PHOENIX — Around the University of Alabama, the likelihood of Mel Tucker leaving to become Georgia’s defensive coordinator is one of the worst-kept secrets around.
When I visited the Mal Moore Athletic Facility in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday for the Crimson Tide’s very regimented media news conference, more than one of Bama’s regular beat guys asked me if I was going to ask Nick Saban if Tucker was coming to Georgia. I said I’d try but I had to get in my questions about Kirby Smart first.
Turns out, the way Alabama sets up its news conferences, with a room full of dozens of reporters raising their hands to get a microphone handed to them to ask a question, I got one question in with Saban and one with Smart before time was up and they exited out the door and back into the restricted confines of the coaches’ offices. Neither question was about Tucker. Remarkably, nobody else asked about it.
Today, somebody is finally reporting as fact what we and others have long been alluding “a likely possibility.” Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com, citing “a source,” said Tucker is joining Smart at Georgia as his defensive coordinator.
I haven’t been able to get anybody with direct knowledge to confirm it, but I believe it to be true. And, if so, it’s a great get for Smart and the Bulldogs.
Tucker, 42, is an extremely experienced and successful defensive coach. A defensive back for the Wisconsin Badgers in college, Tucker brings 10 years of NFL coaching experience to the table — including seven as a defensive coordinator — and has worked for eight years in the college ranks as well, not including starting out with Saban as a graduate assistant at Michigan State.
Tucker has been back with Saban for a year in this latest stint. He joined the Crimson Tide as defensive backs coach assistant head coach last January after spending the previous two seasons as defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. Tucker was previously defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-12) and was Jacksonville’s interim head coach for the final five games of his last season there. He also coached DBs for the Cleveland Browns from 2005-08, the last season there as defensive coordinator.
In addition to Smart, Tucker is given much credit for the job Alabama has done in the secondary this season. With the Crimson Tide replacing their top three safeties from 2014 and absent their usual All-America cornerbacks, they have managed to allow just 186 yards a game passing this season, which is 18th nationally.
“I thought Mel was one of the least spoken-about improvements in the Alabama football team this year,” said Gary Danielson, SEC football lead analyst for CBS Sports. “He took more of an NFL style approach to their secondary. In the NFL, you have to have your safeties be able to go out and cover slots. It’s hard to be a ‘box’ safety if you can’t cover. Frankly, Georgia’s done that very well in the past.
“However, I thought Mel Tucker brought one more thing to it: Those corners that Alabama is playing with, and they play four to six of them. Their big game of the year was against LSU and the big question was whether those corners would be willing to hit. And LSU challenged them to play in the box and they all did. And that’s straight from the toughness that Mel Tucker brought to the table.”
Apparently this deal has been done for a while, pretty much since Jeremy Pruitt left Georgia to become Alabama’s defensive coordinator. That’s a job one could understand Tucker, with his background, might expect to get.
But the word in the coaching ranks is that Saban was pretty upset about the news of Smart leaving for the Georgia job before the SEC championship game and didn’t want anymore outside distractions before the College Football Playoffs. The Crimson Tide (13-1), with Smart and Tucker still calling shots, takes on Clemson (14-0) in the championship game here Monday night.