Mel Tucker won’t say the situation was easy, necessarily.
But Tucker said when it came time to decide on returning to the Jaguars, the decision wasn’t about easy, but what was right. And he said this, too:
As far as his dedication to the Jaguars? His belief in his new boss?
On those issues, there should be no question.
Tucker, the Jaguars’ interim head coach the last five games this past season, on Friday signed a contract to remain with the organization as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator under Mike Mularkey, who on Wednesday was named the Jaguars’ third permanent head coach.
“I’m all in, 100 percent, moving forward,” Tucker said Friday. “I respect the decision that was made. Everyone who was involved, I told them that. And I mean that.
“I think Mike Mularkey is a great choice. He’s the right coach for this team at this time. I support the decision 100 percent, and I’m going to support him.”
Tucker, who interviewed for the permanent head coaching position last week and who also interviewed with the Vikings for an assistant’s position this week, was one of three assistants Friday officially announced as being on Mularkey’s staff, with the others being offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and defensive line coach Joe Cullen. Mark Duffner has also agreed to return to the team as linebackers coach but has yet to sign his contract.
For the Jaguars’ defense, it was a day about maintaining continuity, with Tucker, Cullen and Duffner all critical members of a staff that helped the unit improve from No. 28 in the NFL in 2010 to No. 6 this past season.
“It’s great to be part of a new beginning here, and very excited to be part of the Jaguars family and Coach Mularkey’s staff,” Cullen said. “I’m excited to get going. It’s a great deal to keep some continuity for the players, but it’s not so much about the continuity, but the people involved – great people. They’re good at what they do. Coach Tucker’s done a great job. Coach Duff has done a great job. It’s a great opportunity for us to be together and continue some of the things he’s done.”
Cullen and Tucker each met with Mularkey extensively Thursday.
“He was down to earth, a football coach,” Cullen said of Mularkey. “You can tell he loves coaching. He loves being in the meetings, developing players. That said a lot. I know people who know him who always have been excited about how his teams play.
“You can tell he’s a genuine person who will look you in the eye and enjoy coaching football.”
Said Tucker, “He’s a great person, high character and wants to do things the right way. He’s a winner. We share some very similar values. That was first and foremost to me. He wanted me here. Those were major factors.”
Mularkey said he was immediately impressed with Tucker, and that in Tucker’s case, assistant head coach will be more than a title. Mularkey said he discussed things meeting with Tucker he might not say to other assistants, something Mularkey said he did to let Tucker know “how important his role is on this football team.”
“Mel and I are a lot alike,” Mularkey said. “Sometimes, you just have to sit down and have a one on one and talk through some things and make sure you see things eye to eye. That was easy with Mel and me. . . . I think it’s a good relationship that will continue to grow.”
Tucker said he will have “some input” into filling out the defensive staff, and Mularkey said Tucker’s contribution to the process will be significant.
“Philosophically, doing things right is important to Coach Mularkey and it’s very important to me,” Tucker said. “It all starts there. Everything starts from there.”
Tucker, who coached the Jaguars to a 2-3 record as interim coach, said while there was disappointment in not being named head coach, “I try not to get too high or too low.”
“If I was to say I was not disappointed, that would be disingenuous, but I have to move on quickly and make decisions on where we go from here,” said Tucker, the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator the past three seasons. “That’s all part of the process. It’s not the first time I’ve been disappointed and it won’t be the last. It’s how you handle it.
“I choose to look at the positives here in Jacksonville and ultimately, all the positives here in Jacksonville were why I decided I want to continue coaching here and put in 100 percent of my efforts to this organization.”
Tucker said he believes returning to Jacksonville will be the right move, one he said will allow him an opportunity to put into practice adages he long has emphasized to players.
“I’m a low-ego guy,” Tucker said. “That’s how I am. I’m always going to be that guy, but it’s important to practice what you preach. I preach to players to control what you can control. You’re only as good as your next play. That’s how I’m handling the situation.”
Tucker called his week one of decision-making and reflection.
“It was a good time, because I was able to realize and remind myself of what’s important to me as a person and my family,” Tucker said. “Ultimately, Jacksonville is the right pace for us right now. I had to weigh some factors. Ultimately, the picture became very clear that this was where I needed to be.”
Tucker said players reached out and texted him upon his return.
“This football team I believe is very, very close,” he said. “There’s unfinished business in Jacksonville, and I want to be a part of it. . . We’ve laid a foundation defensively here. I’m looking forward to building on that foundation. We have some good players here, some great players and great people. We understand in order for us to win here we have to play great defense. With that being said, there’s still unfinished business in that regard. I’m looking forward to getting back to work. . . .
“I’m here to help the Jaguars. I’m here to help Coach Mularkey. I believe in him. I believe in (Jaguars General Manager) Gene Smith. I believe (Jaguars Owner) Shad Khan. I believe in these players. I believe in everyone here at EverBank. I want to be a part of it. I want to have a role in helping us win a championship. That’s what I’m most excited about. I’m here to serve.”