ATHENS — Seeing how Georgia just got through playing a scintillating SEC Championship Game, then there was the College Football Playoff selection process, then the bowl bids, I haven’t had a chance to weigh in just yet on the news that Mel Tucker is on the way out the door.
That’s according to a bunch of reports out of Colorado, where the Buffaloes are searching for a successor for Mike McIntyre as head coach. McIntyre was fired back in November after the Buffaloes lost their sixth game in a row following a 5-0 start. They finished 5-7 and McIntyre finished 30-44 in six seasons.
A bunch of folks citing sources say Tucker could be announced as the new Colorado coach as early as Monday. My source, Mel Tucker, hasn’t yet confirmed that to me. But whether it’s Colorado or not, all signs point to him leaving Georgia this year.
And that’s a blow. It’s not one that the Bulldogs didn’t expect. I asked Georgia coach Kirby Smart about it last month when Tucker’s name came up for the Maryland head coaching vacancy.
“Mel’s one of the most professional people I’ve ever met,” Smart said. “… “He’d do a tremendous job (as a head coach). He’s been an interim coach before, and I know he’d do a tremendous job given the opportunity.”
Tucker’s name was also floated out into the universe for the Louisville job. Frankly, I thought that one made more sense than this one does. Colorado has some internal issues (not that Louisville and Maryland don’t), but more than that is it’s significantly removed from what has been Tucker’s professional footprint.
But, never-minding the destination, exit visas are imminent, because college head coach is the logical professional step for Tucker, who has been an interim NFL head coach and defensive coordinator and college defensive coordinator.
The more intriguing storyline on all this is what Georgia might do to replace Tucker. That’s going to be fascinating to see.
As it is, the defensive staff surrounding Tucker is very young and relatively inexperienced. It features outside linebackers coach Dan Lanning, 32; defensive line coach Tray Scott, 34; and inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann, 28. None of them have coordinated a defense even on the high school level.
The Bulldogs also have several defensive quality control coaches and assistants among the support staff, including former Georgia Southern coach Tyson Summers. Only Summers appears to have the credentials to merit a promotion to defensive coordinator. But I doubt that.
The most likely and logical scenario I see is Smart elevates Schumann to interim defensive coordinator for the Bulldogs’ Sugar Bowl preparations. Then, depending on what other candidates are out there and how things go, Schumann could be awarded the job permanently.
Because here’s the most important characteristic for whomever is going to be hired as Georgia’s next defensive coordinator: He must speak Kirby’s language defensively. And that, by association, means speaking Alabama.
So that’s where I’d look for replacements to come from, whether it be as defensive coordinator or spots that open up via the impending hire.
For example, I could see someone like Derrick Ansley joining the Bulldogs’ staff. Ansley is currently secondary coach on Jon Gruden’s staff with the Oakland Raidders. But before that, he coached on the college level for 13 seasons. He succeeded Mel Tucker as Alabama’s secondary coach and was defensive assistant there under Smart from 2010-11. Ansley also coached DBs at Tennessee (2012) and Kentucky (2013-15), gaining the title of co-defensive coordinator his last season with the Wildcats.
In order to lure Ansley back from the pro ranks, he might have to hire him as defensive coordinator. Or he could have him share the title with Schumann.
A more difficult and aggressive move might be to try and lure away current Alabama defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi. But it’s always a difficult and expensive proposition to try and snag an assistant from Nick Saban’s staff, if not impossible in the case of a lateral move.
Whatever happens, I wouldn’t expect it to happen quickly. As we all know and have witnessed, any Georgia defense remains primarily Kirby Smart’s. While Tucker was fully in charge of Georgia’s D these last three years, it was evident whenever the defense huddled up on the side of the field during timeouts at pivotal moments, it was always the Bulldogs’ head coach that was doing the talking and commanding the attention.
So you should know when you start hearing and reading names about great defensive coordinators who have established reputations at other places — like Bud Foster and John Chavis and Dave Wommack — that it’s only silly conjecture spewed out either by agents or excited basement bloggers.
No, Tucker’s successor is going to have to be someone like Tucker. That is, a strong leader who is comfortable in his own skin, knows defense but lacks ego and speaks fluent Kirby.
Those guys are hard to find.