Passan: Is Mel the Man?

The Cleveland Browns moved quickly after dumping Todd Grantham to name DB coach Mel Tucker as his replacement. Was this the right move? Rich looks at the Browns secondary success over the past several years to try to divine the answer.

To belittle Mel Tucker's ascension to the position of defensive coordinator for the Browns would be patently unfair.

So instead, let the numbers tell the story and perhaps answer whether this was a wise move.

As turned off as I am by statistics bogging down a story, there are times when they can tell the story. This might be one of those times. More on that later.

In announcing Tucker's promotion from secondary coach, Browns coach Romeo Crennel stated, in part, "He has a football plan, a life plan, coaches the fundamentals and relates well with the players. I believe he will be successful in this new role."

Not sure what that life plan is. Not sure I want to know. That's a private matter.

It's the football plan and the coaching the fundamentals and the relating well with the players I'm more concerned with.

Crennel states Tucker coaches the fundamentals. Don't all coaches do that? If not, shouldn't they?

Crennel states Tucker relates well with the players. Sounds like a backhanded slap at cashiered defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

The players supposedly didn't play well because they didn't like or relate to him. If that was the case, then shame on them. You don't have to like someone in order to play for him.

Last time I looked, athletes supposedly play for the love of the game. They play for the city they represent. They play for the fans who live in that city or who follow that team. (Yeah, right.)

If that, indeed, was the case, Grantham should have been let go following the 2006 season instead of having his contract extended two years.

General Manager Phil Savage spoke of Grantham in the most glowing of terms. Crennel's slippery hold on his job became grist for the mill that had Grantham almost a lock for the top job if the head man gotten off to a poor start this past season. A 10-6 season changed that landscape in a hurry.

So what prompted Savage and Crennel to move so quickly to promote Tucker following Grantham's dismissal, especially when Tucker was on vacation? What was their hurry? Were they afraid some other team would go after him?

Call this a guess, but other National Football League teams looking for a defensive coordinator weren't exactly tripping over themselves trying to get to Tucker.

This is the time of the season when the coaching carousel spins out of control and some pretty good people fly off. Available are the likes of Rex Ryan (assuming he doesn't get the head job in Atlanta), Jim Mora Jr., Jim Bates and Dom Capers, gentlemen who have coordinated defenses in the past.

Just another group of recycled coaches, argue those who prefer fresh blood. Fair enough. But what harm could it do to at least interview someone who has done it already?

I'm not saying Tucker was the wrong choice, or even a bad choice. I'm saying he was a hasty choice.

Perhaps the Browns didn't want to bring in anyone who differed with Crennel's defensive philosophy. That would be understandable. Then again, maybe they didn't want to ruin the continuity factor regarding the coaching staff. Also understandable.

But why not at least scan the field before promoting from within? What would have been the harm to bring in someone who might offer fresh ideas?

Tucker is the X-factor in the big picture. We don't know what to expect from him. He has never run a defense by himself (he shared defensive coordinator duties at Ohio State with Mark Snyder for one season). So we have no track record on which to judge him. Grantham lacked the same credentials when he was hired.

How good can Tucker be? That depends, in large part, on the personnel Savage gives him to work with.

Tucker slides into a win-win situation. How much worse can the Browns' defense get than the last three seasons under Grantham? Especially if Savage carries out the final stage of his grand plan and devotes most of his energies into strengthening the defense.

Let's examine Tucker's resume with the Browns. 

In 2005, his first season as secondary coach with the Browns, the Cleveland pass defense ranked fourth in the NFL, allowing 179.2 yards a game and a respectable 15 touchdowns. Fans in that 6-10 season needed to feel good about something and latched onto those statistics.

In 2006, the Browns' pass defense fell to 15th in the NFL at 202.6 yards a game and 20 TD passes. Fans correctly attributed the drop to an outrageous number of injuries in the secondary. Tucker held that group together, it seemed, with bailing wire.

This past season, when the secondary was completely healthy, the Browns were torched for 29 TD passes (only New Orleans and Detroit were worse) and 230.1 yards a game, tumbling to 24th in the league. But they led the NFL in fewest pass plays over 40 yards with three.

Notice a trend here? That's a drop of more than 50 yards a game in the last two seasons.

Yep, teams figured out they could attack the Browns' secondary just as easily as they could the front seven. In fact, even better because the rush defense improved this past season from 29th to 27th and permitted only eight touchdowns all season.

And don't bother mentioning the lack of a pass rush as an excuse. In 2005, the Browns recorded only 23 sacks and followed that with 28 in each of the last two seasons.

So after all this, how did Tucker's star rise so rapidly?

It makes for a nice warm and fuzzy story to see the young man from Cleveland Heights come back home and do well. But if this is doing well, I'd hate to see what failing is.

The Browns' secondary production has become exponentially worse and Tucker, it seems, is being rewarded for it.


And what about Tucker's coaching philosophy? Will he feature an aggressive approach, much like the Browns showed in the second half of the season when Crennel laid his paws on the defense? Or will he take the passive approach like Grantham, whose use of the blitz was virtually non-existent in the first half of the season?

So many questions, so few answers.

I'm not a blind-faith guy. Anointing is deserved, achieved, not given. It worked the same way last season when Rob Chudzinski arrived as the offensive coordinator. He had to prove himself. So does Tucker.

If the Browns get lucky and Tucker channels Chudzinski's success, or comes even close, then fans are in for a real treat in the coming season.

There is no guarantee he will.

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