Mel Tucker’s first defense of his defense typically comes minutes after games, in the Soldier Field room reserved for family members. His wife’s relative, Uncle Dicky, a South-Side retired military man and cop, is the first to grill the Bears coordinator.“It’s like my first media session of the week,” Tucker said Tuesday with a smile.
His wife Jo-Ellyn went to Bremen High School in Midlothian. His mother-in-law, who lives with the Tuckers, is a Bears fan. So are his two boys and two dogs, he joked.
“There’s a little bit of, y’know, ‘You spend all that time over there and that’s the best you can do?’ type of thing,” Tucker said with a smile. “We work through it. No one is happy at this time about where we are.
That includes Tucker, who doesn’t sleep as much during the season as it is.
He’s staring down likely his last game as the Bears’ defensive coordinator.
After surviving a thorough examination by his bosses last offseason, Tucker’s team has allowed 28.6 points per game, the most in the NFL. Only the Saints and Falcons have given up more than the Bears’ 381.5 yards per game.
He said he wasn’t satisfied with this season, but that he probably never will be such a moment, even in the best of times.
“Probably just the biggest thing is that we didn’t win enough games,” he said. “Because really that’s the bottom line. And for me and all of us, that’s the most disappointing thing.”
The difference is typically one small factor, he said, adding that he couldn’t “pinpoint just one thing” that disappointed him the most. The Bears’ pass defense is second-worst in the NFL, while their run defense is 16th. That’s the inverse of last season, when the run defense was the worst and pass defense was No. 15.
Coach Marc Trestman praised the consistent effort put forth by Tucker’s unit.
“We see him working and trying to create an effort to get the job done,” he said. “I think the guys in the room really respect the work that he’s done in that regard.”
Say this for Tucker, though: the Bears’ much-needed youth movement on defense has helped replenish a roster beset by age and injury.
Assuming David Bass starts for the injured Willie Young, Tucker will take the field Sunday in Minnesota with five first- or second-year players in a starting role. At least five more — including rookie defensive tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson — have been steady contributors this season.
Tucker said “every single one of those guys” has improved this season.
He credited his two tenants of developing players — environment and expectation. The former means coaches expect the same thing regardless of who plays, and who they play against. The latter features coaches that send players home each night knowing more about football.
“We just try to get (young players) as good as we can get them fast as we can get them there,” he said. “We were just talking to them today —and we tell them this all the time — ‘Look, nobody cares at all about how much experience you have, if you’re sore, if you’re sick, if you’re a rookie. Nobody cares.’
“The bottom line is, we have to go out there and play winning football.”
The Bears haven’t done that often enough.
“The expectation never changed,” he said. “It never did. It’s the expectation we have. If we didn’t live up to it, then you’re not happy about it. You work to get to it and you work to get better.”
And you don’t take it home with you.
Asked how a disappointing season has effected his holiday, Tucker told a story about what his first boss, Nick Saban, told he and his Jo-Ellyn when he was a graduate assistant in 1997.
“It’s not just a profession,” he said. “it’s a lifestyle.”
Just ask Uncle Dicky.