On the NFL
February 15, 2013
New coaches sell change the way politicians sell hope.
It is their snake oil, and they often find desperate customers in their teams' executive offices as well as in the stands of the stadiums they call home.
It is what new coaches do because that's how they make themselves relevant.
And then there is Mel Tucker.
This is a coach who is secure enough and smart enough to know it's not about him or about his stamp on the defense.
Tucker is that rare coach who sells the status quo.
That's what the defensive coordinator did as he held court with the Chicago media for the first time Thursday in the Payton Center at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.
The status quo on the Bears defense is pretty good.
"It was exciting to see," Tucker said of watching the Bears defense for the first half of last season. "They played a relentless style. They were very, very passionate. They played for each other, they played hard and physical. You like that and want to continue that, build on it and take it further."
The way to do that, in his estimation, is to continue to follow the plan of former coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
That means running a 4-3 defense with an "attacking, penetrating front."
That means retaining two defensive assistants, Jon Hoke and Mike Phair, from Smith's staff, in part because he admires their coaching acumen and in part because they can help with continuity.
That means maintaining the same terminology the previous regime used.
That means embracing veterans who might have strong ideas about how things should be run and whose loyalty might not be earned easily.
Said Tucker, "Veteran leadership, guys who know the system, guys who know what it's all about, guys who have been through the wars — that's a positive."
He wants to earn their trust and he knows it will be a day-to-day process. Instead of laying down the law and telling old-timers like outside linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman how it's going to be, Tucker is interested in hearing what his elder statesmen have to say.
"Input from the players is huge," he said. "You want to encourage players to give you feedback."
Whether 34-year old Brian Urlacher is one of those players Tucker will seek out remains to be seen. Tucker was noncommittal about the free agent, as was head coach Marc Trestman.
But the fact the status quo is being embraced to the degree it is might mean the door is not yet shut on the middle linebacker's return.
Perhaps if Tucker, Trestman and general manager Phil Emery conclude the defense can be at its best in 2013 with Urlacher, they will try to make that happen.
Tucker is about getting results now, which explains why he is not burning down the Cover-2 bridge and why he is learning a new language instead of asking all the returning defenders to conform to his.
"It's important to be able to hit the ground running," he said. "I've done 4-3, I've done 3-4. You want to look at the group of guys you have and say, 'How can I get this group up and running as fast as possible?'
"It's not about me; it's about what these players can do right now. These guys were playing at a fairly high level in the scheme they were playing. We need to get better obviously.
"But it would be more effective for me to learn their terminology than for me to scrap everything they have done and bring in something that is totally new. Quite frankly, it's really just terminology. There is a lot of carry-over from what I've done in Jacksonville and other places and what they have done here. … What I want to do is take a look at it, evaluate it and see how we can take it farther."
Tucker is the most important assistant on Trestman's staff in the same way Terry Shea, Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice were the most important assistants on Lovie Smith's staffs when they were his offensive coordinators.
He might have the most difficult job of all the Bears assistants. Certainly, the bar is set higher for him than it is for anyone else on staff.
Yet he is changing neither himself nor his defense in an attempt to make everything fit. He's just letting it flow.
That's because Tucker isn't coming to Chicago with the idea of using the Bears defense as a springboard to become a head coach.
Which is precisely why it could work out that way.
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