A decade ago, Michigan State coach Mel Tucker looked like he was on his way to eventually becoming the head coach of the NFL. He eventually became uncomfortable with interview opportunities that seemed, to him, not real shots at getting a professional-level master coaching job.
For Tucker, doubt arose during his first interview, and persisted with each subsequent opening that was considered for him.
“I did an interview for Brown’s job in 2008 after they let Romeo [Crennel] Go, I admire,Is this an interview with Ronnie, or are they really thinking of me?‘” Tucker told Cork Gaines of Insider.com. Do I have a chance? And they say to you, ‘Yes, really, we’re not going to waste your time.’ Like, the guys love you man. You are a great coach. Our defense got better. “
Tucker suspected that it was an interview primarily intended to comply with the rule requiring all teams to interview at least one minority training candidate.
“[I thought] I was in,” Tucker told Jeans. “I was already there. I was at home. I was there. I knew [former Browns owner] Randy Lerner. He is a man of Shaker Heights. I am a young man in Cleveland Heights. What, what was that? Was that Rooney or what? “
Tucker said he suspected a similar situation in Jacksonville after the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
“So, I did an interview in Jacksonville after I was an interim coach,” Tucker told Jeans. “Was that Ronnie, or did I really have a shot at that job? Then the next year, they want to interview me again after they shoot [Mike] Molarkey after one season. . . . And I said, ‘Hey, man, I’m not interviewing for this job. Like, you don’t have to. I don’t get this job. We were terrible. I didn’t get it yet last year. You want me to do an interview again? I’m like, I’m not doing an interview.”
In the end, John Wootten, former CEO of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, persuaded Tucker to interview for a Jaguar job a second time.
“You have this pressure, you have this thing, as if you never know [if it is just a Rooney Rule interview],” Tucker said to Jeans. “How many of these interviews do you want to do? Because obviously you have to prepare for the interview. But besides that, you don’t want the job to be rejected either, do you?”
This is the problem for minority candidates who are invited for an interview under circumstances that suggest the team is simply selecting the check box. Do they get along with each other, thinking that they will eventually be set? Or do they risk becoming chronic runners-up who can never get a job, as the flow of rejection becomes a hindrance to winning a job as a master coach?
After two years working with the Bears as defensive coordinator, Tucker went to Alabama in 2015. By 2019, he was the head coach of the Colorado Club. A year later, the Spartans hired him. The 12-2 season made him Coach of the Year, and secured Tucker a 10-year contract worth $95 million.
Perhaps, if he continues to perform as he did, he will eventually get a real, real coaching interview with the NFL team. Perhaps, based on his own experiences, he will respectfully refuse.