COLUMBIA — Tiger tight ends coach Bruce Walker feels like he connects with his players on a deeper level.
“You see (Martin) Ruck and Chase (Coffman) are both from northwest Missouri and I am from the northwest part of the United States so we have that northwest combination going on.”
Walker’s off-the-wall sense of humor might fly over the heads of some, but it has caught on with his players.
In fact, the mere mention of Walker to senior tight end Martin Rucker caused him to chuckle before giving a response.
“He’s a unique guy, very down to earth and just a good guy,” Rucker said. “He’s a jack-of-all-trades who knows a little bit about everything.”
Another of those trades is coaching the Tiger tight ends, which include two of the nation’s best in Rucker and junior Chase Coffman. When Walker is not keeping the mood light at Tiger practices, he’s molding the talents of Rucker and Coffman, two players he thinks make his job less difficult.
“If you have good players it’s easy to be a good coach,” Walker said. “People think I just stand around and clap for them and hand them water but I make sure they work hard.”
Walker’s coaching style calls for keeping things loose at all times. Whether something is totally off subject or somehow football related, Walker has a way of keeping the tight end drills fun.
“One thing we preach around here is enthusiasm, and that it can overcome anything,” Rucker said. “So he always makes a joke or something like that.”
Walker is in his 12th season working with Pinkel, including five in Ohio when Pinkel was the head coach of Toledo. Walker joined Pinkel’s staff in 1996 and has had his share of talented players, but it’s the things away from the field that make the relationship between he and his two tight ends so good.
“It’s as good a relationship as I have had with any players in 20 years of coaching college football,” Walker said. They’re good people to be around, work hard and are good competitors, which coaches always like.”
Pinkel notes that the coach takes accountability for what his players do on the field. He has had a high caliber of talent to work with in the past, but Walker’s steps to turn that talent into something more are what stands out to his longtime colleague.
“He takes his relationships with his players very seriously, probably more than any other coach,” Pinkel said. His job is to have them playing at the highest level, and he’s done a great job with them.”
Walker has the utmost respect from his two star pupils, who credit Walker for getting them to concentrate on the basics to help them better their overall skills. Walker used Rucker’s exceptional play so far as an example. The two have not worked on anything new, but rather it is Walker’s emphasis on the simple things that has upped Rucker’s game.
“It’s a fundamental thing with us because we might not outrun people but we will be more physical than them,” Walker said. “He (Rucker) has done a great job with that.”
In the meantime, as his players continue to excel on the field, Walker will be there to guide them.
And his players will probably be laughing along the way.
“Some of them are the jokes you laugh at because they are funny, and some because they aren’t funny, so I guess he is funny all the time,” Rucker said.