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Tucker takes over Jaguars, gets coaching audition
JACKSONVILLE, FLA. (AP) - Jacksonville Jaguars interim coach Mel Tucker spent part of the season using crutches and an electric scooter. Nowadays, he has recovered enough from a torn quadriceps muscle to be limping around.
His defense has been even more banged up.
The Jaguars (3-8) have three defensive starters on injured reserve, including both starting cornerbacks, and have been without several other key players on that side of the ball in recent weeks. There's hasn't been a noticeable drop-off, a credit to what Tucker has accomplished in his first season in control of the unit.
In short, Tucker has convinced the Jaguars he is one of the NFL's young, ascending coaches. What he does over the next five games, beginning Monday night against reeling San Diego, will determine whether he will replace fired coach Jack Del Rio on a permanent basis.
"I think Mel has been one of the bright spots of our football team this year, taking charge of the defense and calling the defensive plays," owner Wayne Weaver said. "I was very explicit with Mel that it's an interim position, that at the end of the season we're going to conduct ... a very extensive coaching search to make sure that we bring in someone that can help us really build this franchise and return to what we expect _ into a winning franchise.
"I did assure Mel that he would have an opportunity to be interviewed for the job, and I think he certainly deserves that and he's earned that."
Tucker's promotion was welcomed news in Jacksonville's locker room on an otherwise tough day Tuesday, with players praising him for his attention to detail and his no-nonsense attitude.
"What you see with him and what he says, that's him," linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "He's very true to that. He doesn't try to put on a show or an act of anything like that. He's very true with the way he presents himself and the things that he says."
Del Rio hired Tucker as his defensive coordinator in 2009, but Del Rio mostly handled the calls during Tucker's first two years. That changed in January, when Weaver told Del Rio to give play-calling duties.
The defense hasn't been the same since.
The unit was one of the worst in the league the last two seasons, failing to pressure quarterbacks and struggling to slow down anyone on the back end.
The turnaround wasn't all Tucker's doing.
The Jaguars spent more than $100 million in free agency to upgrade a defense that ranked 28th in the league last season and allowed a franchise record 419 points. They signed Posluszny, fellow linebacker Clint Session, defensive end Matt Roth, cornerback Drew Coleman and safety Dewan Landry. They also traded for safety Dwight Lowery.
Tucker had little time to get them to gel, but he made it work better than anyone expected.
Jacksonville's defense has held seven of its 11 opponents under 300 yards, giving the offensively challenged team a chance to win every game. The unit, which ranks fourth in the league in total defense, has forced at least one turnover in five consecutive games. Recently, they have remained stout despite losing Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox and Session for the season, and playing without Roth and fellow defensive linemen Terrance Knighton and Aaron Kampman.
"Good players make a good coach," Tucker said. "I believe in keeping it simple, simple enough where we can line up and play fast and we can be relentless and we can be aggressive. But we have enough where we can be confident in regards to covering whatever we need to cover, whatever offenses throw at us, multiple sets, things like that.
"The thing that you'll see when you watch our defense is that they play with great technique and fundamentals. They play hard, they're relentless, they play through the echo of the whistle and those are things we believe in and those are things we emphasize every day, and you get what you emphasize."
Tucker, 39, began his coaching career as a a graduate assistant at Michigan State under Nick Saban in 1997. He coached defensive backs at Miami (Ohio), LSU and Ohio State before moving to the NFL with the Cleveland Browns in 2005. He was Cleveland's secondary coach for three years before getting promoted to defensive coordinator.
Having never been a head coach, Tucker doesn't plan on getting overly involved with the offense.
After all, the last time he stepped out of his realm, he painfully injured his leg while playfully fielding punts in practice.
Nonetheless, he knows this is a big opportunity.
"I'm always motivated to do the best that I can, and right now, my focus is on these next five weeks to do everything that I possibly can to get this team prepared to play," Tucker said. "There's a certain brand of football that we need to show out there. It's relentless, it's attention to detail, it's high effort, it's high energy, it's high impact. Those are things that we're going to work on.
"In terms of my future as a head coach, that's for another day. ... Only time will tell what opportunities I will have in the future, but I am confident and comfortable where I am right now."
By John R. Bolton
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