When Alabama lost two defensive coaches – both working with the linebackers – Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban replaced them with one linebackers coach (Tosh Lupoi) and one secondary coach (Mel Tucker), moving Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart from coaching safeties to coaching linebackers.
’BAMA Magazine/BamaMag.com was in Mobile at the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Center on Wednesday evening for the event. L’Arche Mobile is a charitable Christian community, part of a worldwide federation, providing a permanent family-like environment for individuals born with intellectual disabilities. The group of 21 people with special needs is supported by 55 Team Members/Assistants involved in living and working in four homes and an activity center. L’Arche Mobile established in 1974, furnishes work opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. The word L’Arche in French means ‘the Ark’, a meaningful place for refuge.
Cleveland (OH) native Mel Tucker will be challenged to reverse a trend haunting an aerial defense once known for stinginess. Completion of the long ball has plagued the Tide secondary in recent years. Alabama ranked 58th nationally/11th SEC last year in passing yards allowed surrendering 3,164 in 14 games. They allowed 226 yards per game, 19 touchdown receptions and were 30th nationally/7th SEC in pass defense efficiency. Two years ago, the 2013 National Championship team had the 7th nationally/3rd SEC rated unit against the pass. Ironically Tucker’s first test is against his Alma mater, Wisconsin on September 5th at the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, TX. He lettered four-years as a defensive back for the Badgers graduating in 1995.
Since arriving in Tuscaloosa one question is prevalent on the minds of Tide fans according to Tucker. “I go to a gas station and I’m going to buy something so I pull out my credit card. I hand it to the person and they look and say, “You’re Mel Tucker. Are you going to teach those boys how to look for the ball while it’s in the air,” he said. “I learned right away. I just started paying cash. It just never stops. We’re going to do a better job playing the ball down the field. That’s one of the things you have to do be able to do as a defensive back. You have to be able to play the ball in the deep part of the field. We are going to make sure those guys get that done.”
Tucker has eight solid years of coaching at the collegiate level and ten in the professional ranks. Two stints were with Nick Saban, one as a graduate assistant at Michigan State (1997-98) and the other at LSU (2000) coaching defensive backs. Speaking of the transition from the NFL to college Tucker said, “It’s pretty much the same. Like Coach said earlier. Coaching is teaching. Teaching and development is what it’s all about – technique and fundamentals. Teaching guys to play smart. Teaching guys to play fast and physical. When I coached eight years in college and ten years in the NFL we always taught the fundamentals. That is never going to change. There is no transition for me there.”
Tucker has a unique perspective as a staff member since he was recruited by Saban out of high school as a 17-year old prospect. “Yes, that is true. It seems like just yesterday I remember getting a call at home. I was a high school senior at Cleveland Heights High School in Ohio. I got a call at home and he said, “Hey boy, this is Nick Saban from the Houston Oilers. I’m saying, I’m a pretty good player but I think I’ve got to go to college first. Come to find out he had just taken the head job at Toledo (University) where my Dad played. I was one of his top recruits. So that is when I got to know Coach Saban. He was a great recruiter then. He’s obviously one of the best now.”
The relationship over the years blossomed. Tucker credits Saban for assisting in landing his first full-time college position at Miami (Ohio). “Coach Saban is very special to me. He is just a great man and I owe pretty much everything I have in coaching to him,” he stated.
Two reasons swayed Tucker to accept the Alabama defensive back assistant coaching position instead of seeking other opportunities. “As an assistant coach you look at two things – who are you working for and can you win. As we left Chicago that is what we took into account. I know and my wife, JoEllyn knows exactly what you’re going to get from Coach Saban day-in and day-out. He is a guy we have a tremendous amount of respect for. We trust him. He knows us. He knows me. Obviously at Alabama you have a chance to win so it was a great fit for me. Over the years, I got a chance to go down to Alabama and scout for the (NFL) draft. You could just feel it’s a special place. We as a family went to at least two bowl games always pulling for Coach Saban and his staff. It was always a discussion in our household if you ever got the chance to get back with Coach Saban would you do it and the answer was always yes.”
Coaching differences exist between the Big Ten and the SEC. “There are some similarities obviously with the great rivalries of Ohio State vs. Michigan and Auburn vs. Alabama but I’ll tell you what it’s a little different down here in the SEC. I spent one year at LSU with Coach Saban and I got a taste of it but when you get off the plane in Birmingham and then you drive into Tuscaloosa, you can feel it as soon as you get there. When you get on campus, when you walk in the building – Alabama football, Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings, Nick Saban, that whole deal right there, there is nothing like it. So I really can’t compare Alabama to any other opportunity that I’ve had before.”
Another topic discussed was the popular no huddle hurry up offense. Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and Tucker were on a private jet flown to the event in Mobile. When the new defensive back coach was asked if he had any comments to make to his coaching rival concerning the style of play and any common ground about the number of plays that should be run in a college football game he said to the 700 plus people in the audience, “No, there is nothing I would like to say. We talked on the way over here so I think we are all set there. I don’t think so. We talked about that (number of plays) and I don’t think we will ever come to any common ground on that.”
Mel Tucker in a relatively short period of time understands the fervor of the Alabama faithful. “Just win, right,” was the final comment he stated to one of the moderators on the stage.
Prior to the banquet, Tucker addressed a few subjects with the assembled media:
Effect of loss to Ohio State: “It’s a really good group. I just got to Alabama about a week before signing day and what I’ve seen is the guys are very motivated. They have a very good work ethic, they’re very focused and they focus on the process, day after day, doing what they have to do in the classroom, and what we ask them to do in football. It’s just been good.”
Secondary: “I think we have a good group to work with. We have a lot of talented guys. We have guys that have versatility. I think the guys enjoy playing together. They’re starting to make some plays on the ball. We’re being aggressive, attacking the ball. I thought we had a good spring and looking forward to having a great summer. Obviously, we’ll have to have a great fall camp and expectations are high for the season.
Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey: “I think those guys improved in the spring. Marlon was a little banged up during the spring but he finished strong, he had a really good spring game. Tony did a really nice job for us playing left corner, playing right corner, also playing our nickel, our star position. Those guys have the size, height, weight, speed, they have all the ability, they have the intangibles, and they’re good young players. We just have to continue to work to develop those guys.”
Safeties: “Geno Smith, he’s got experience. We’ve taken Eddie (Jackson) and we put him in there and toward the end of the spring he did a nice job in there for us. Ronnie Harrison came in mid-year and he’s taken some snaps. So we feel like we have a good group. We have very good competition. We have versatility and I feel good about that safety group.”
Review of 2014 season, emphasis for 2015: “We watched every single play from the previous season as a staff, like most staffs do. Call it quality control and scheme evaluation, and we did all of that. At the end of the day it comes down to technique and fundamentals, playing smart, playing fast and playing physical. So those are the things we emphasized in spring ball.”
Transition from NFL to working for Saban: “I worked for Coach Saban before. I worked for him at Michigan State. He gave me my first job there in 1997, and I also worked for Coach Saban at LSU. So it’s a very similar program now. He hasn’t really changed in terms of his core philosophies and coaching. I think the biggest difference for me in coaching pro ball and college ball is the recruiting aspect of it, which is in full swing here in the SEC.”
Alabama Defensive Passing Statistics – Nick Saban era
Year - Passing Yards, TD’s, Yards Per Game, Interceptions
2014 – 3,164, 19 TD, 226 ypg, 20 INT
2013 – 2,344, 13 TD, 180 ypg, 11 INT
2012 – 2,431, 8 TD, 173 ypg, 18 INT
2011 – 1,449, 6 TD, 111 ypg, 13 INT
2010 – 2,291, 12 TD, 176 ypg, 22 INT
2009 – 2,324, 11 TD, 166 ypg, 24 INT
2008 – 2,651, 18 TD, 189 ypg, 15 INT
2007 – 2,877, 20 TD, 221 ypg, 19 INT