michigan State head football coach Mel Tucker cheers on the Spartans against Purdue during the second half at the Breslin Center in East Lansing on Saturday February 26, 2022.

This is a dynamic that would not work for everyone.

Izzo, arguably the most famous coach in the state, who now makes less money than a third-grade football coach in school.

And an athletic director, who has to be able to have that give and take with the Hall of Fame basketball coach and the Conference Football Coach of the Year.

Take the 2021 offseason, when Tucker asked Haller for a nutritionist on his team to help with meal planning. Haller admits to asking Tucker why this was necessary, given that the program had never done this before.

During their next meetings, Tucker continued to explain the importance and why it was necessary, before Haller said he had found the necessary money in the budget.

“We’re going to Miami this year…and we outplayed them until the fourth quarter, we were the strongest team,” Haller said. “A lot of it had to do with our team nutritionist, Amber Rinestine, and the food program she put in place.”

Tucker said the only way Haller would know how serious he was about the request was to hang out and take the time to listen.

Now not only does the football team have a nutritionist, the basketball team has a team nutritionist and there are a handful of others who work in Jennison for the 470 athletes who use this building as their main training center.

“For me, with our head coaches, and not just head coaches, it’s all about time and attendance,” Haller said. “It’s about being in front of them, being with them, understanding their environment, understanding their needs, and then matching their needs with our resources and supporting them in a way that can help them succeed. .”

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker, right, is congratulated by athletic director Alan Haller after a 37-33.  win against Michigan in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Haller has a unique perspective for this.

He played football at MSU from 1988 to 1991 and remembers taking charter flights to Iowa City that landed on the tarmac before a short trip to Kinnick Stadium.

The following spring, when he was on the track team, he took long, 10-hour bus rides to the same location. He said that by the nature of the business not everything can be on a level playing field, but it is his job to understand the unique circumstances of each team, coach and player.

“For me, 770 student-athletes…as the athletic director of our student-athletes, I want them all to have the opportunity to be successful,” Haller said. “There are different resources, obviously, but the ability to maximize their time.

It’s one of the main reasons Tucker took the job at Michigan State.

Haller wasn’t the DA at the time, but it was a culture of friendship within the coaches that Izzo led. It’s the same way Tucker worked to rebuild MSU from a 2-6 football team in 2020 to 11-2 in 2021.

Head down, without ego, with culture and form above all.

“I make sure I have the right people around me,” Tucker said of how he managed to create the turnaround. “I never want to be the smartest guy in the room…so it’s about establishing a culture that is a winning culture, a championship culture. How we live and behave every day, we hammer relentlessly our staff.

“It’s the basis for doing what we need to do on the pitch.”

Contact Tony Garcia at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @realtonygarcia.

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