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A moment to remember

Posted Dec 11, 2011

Tucker receives game ball after emotional victory over Buccaneers

Mel Tucker did everything he could not to get emotional.

That’s because since taking over as Jaguars interim coach 12 days ago, if Tucker has been consistent about one thing, it has been this:

This job he has been given? His task at hand? It’s not about him.

To Tucker, the last 12 days have been about doing things right, about doing whatever was possible to allow the Jaguars players to get the benefit from doing things right, and because that was the focus, he said he hasn’t taken time to worry about how things effect him personally.

That changed on Sunday afternoon, if only for a moment.

Because when running back Maurice Jones-Drew approached Tucker with the game ball following a 41-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at EverBank Field, and when Tucker looked  behind Jones-Drew and saw a smiling Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver, and when he saw Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith smiling just beyond Weaver . . .

Well, at that point, the scene was just too much. So, did Tucker cry? Yeah, Tucker cried.

One tear.

That, he said later with a smile, was all he allowed.

“I tried to get it back in there, but I was exposed,” he said.

And you know what? Good for Tucker. Good for the Jaguars. A good moment on Sunday, and a really good day. The nature of the interim coaching title is uncertainty, but whatever the future, a good thing happened to a good person Sunday.

 Afterward, Tucker spoke of the moment when he received the game ball from Jones-Drew. He said it wasn’t so much about getting his first victory as an NFL head coach, but about the players and the entire organization taking time to acknowledge it.

“You might not always be liked, but to be respected for what you do as a coach and for who you are – for someone like Maurice to make that gesture on behalf of the team . . .” Tucker said.

His voice tailed off.

So, you weren’t expecting it? he was asked.

“No. I absolutely was not expecting that. I was really just thinking about trying to get these guys in the mindset of getting these guys ready for the next game. I was trying to relay how I felt about it, that it was a great team win, but that we expected to do that. We have great players. We prepare well and we felt we could execute against these guys. You don’t want to get too high. It was a great team win, a great  team win and you want to move on.”

When Tucker saw Jones-Drew and Weaver and Smith and the entire team, he said, “You realize how important it is to so many people.”

Jones-Drew, for his part, said he started thinking about getting Tucker the game ball late in the game, after the Jaguars had turned a 14-0 first-half deficit into a 41-14 lead and their fourth victory of the season.

“I’ve gotten close with Mel over the last couple of years,” Jones-Drew said. “For me, it was exciting. All the hard work I’ve seen him put in the defense when the defense wasn’t doing well, then this year with all of the injuries and guys just stepping in and making plays – to see him continue that, it’s exciting.

“We were all happy for him, then to put the gold chain on him made it even better.”

In a very real sense, the victory Sunday couldn’t have come in more fitting circumstances for Tucker. From the time he took over as interim head coach, he has stressed doing things right. His message last week to players in the wake of a 38-14 loss to San Diego?

That while the loss hurt, the loss didn’t mean they hadn’t prepared properly.

The last 12 days around the Jaguars have been about change, but they also have been about Tucker  doing everything in his control to change the culture of the building, to ensure that the Jaguars’ practice habits, their daily approach, their mindset is what it should be.

So, in that sense, how fitting was what happened Sunday?

A special teams touchdown. An offensive touchdown. A defensive touchdown. A career-high four touchdowns by Jones-Drew. The best day of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s career. Five turnovers forced by the defense. A franchise-record seven turnovers forced overall.

This was a team effort for a coach who has stressed team for the last two weeks, for a coach who has said good things will happen if things are done right.

But maybe the most fitting thing for the Jaguars on Sunday was that they did all of those things after trailing the Buccaneers 14-0.

Remember? Early in the second quarter. Things around EverBank looked as bleak as the day, and to the cynical among us, Tucker’s first victory seemed unlikely. The Jaguars, after all, had yet to score 21 points in a game during the season, and they had averaged just over 12.5 points a game.

This was not a team that had quit on the season, or had tuned out its coach . . .

Well, that sort of team maybe turns in a rough final three quarters and the tone afterward is much different. The Jaguars haven’t been that sort of team all season, and they said throughout this past week that outside criticism aside, they weren’t going to turn into that kind of a team over the last month of the season. On Sunday, they backed up those words in a memorable way, and gave a celebrating, rain-soaked crowd a quarter they won’t soon forget.

And as a result, they got to give their interim coach a moment he’ll remember a while, too.

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