LOGAN, Utah – Anthony Tucker didn’t always want to be a football coach. But, after answering the call of a close friend asking him to help coach a southern California high school team nearly 15 years ago, he’s never looked back.
Tucker never saw himself joining the coaching ranks, but it wasn’t because of a lack of success as a player. After an accomplished career as a receiver at Fresno State, Tucker tried his talents at the next level. He signed as a free agent with the New York Giants in 1999 and earned a practice squad spot in 2000. He later played for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe in 2001 and signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2002 before suffering a career-ending injury.
Nineteen years later, Tucker is now in his first season as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Utah State, officially joining the program December.
Tucker joined the Aggies after being a part of the coaching staff at Central Florida from 2018-20, most recently as the team’s co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach. He also spent two seasons (2016-17) as the running backs coach at Maryland after working on recently-hired USU head coach Blake Anderson’s staff at Arkansas State for three seasons (2013-15) as the running backs and wide receivers coach. Prior to his time in Jonesboro, Ark., Tucker spent two seasons (2011-12) as the wide receivers coach at Idaho State, and one season (2010) as an offensive technical assistant at Colorado.
We recently caught up with Tucker for a Q&A.
Q: What have the first few months on the job been like for you, and what has the transition been like?
Tucker: “The transition’s been really smooth, really because of a ton of pre-existing relationships on the staff. That process is really easy being that I worked for coach Anderson before, and worked with a number of the guys on the staff. As far as the transition to the school, everybody has been great and welcoming. Everybody’s excited. As far as with the team, it’s been about as easy of a transition as you could imagine. Transition is usually harder for the guys than it is for the coaches, I think, but we’ve had absolutely no push-back. Everyone’s excited and we’ve had great effort. The accountability is the best that I’ve ever been around, and we have a great bunch of guys.”
Q: Tell us about the offensive staff as a whole.
Tucker: “First, I’ll talk about the guys that I haven’t worked with before. DJ Tialavea has an unbelievable presence with the team, and he has great relationships with his players. He’s really sharp, highly motivated and has a great work ethic. He has, and will, continue to provide a lot of insight and input into what we’re doing from personnel to recruiting to what we’re doing offensively. I’m really excited about him. He really fits in well with our staff and what coach Anderson wants from the environment. The same can be said about Chuckie Keeton. Utah State is a very important place for both of those guys, and they have a lot invested in this place. It means something more because this is part of their foundation, so it’s always good to have guys like that who are invested and who were invested long before we got here. They can obviously provide us with insight to some things regionally and about the program, and they just have a great feel of the pulse of this place, where it’s come from and where it’s going. They believe in it. All of the things that I said about DJ I can say about Chuckie, as well. He was highly successful here as a player. Any time I’ve been in the community with him, people knock me down to get to him because people love him here. He’s had great visibility here as a player and people appreciate him for what he’s given to the program, and he’s transitioned to that as a coach.
“Kyle Cefalo, the receivers coach, is one of the best receivers coaches I’ve been around. I have a long-standing relationship with him going way back when I started coaching and he was a player. That relationship I had with him as a player grew and we’ve worked with each other and he’s really become one of my best friends now. We’re really aligned with who we are as coaches and who we are as people. We have great communication and it doesn’t interfere with our relationship. I think the fact that we have a strong understanding of who we are makes our working relationship easier. He’s a great teacher and great motivator. He’s got a ton of energy and he’s really skilled at developing receivers. Everywhere he’s been he’s had success with what he’s done, and he’s also really good with checks and balances as far as helping me streamline certain things.
“Offensive line coach Micah James, he’s another guy that I have a good relationship, and someone that I’ve worked with, I’ve known him for eight years now. We’ve worked together at different stops, so we speak the same language. He’s a great teacher, he has really good relationships with our players, he demands a lot, and he has high standards. He makes my job easier because there’s nothing lost in translation. He’s a great person to be around.
“Michael Gibbs, who came with me from UCF, he is in an analyst role. I have a room full of offensive guys, and they all have great chemistry with each other.”
Q: Why was Utah State the right fit for you?
Tucker: “First and foremost, coach Anderson. I believe in his vision of how he builds a program, and I’ve seen him do it first-hand. I believe in his approach every day. I’ve learned a lot from him with how he deals with his staff, how he shows up to work every single day. He’s the same guy that I met at the end of 2013, and I always believed that he has a great balance between a motivator, while also being a great pillar of discipline. He does a great job of making sure that our staff and our players, most importantly, are enjoying themselves. He demands a lot of everyone, but he manages to enjoy the work. It can become redundant, and it can become a little bit mentally tiring if you’re not balancing things the right way and that’s where you can end up losing your team. I played in this region, I played in the old version of this conference, so I understand what Utah State football is. We competed against the Aggies when we were at Arkansas State. I’ve seen where this program has come from and the success that they’ve had, and it isn’t far removed from a lot of success. It isn’t a downtrodden program or anything like that, we’re just here to take it in a different direction and to get it back to where it was. It’s a place that’s had success.”
Q: What are your priorities for the Aggie offense during spring practice?
Tucker: “Really, the goal is beyond the scheme and all those types of things. We want guys to get to a point where they understand what we’re trying to bring. I think the word culture gets overused at times, but getting guys to buy in to our standard of how we want to do things. That’s not a slight to how things were done here before because they’ve had success, but it’s just a new way to do it. We want our guys to play really hard. We don’t want anyone to ever be in better shape than us. We don’t want anyone to play harder than us. We want to play with a great confidence in how we approach every day in practice and not wasting a day. You only get 13 of the 15 days really to put in some good work, so this time is really about building a good foundation before they go into summer workouts and we start getting prepared for the season. That way, by the time we hit August, there’s no confusion on what it is that’s expected in how you show up every day and how we work. I think a lot of that can get lost, so we have to make sure as coaches that we’re building the foundation the right way, because it’s hard to go back.”
Q: Can you give Aggie fans an idea of what they will see on the field from this offense come next fall?
Tucker: “We want to make sure that teams have to defend every blade of that grass. There’s a certain freedom that we want to have in the offense that creates excitement. We’re going to run the football, we’re going to throw the football, we’re going to make sure that we’re taking advantage of whatever it is that we’re facing. We want to bring an exciting brand of offense. There have been great offenses here. More or less, we’re going to attack every blade of grass and we’re not going to be conservative. The object of offense is to score points and that’s it. We’re going to spread the field and we’re going to play at a high rate. That’s what coach Anderson’s done in the years that he’s had success, and coming here with coach Anderson, we’re aligned perfectly offensively in what we want to accomplish. We want to make sure that we utilize our skills. We’ve got big guys, we’ve got guys who can play out on the edges, we have capable quarterbacks, we just have to continue to establish that foundation and get those guys ready.”
Q: Can you talk about the pace you want to play at? Watching practice is impressive with the speed that the team plays at and the energy the players and coaches have.
Tucker: “I think that was part of the strategy with coach Anderson when we were hired and brought here, because it’s not something that had to be taught to the coaches. It’s more or less our team reflecting the coaches’ energy. It really goes back to how we get our work done, and when you have a bunch of coaches that are standing around and watching, it’s hard for that to be reflected the right way in your players. Our urgency in our meetings, how we train in our weight room, how we train on the football field, it’s all about urgency and how you get your job done. We want to try to make practices harder so that the game slows down. Our goal is that when we show up on Saturdays, other teams have to attempt to match our urgency and our intensity. We’re not playing to someone else’s standard, we have our standard and it’s up to our opponent to match our intensity and our urgency in how we play. We also want to be the team that’s in the best shape. Games aren’t one quarter, sometimes they’re not 60 minutes, they’re as long as it takes to win, so we want to make sure we have that gas in the tank. Everything that we do is at the same tempo. It’s how we meet, how we are in the weight room, everything is mirrored.”
Q: What excites you the most when talking about this team and preparing for games this fall?
Tucker: “How excited and bought-in everyone is at such an early stage. Even from practice one to practice two, we’ve seen guys be coachable and take what we did in the winter workouts into practice one, and then take another step during practice two. If we can continue to have those incremental gains with players doing what we’re asking with zero push-back, that’s exciting. They’re excited and it makes us excited. It’s hard to motivate guys that don’t want to be motivated. We’ve showed them our way of doing things, and they’ve been all-in since day one, which is awesome.”
Q: What got you into coaching and why do you enjoy it so much?
Tucker: “What got me into it was one of my close friends in southern California took over one of the high school programs down there and he kept trying to get me to come out and help him. I didn’t want to do it, but then, finally, he kind of broke me down, so I just went out one day during spring football. I had no desire to ever be a coach, I didn’t know it was in me, but I went out and I’ve never stopped showing up after that first day. The thing that I loved about it then is the thing that I love about it now, it’s having an opportunity to be around young people and to serve and give back, so to speak. It’s more than just in football. The relationships, the mentorships, the guidance, the tough love, seeing guys develop, there’s so much more to football than the guy that goes on to get a scholarship out of high school and goes on to the highest level. I love teaching, I love watching development. I’ve coached long enough now where there are some of the guys that I started off coaching who are married and have kids now, guys that have transitioned from the NFL to real life. Every now and then I’ll get an email or a phone call and they’re reflecting on something that you said to them or something that you may not even remember that got through. Those are the same things that I love about it now that I did then, just the purity of it. Coaching high school ball is a thankless job, really. You’re not getting paid much or anything like that, so those are the things that you enjoy. Even in just the little time we’ve been here, seeing guys develop, that’s what it’s all about.”
Q: What do you enjoy doing when you are not coaching football?
Tucker: “I went snowboarding a couple weeks ago. In this area of the United States where there are so many things to do outdoors, I’d like to take advantage of that a little bit more. I’m really into boxing, and I enjoy watching boxing and MMA. I’m a foodie, so if I have time, I’ll find a restaurant that I haven’t been to. I like a lot of different types of foods. Not a lot of people know this, but I bought a guitar last year and I’m trying to teach myself how to play the guitar. I like a lot of home improvement projects. Where I was living before, I remodeled my kitchen by myself. Tearing down drywall, putting up new backsplashes, re-finishing cabinetry and hardware. I watch a lot of HGTV and I’m on YouTube researching different things. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and working on my car. I like watching all sports, but if boxing is on, I’ll probably click over to that. I’m a little bit of a boxing historian.”
Fans can follow the Aggie football program at twitter.com/USUFootball or on Facebook at Utah State Football, as well as on Instagram at instagram.com/USUFootball. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics or on Facebook at Utah State University Athletics.