Coaching Big Board 8.0: Analyzing Tucker

Reports say Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is the top candidate to be the third head coach at Wisconsin football since 1990, but is he the right fit? We break down Tucker and the other candidates that have been tied to UW's coaching search.

MADISON - Turns out ‘not interested at this time' only lasted a few days for Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

After originally downplaying the job, multiple reports emerged Sunday that Tucker, a former Badgers defensive back under Barry Alvarez, became the second coach to interview for Wisconsin's vacant head coaching job on Friday. CBS Sports went as far to say Tucker was the top target, but no coaching offer has been made.

Alvarez said two days after Bret Bielema left for Arkansas that he would like to hire a coach with previous head coaching experience. Tucker, 40, is the only coach on our big board that has that, but it's not much. Tucker was named interim coach for the Jaguars' final five games last season, leading the team to a 2-3 record.

"Mel's got a lot of things that you're looking for in a head football coach," said Jaguars GM Gene Smith last year.

When Jacksonville hired Mike Mularkey before the 2012 season, Mularkey kept Tucker and promoted him to assistant head coach. Tucker was in charge of the defensive play calling last season and the Jaguars' defense finished as the fourth highest rated in the NFL.

Jacksonville is 22-40 the last four seasons with Tucker on staff, but hasn't always gotten tons to work with. In his first year with the Jaguars in 2009, Tucker saw 21 different players make starts including four rookies. The 2010 defense utilized eight different starting combinations in the first nine weeks. Just five players started all 16 games on defense, and nine different players made starts in the secondary over the course of the season.

The Jaguars improved defensively from 28th in 2010 to sixth in 2011, the second-largest improvement in the NFL, and improved in nearly every statistical category from the previous season. Ironically, it's the first year Tucker started calling plays.

In 2011 Tucker's defense allowed 313.0 yards per game, the fewest since 2006, and ranked ninth in rushing yards per game (104.2), eighth in passing (208.8), second in fewest completions of 20-plus yards (43), third in fewest plays of 20-plus yards (51), second in most three-and-out drives (57) and third in first downs allowed per game (16.8).

The unit ranked in the top 10 in 16 of the 17 weeks in 2011 despite using 14 different starting lineups in 16 games because of injuries. Only five players started all 16 games on defense and only eight players played in all 16 games. The unit lost two starting cornerbacks, a starting linebacker and starting defensive end in consecutive weeks to season-ending injuries.

Tucker does have college coaching experience on his resume. He coached defensive backs in the Big Ten at Ohio State under former coach Jim Tressel. He also was the Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator in 2004 and coached defensive backs at LSU, so he knows the BCS level and knows how to recruit. He's also been highly spoken of by players, is low key and preaches details and discipline; all foundations of UW's program.

The issue with Tucker is twofold. First he hasn't coached in college, or recruited high school kids, since 2004. That could be a concern. Second, Tucker is highly respected in the Jaguars' organization and could be the next head coach with the team, as beat reporters are expecting changes in the front office.

Tucker may be the right guy, but what are the chances he stays around for a long period of time, something Alvarez wants?

Current Coordinators

Chris Ash

Ash? What's he doing here? Didn't he accept a job at Arkansas? Yes, Ash has accepted a job with the Razorbacks and former head coach Bret Bielema, but sources say he hasn't signed a contract and has thrown his name into the hat.

"You never know if you are ready (to be a head coach) until you get the opportunity to do it," said Ash, who declined to go into more specifics about the Wisconsin coaching job. "All great coaches had to get an opportunity at some point. I would like an opportunity anywhere.

Ash's unit was the main reason Wisconsin is heading back to Pasadena for a third straight season. Although some late scores against the second-team defense skewed the average, Wisconsin's defense gave up more than 21 points in regulation only three times this past season (twice coming against Nebraska and the Huskers' conference-best rushing attack). Wisconsin held eight opponents to 14 points or fewer in four quarters, including six straight.

Last season in his first as co-defensive coordinator, the Badgers ranked 13th in the country in scoring defense (19.0 points per game) and 15th in the nation in total defense. It was the first time since 2006 that Wisconsin had allowed fewer than 20.0 points per game. Ten of the Badgers' 14 opponents failed to score more than 17 points.

UW allowed just 163.6 yards per game through the air in 2011 to rank fourth in the NCAA in pass defense. That was the second-best mark for Wisconsin's defense in the last 20 years. Oregon State, Michigan State (twice) and Oregon were the only teams to pass for more than 180 yards against the Badgers.

Five UW defenders earned All-Big Ten honors, including four first-team selections. Linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland finished 1-2 in the conference in total tackles, with both finishing in the top 10 in the country. Taylor's 150 tackles were the most by a Badger since 2001. Defensive backs Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus tied for second in the conference with four interceptions apiece as UW ranked second in the Big Ten with 16 INTs.

According to Tom Mulhern of the State Journal, Dan McCarney, who was Alvarez's first defensive coordinator with the Badgers from 1990 to 1994, is promoting Ash's cause as a possible head coaching candidate. McCarney, currently the head coach at North Texas, was the head coach at Iowa State for 12 years, from 1995 to 2006. Ash started out as a graduate assistant under McCarney in 2000 and 2001, then was the Cyclones' secondary coach from 2002 to 2006.

If Alvarez wants to hire a candidate who respects the Wisconsin tradition, has a great relationship with the players and is a dynamite recruiter, Ash should be the guy.

"I love it here," said Ash. "Wisconsin has been a great place for me for my three years. It's been a great place to come to work and we have great kids here. They take care of the business and allow you to coach."

Editor's Note: There have been no new news on the final four candidates since Saturday.

Bob Diaco

Why he is here: Diaco is in the market for a head coaching job and has been doing interviews, including for the head coaching job at Temple. Alvarez likes to makes hires of people that are cut from the same cloth that he is. Diaco certainly fits that bill.

Coaching stops Notre Dame DC (2010-present), Cincinnati DC (2009), Virginia LB/ST (2006-2008), Central Michigan co-DC/LB (2005), Western Michigan LB/ST (2004), Eastern Michigan RB/LB (2001-2003).

His experience: Promoted to assistant head coach prior to the season, Diaco has played an integral part in the Irish being ranked No.1 in the country and playing Alabama in the national championship game.

Notre Dame ranks first in the nation in scoring defense and have one of the best front sevens in the college game, led by dynamic linebacker and Heisman finalist Manti Te'o. This isn't a one year blip either, as the Irish's 2011 defense ranked in the top 50 in scoring defense (24th, 20.7), total defense (30th, 344.7), rushing defense (47th, 138.9) and passing defense (38th, 205.8).

It was only the second time since 2003 and fourth time in the last 15 seasons a Notre Dame defense ranked in the top 50 in all four categories.

Diaco's coaching career has spanned a better part of the Midwest and, like Alvarez, is a former Iowa assistant and a disciple of Hayden Fry. Diaco is evidentially ready to be a head coach, as he was a finalist for the Boston College coaching vacancy, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Here is Diaco's acceptance speech from the Broyles Award banquet

Darrell Bevell

Why he is here: Bevell doesn't have college coaching ties, but does have ties to the state and is a former Wisconsin quarterback. He has expressed interest in the past of returning to Wisconsin where he led UW to Rose Bowls and worked with Green Bay for six years, serving three as quarterbacks coach.

Coaching stops Seattle OC (2011-Present), Minnesota OC (2006-2010), Green Bay QB (2003-2005) Green Bay Asst. (2000-2002), UConn WR (1998-1999).

His experience: A four-year starter for the Badgers, Bevell helped guide the team to a 10-1-1 mark as a sophomore in 1993. The squad claimed a share of the Big Ten championship for the first time since 1962 and defeated UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Bevell helped UW go 18-4-2. He left Madison as the school's all-time leading passer with 19 team records and a pair of Big Ten marks. His 67.8 percent completion mark set in 1993 stood as the conference record until 2010, and he was a 61.4 percent passer for his career.

Bevell is in his second season leading Seattle Seahawks' offense after spending five seasons (2006-10) as the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator.

Joe Rudolph

Why he is here: A tenacious recruiter, Rudolph is finishing his first season as a coordinator and is a huge favorite of Alvarez. A source at Pittsburgh told us earlier this week that Rudolph would be interested if he was contacted about the job, which hasn't happened to this point.

Coaching stops Pittsburgh OC/TE (2012-present), Wisconsin TE (2008-2011), Nebraska TE (2007), Ohio State offensive graduate assistant coach and strength coordinator (2004-06).

His experience: A member of Alvarez's first recruiting class, Rudolph twice earned All-Big Ten honors as an offensive lineman and was a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection. In 1993 he helped the Badgers to a 10-1-1 record, the Big Ten title and first Rose Bowl victory in school history with a 21-16 decision over UCLA. As a senior in 1994, Rudolph served as a team captain and helped lead Wisconsin to an 8-3-1 record and 34-20 win over Duke in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

Rudolph was a huge loss for Wisconsin and Alvarez is extremely fond of him. Rudolph working this past season as offensive coordinator is a huge help for him in his quest to one day run his own program. He may not be the most experienced, but he has a lot of supporters still in Madison.

Pat Narduzzi

Why he is here: Michigan State's defensive coordinator is primed to be a head coach and has paid his dues. Narduzzi is a lot like Diaco – a sound, defensive-minded coach.

Coaching stops Michigan State DC (2007-present), Cincinnati DC (2004-2006), Miami (Ohio) DC (2003), Northern Illinois LB (2000-2002).

His experience: In his sixth season as Michigan State's defensive coordinator, Narduzzi has developed the Spartans into one of the top defensive teams in the nation. In 2011, Narduzzi's defense had its best showing since his arrival in East Lansing.

Michigan State led the Big Ten in rushing defense (100.5 yards per game), total defense (277.4 ypg.), interceptions (18) and third-down defense (.337). This season, Michigan State can thank its defense as the only reason they are going to a bowl game, as the unit ranks 10th in the country in points allowed (16.3 ppg).

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