Mel Tucker and Darryl Drake: Or, the Balance Between Coaching and Talent

Scott Cunningham

The relationship between a coach and his talent is very similar to the "chicken and the egg" conundrum. How do Darryl Drake and Mel Tucker compare in results and talent?

One of the comparisons I've been seeing in the comments here at WCG with regards to the hiring of new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is to embattled (former) wide receivers' coach Darryl Drake. And usually these comparisons stem from the questions of the talent, or lack thereof, in their respective units, and how it's fair or not to judge Darryl Drake for not being able to develop any receivers with marginal talent (as given to him by prior GM Jerry Angelo) but to excuse Mel Tucker's defenses for not having very good talent.

There's three main ways to determine coaching results - team results, unit results, and player results, and within each their own measuring sticks.

You're not going to claim the Bears have had anything but serviceable at best talent prior to 2012, yet the Bears still stacked up some fairly good wins without dynamic receiver play. And Jacksonville's defense looked rough on the whole, yet when they aren't getting any help on offense, the defense is inevitably going to fail. Consider: Jacksonville on offense ran 994 plays, tied with the Redskins for 23rd, or 9th fewest, yet were on defense for 1100 plays, leading the league (Washington by comparison, 1031 - 4 above league average). But Jacksonville's yards-per-play allowed were 5.5, 12th highest in the league (and right above average) while the Redskins were at 5.9, tied for fourth most. On offense, Jacksonville's yards-per-play were the league's third-lowest at 4.8; the Redskins were at 6.2, second highest.

While the Bears and Jaguars' tales seem like very opposite stories, they both share the same common thread - neither unit influenced the outcome of the game too strongly. So when it comes to looking at individual coaching results, merely looking at team results doesn't tell the whole story. Jacksonville was 2-14. That's not all on Mel Tucker. The Bears were 10-6. Darryl Drake's receivers didn't get them there alone.

And that goes to unit results and player results. One of my favorite stats from the 2011 season was that Dane Sanzenbacher led the Bears' receiving corps with three touchdowns. Remember that, guys? Remember when we thought Earl Bennett was a great receiver waiting to happen?

Darryl Drake was given no talent to work with, so one could say he was in the untenable Mike Tice situation - making chicken salad out of you know the rest. But Phil Emery added Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and you could see how far behind the rest of the receivers were.

The dearth of talent is why Jerry Angelo was fired in 2011 and why Gene Smith was fired from Jacksonville. Those errors were answered for.

Veering off that for a second, I'd like to touch on coaching itself for a second - developing players and putting them in opportunities to succeed. And let's keep in mind quickly who we're talking about here - a wide receivers coach, generally a developmental role and helping with speciific adjustments in the gameplan, and a defensive coordinator, more geared towards scheming defenses as a whole to succeed against offenses as a whole. The two are responsible for vastly different roles, and thus, a direct comparison doesn't exactly work here.

Coaching can't work without talent, and talent doesn't develop without coaching. Talent never developed in Chicago under Drake, unless you want to count Berrian's contract with the Vikings or Johnny Knox's 960-yard, 51-catch season in 2010 - and until Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, there wasn't any talent to truly work with.

Coaching and talent have very much a "chicken/egg" relationship - does the great coach have great talent to mold, or does the great coach help bring the talent out? The argument for Tucker is one that isn't quite there for Drake, to be honest - if you give Tucker better players to coordinate, can he turn in better defensive performances than he did in Jacksonville? Drake's job is somewhat harder both for him to perform and for us to judge, in that it's tougher to develop veteran free agents like Roy Williams, and its results are also heavily dependent on the offensive coordinator and quarterback/offensive line performance.

Does it mean Drake was a bad coach? The results certainly weren't there. But if the talent wasn't, can you blame Drake? As a positional coach, how much can you hold Drake for the results on the field?

Is it talent, or is it coaching? In Tucker's case, we're hoping it was the former in Jacksonville.

Tucker's teams haven't been great, considering the Jags haven't been good really since 2007 - since then, they've topped a 20th-ranked scoring offense only once in five years, and that was 18th. They also haven't really hit on their draft picks at all; of their last four first-rounders, Eugene Monroe's been the most solid, and that was at offensive tackle in 2009. Tyson Alualu's been okay, but there's been a talent gap there forever. With a defense with a pair of Pro Bowlers at cornerback, Julius Peppers at end and Lance Briggs at linebacker, along with (hopefully!) a more consistent Marc Trestman offense, there's reason to think Tucker's problems have been largely personnel and that he'll improve as a coordinator.

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