Bears stick with Mel Tucker as defensive coordinator
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter January 12, 2014 8:18PM
The Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker during practice at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 14, 2014 6:26AM
The past is filled with long runs by running backs, missed tackles, poor coverage and blown assignments. It includes ugly, game-costing gaffes against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17.
But the Bears’ decision to retain defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is more about the future, as painful as it might be to swallow the unit’s horrid 2013 season.
“We believe Mel is the right person to lead our defensive unit,” Trestman said Sunday in a statement. “He fully understands where we need to improve, has the skill set and leadership to oversee the changes that need to be made and to execute our plan to get the results we know are necessary.”
Tucker, though, will be searching for new assistants after the Bears fired defensive line coach Mike Phair (a holdover from Lovie Smith’s tenure) and linebackers coach Tim Tibesar (a former staff member of Trestman’s in Montreal).
Keeping Tucker is more about what the Bears’ brass thinks and what Tucker thinks he can accomplish next season given different players and the freedom to fully implement his own system. He ran Smith’s defense this season, but without many of Smith’s players because of serious injuries.
Tucker’s meetings with Trestman and Emery might have been like second interviews. The Bears’ defense was destined for an overhaul with or without him.
What schematic changes does Tucker have in mind? What plans does he have for Shea McClellin, whose run with the Bears has reached a crossroads? Which free agents would he like to re-sign or target on the market?
Tucker apparently had the right answers as the defense attempts to rebound from a season that saw the Bears allow team records for points, total yards and rushing yards.
The timing of the announcement pertains to the future, too. Practices for the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla., start Monday, and practices for the more prestigious Senior Bowl open next Monday in Mobile, Ala. Tucker’s input will be crucial.
Another important factor is that Tucker, by some accounts, was able to reach some of Lovie’s loyalists and defensive leaders, who are signed past this season. That includes linebacker Lance Briggs, whom Trestman and Emery intentionally commended earlier this month.
If there ever was a discord between Briggs and Tucker this season, Trestman never felt it.
“I didn’t see any of that, and I have a pretty good sense for those things,” Trestman said earlier this month at the Bears’ season-ending news conference. “The thing about Lance is he’s in a position where he would be able to speak up, and I know him. He and Mel were constantly talking throughout the season and not only growing on the football side, but in terms of just their relationship man-to-man.”
All the injuries the defense suffered helped Tucker’s case, and defensive players seemed to agree that Tucker handled them well.
“I thought Mel did an exceptional job,” cornerback Charles Tillman said. “We had a lot of injuries on defense. I don’t think anyone got hurt on offense. He did a really good job despite all the injuries we had.”
On top of it, players who figure to have prominent roles with the Bears next season believe in Tucker. McClellin called him “a great coach” and didn’t believe the criticisms of him were fair. Cornerback Tim Jennings said the players failed to execute for Tucker.
“He has full support of the defense,” Jennings said. “It’s unfortunate he got the raw end of the stick with the injuries and what he had to deal with and make work. And I think we still did a fairly good job.”