BEREA — Mel Tucker’s most vivid memory of following the Browns as a kid was a Chiefs game at the old Stadium. He didn’t recall the season, but knew he was young and remembered what he saw.
“My dad held me up so I could see,” Tucker said. “Greg Pruitt ran up and down the field.”
Tucker, the new Browns defensive coordinator, was born in Cleveland and was an All-Ohio football player and a basketball standout at Cleveland Heights High School. He said his parents always made sure he was able to watch his favorite team play.
“Getting an opportunity like this right here in my hometown and growing up as a Browns fan, it’s incredible,” Tucker said Tuesday in his first interview since being promoted from defensive backs coach Jan. 12. “You dream about, first of all, playing for the Browns. I wasn’t fast enough to pull a hamstring, so that wasn’t possible. But to be able to coach for the Browns and be able to help is just a dream come true for me.”
Tucker replaced Todd Grantham, who was fired after three years on the job. If he’s intimidated by the increase in responsibility, he’s hiding it well.
“I feel confident in being prepared,” Tucker said. “I’ve been around some really good football coaches, some really good players and I have tried to pay close attention to what is going on around me.
“Over the years I have picked up some things and I pay close attention to defenses and how everyone fits together and how everything works. I feel pretty confident in what we can get done here.”
Tucker, 36, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1997. He spent four years coaching defensive backs and as co-coordinator at Ohio State before making the jump to the NFL with the Browns in 2005.
Before his interview, he had never met coach Romeo Crennel, but Crennel had heard good things about Tucker from an agent, other coaches and general manager Phil Savage, who met Tucker in 1997 in a Michigan State hallway on a scouting trip.
“He was energetic. He was organized and he had a plan,” Crennel said of Tucker. “He had a football plan as well as a life plan. I didn’t know him from Adam when I met him. But I was impressed with him after he walked out the door from the interview.”
After three years watching Tucker tutor the secondary, Crennel is convinced he’s ready to take the next step.
“Mel is a good, young coach,” Crennel said. “He coaches fundamentals very well. He understands schemes. He gets along well with the players and can deal with the players.”
Tucker will have his work cut out for him. The Browns allowed 23.9 points a game and 382 total, which was fifth most in team history and ranked 21st in the league. They allowed 5,753 net yards, which was second most in team history (6,046 in 1999) and 30th in the NFL. They were 27th against the run (129.5 yards), 24th versus the pass (230.1) and tied for 26th with 29 sacks.
“We have some talent on the defense,” Crennel said. “We just have to direct it better and get it to perform better.”
“Everything defensively is predicated on stopping the run,” Tucker said. “The first thing we have to do is solidify that.
“Stopping the run is about being consistent. That’s where our focus is going to be, to become more consistent with our run fits and our run force.”
Tucker said he’ll continue to use Crennel’s preferred 3-4 scheme and doesn’t expect much change structurally. The weekly game plan will be determined by the players’ strengths and weaknesses.
“If we feel like pressuring is the best thing for us, we’ll do that,” Tucker said. “The most important thing is we have to do what our players can do best — where they can play fast, they don’t have to think and they just can react, where they can be physical, where they can knock people back, make plays and have fun. Whatever we can do to make that happen, that’s what we’ll do.”
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