Mel Tucker was torn.
He had been the defensive backs coach at LSU for just one year when Jim Tressel came knocking in February of 2001.
It had always been Tucker's goal to coach at Ohio State, but he was enjoying his time at LSU and had a close relationship with Tigers head coach Nick Saban — the man who gave Tucker his first college coaching job (grad assistant at Michigan State).
"Coming to Ohio State was a tough decision in that I was tight with Coach Saban and we were building the program back up at LSU," Tucker told Bucknuts.com. "But, it was easy in that I always wanted to coach at Ohio State. Being from Ohio, Ohio State has always been a special place to me. It is the Mecca of college football as far as I was concerned."
So, Tucker accepted the position of OSU's defensive backs coach, even though he had only met Tressel once.
"Like I said, it was tough leaving Coach Saban, but I knew a lot of good things about coach Tressel. I followed his success at Youngstown State and I knew he was a good person with great character. I did not make the move just because it was close to home, I knew I'd be working with one of the best in the business."
Tucker went to high school at Cleveland Heights where he was an all-state strong safety. He wanted to play for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes did not offer him a scholarship. So, Tucker accepted a 'ship from Big Ten rival Wisconsin.
"It was just a good fit for me. I definitely wanted to play in the Big Ten and I really liked coach (Barry) Alvarez," Tucker said.
Tucker earned four letters at defensive back for the Badgers from 1990-94 (redshirted the '93 season due to injury).
After graduation, Tucker spent one year playing for the Hamiton Tiger Cats of the CFL and spent another year as a varsity assistant football coach and freshman basketball coach at Cleveland Heights.
Then Saban gave him his big break.
"They needed a graduate assistant coach at Michigan State and Coach Saban offered me the job. I wasn't sure that I wanted to get into coaching until I spent the one year at my high school. I had such a great experience and I knew then that coaching was what I wanted to do."
Tucker was only at MSU for two years (1997-98), but struck up a relationship with current Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio, who was the Spartans' DBs coach at the time.
"I enjoyed working with coach Dantonio. He was a great leader and you kind of got the feeling he was going to be a coordinator or head coach somewhere down the road."
In 1999, Tucker got his first full-time coaching job when he became the DBs coach at Miami University.
The next season, he followed Saban to LSU in what he describes as another big break.
"Without that experience at LSU, even though it only lasted one year, I don't think coach Tressel offers me the Ohio State job."
But, it worked out and Tucker finally became a Buckeye.
Looking ahead to this year, Tucker finds himself in an interesting situation to say the least. He might have the best safety duo in the nation in Mike Doss and Donnie Nickey, but must tutor one of the youngest group of cornerbacks in the Big Ten.
"I have a lot of confidence in all of our guys. As far as Mike and Donnie, I expect a tremendous amount of leadership from those guys. They are seniors who have played a lot of ball here. Donnie is going to be our centerfielder and Mike is going to be the playmaker."
Was Tucker surprised that Doss decided to return for one more year?
"I just wanted him to make the best decision for him and his family. Now that I look back, I think it was a great decision, but I was going to support him either way. I mean, I very badly wanted him to come back for a year that wouldn't be a transition year like last year and I'm glad he did.
"The thing with Mike's decision is that it inspired our entire team, including the coaches. He wanted to come back and I know it made me want to work even harder and dedicate myself even more to my players."
Tucker was asked which of the young cornerbacks could emerge this year.
"I think probably the biggest surprise to the fans will be Dustin Fox. He played the end of last season at corner and started the Outback Bowl. Then he spent the entire spring at corner and I think he is feeling at home now. Dustin has great athletic ability (timed as the fastest Buckeye in winter conditioning drills) and what we are seeing now is the confidence you need to be a great cover man."
What about the other corners?
"Rich McNutt did a good job at the end of the season and had a good spring. He is going to be solid out there for us... Harlen Jacobs made tremendous strides in the spring and became more aggressive. Harlen is an excellent athlete with good size and speed and started playing the ball better... Bobby Britton is a guy who was hurt for most of last year and you never want to judge a player when he's hurt. He's another guy with a tremendous amount of ability and I think preseason camp will be imperative for him... (Youngstown State transfer) Chris Conwell is another guy who is going to be in the mix."
There was one more DB that Tucker said is a player to watch out for.
"Will Allen is our backup safety and he will also be in there as a nickel or
dime back. He was solid last year, and this summer he has gotten bigger and is showing more of a burst now. He is a very intelligent player, a hard
worker and is a guy you can count on to make plays."