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New MSU coach Tucker stirs up rivalry with Michigan

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East lansing - When Mark Dantonio arrived in Michigan, he made it clear that beating Michigan was a priority.

Dantonio's successor Mel Tucker echoed the belief on Friday, reminding everyone that the Michigan-Michigan State game was no ordinary affair.

"The Michigan game is not just another game," said Tucker on "The Drive With Jack," an online radio show with longtime reporter Lansing Jack Ebling. "It's something we embrace. I don't believe in understating expectations - it's useless. It is what it is. "

Dantonio had his share of success against Michigan, 8-5 against the Wolverines, including seven wins in eight seasons from 2008 to 2015. This was after Dantonio's first game against Michigan - a loss of 28 -24 in 2006 - that Michigan ball carrier Mike Hart called Michigan State his "little brother", thus helping to intensify the intensity of the rivalry.

This intensity is something Tucker embraces, having spent the first two years of his coaching career at Michigan State as a graduate assistant in 1997-98 while developing a healthy disgust for Michigan as an assistant to Ohio State from 2001 to 2004.

"There are rivalry games that are different from other games," said Tucker. "You could say a game is a game, and they're all the same, we want to win every game but, well, let's be honest, Michigan State-Michigan is different. And I understand that. "

Dantonio helped the state of Michigan change the course of rivalry by reinforcing the Spartans' perceived disrespect from their rivals. Tucker, it looks like, is on the same path.

"I feel like we have something to prove, there's no question about it," said Tucker. “We have a chip on our shoulders. … (The fans) will see that this is a brand of football they can be proud of. We have to look on the ground and say, "These guys are playing hard, they care, they're all-in." It's one thing to play the game for what the game can do for you, but it's another thing to play the game because you like it. This is how the game is supposed to be played. "

Tucker was also interviewed in the interview about the legendary head coaches he worked with. He was a Dantonio staff member at Michigan State in 1997-1998 and again at Ohio State from 2001 to 2003.

"Coach Dantonio is very competitive, ultra-competitive, a hard worker and very loyal," said Tucker. "He was a good teacher. He's a father. He cared about his players, he cared about coaches and he was always looking to help. That was the thing, he was always looking to help in any way possible, whoever he could, and it was just a pleasure to work with him. "

Tucker was part of Jim Tressel's staff at Ohio State from 2001 to 2004, a stretch that included a national championship.

"Coach Tress, he's a very special man," said Tucker. "I was very privileged and blessed to be able to work with him. He was talking to us about being servant chefs. We were there in the state of Ohio to serve that state, this university, and this university community. And that was our goal. He taught us that and we embraced it, and it's part of my philosophy and what I have believed in ever since. "

Tucker worked twice with Nick Saban, in 2000 as a defensive back coach at LSU and again in 2015 as an assistant head coach and defensive back coach in Alabama.

"Coach Saban taught me everything," said Tucker. "Coach Saban got me started and helped lay the foundation for me in terms of the philosophy of football for offense, defense and special teams, strength and conditioning, recruiting was really important. I tried to absorb everything. "

And Tucker played for Barry Alvarez in Wisconsin.

"He's always talked to us about what's important now, it's W-I-N," said Tucker. "It was everywhere in the locker room. I use it every day - "What is important now? "

[email protected]

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

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