The Cincinnati Bearcats finished 9-4 in 2013 and boasted a defense that ranked in the nation's top 10 in rushing defense and total defense. Yet, Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville cut ties with defensive coordinator Art Kaufman. Kaufman is now Cal's defensive coordinator and brings with him reasons for optimism and reasons for pause. Yes, Kaufman was successful in making the Bearcats' defense a stout one. But why would a veteran coach like Tuberville let a guy like Kaufman walk away after one season, and a successful one at that?
To answer this and other questions, we picked the brain of Matt Opper of Down the Drive.
California Golden Blogs: Art Kaufman has been a successful D-Coordinator pretty much everywhere he's been. Yet, Tommy Tuberville let him go. Why?
Matt Opper: In a phrase, his recruiting wasn't up to snuff. Tuberville prides himself on putting together a staff that can grind on the recruiting trail, and Kaufman wasn't getting it done on that aspect. The process at UC is similar to the process at other schools. Coaches go out, do the leg work and the heavy lifting to find "their guys." When the staff comes together at the end of may to come up with the board they are supposed to present and fight for their guys. Kaufman and another since departed coach never fought for their guys because they very rarely had guys to present. That didn't work for Tubs so he dropped Kaufman and brought in Hank Hughes. If Hughes proves to be as reticent in recruiting he too will be on his way after a year at Cincinnati.
California Golden Blogs: Describe the type of defense that Kaufman installed at UC. Which, if any, position on the field is the key to the defense's success?
Matt Opper: Miami 4-3. That is not the whole story, but it is a pretty good starting point. Tuberville has always had defensive coordinators who run some variation of the scheme that he used to win three national championships at Miami. Kaufman actually got his start at Miami when Tubs was the defensive coordinator so its no surprise that Kaufman is firmly on that Jimmy Johnson defensive coaching tree with Tubs. Last season the Bearcats blitzed a little bit more often than Kaufman wanted to, but that was down to personnel as much as anything. Under Butch Jones the Bearcats blitzed a ton so the linebackers were a bit out of their comfort zone in coverage to start the year. As Kaufman integrated more blitzes the defense settled into a pretty good group.
California Golden Blogs: What is Kaufman's demeanor as a coach? Was he well-liked by players?
Matt Opper: Kaufman has that laid back southern style to him. He isn't afraid to yell when it's required, but he has a more leisurely way on the practice field. As far as I known Kaufman was well respected by the players within the program, or at least as well respected as a guy can be in place for a year.
California Golden Blogs: In 2012, the Bearcats had a statistically unremarkable season defensively (nationally ranked 55th in yards/game, 32rd in rushing yards/game, 91st in passing yards/game, but 15th in points/game). In Kaufman's first year, the defense's rankings improved across the board (9th in yards/game, 6th in rushing yards/game, 28th in passing yards/game) except for scoring, which was still 15th nationally and allowed 2.5 more points per game. Coming off the worst defensive season in school history, Cal is in desperately dire need for a turnaround. How much of Cincinnati's improvement do you attribute to Kaufman?
Matt Opper: Some of it is Kaufman's for sure, but he also inherited a good deal of talent, particularly at linebacker. Now he certainly gets all the credit for simplifying the Bearcats defensive approach and therefore making it easier for the guys to play fast. Good teams were able to exploit that aggression for their own gain. Personally I would rather be beat trying to wreak havoc on the offense instead of sitting back and getting nicked to death by thousand paper cuts which is how the Bearcats died so often under butch jones and his defensive staff.
California Golden Blogs: Kaufman's specialty from a position standpoint was linebackers. Did you see any noticeable improvements from your linebacking corps this past season in terms of development and execution?
Matt Opper: I thought they were better in 2013 than 2012, but it wasn't a huge jump. They were just more fundamentally sound in their approach this season than they were before. The experience of the group had something to do with that, but Kaufman should get credit for recognizing what he had and letting Nick Temple, Greg Blair and Jeff Luc do their thing.
California Golden Blogs: What type of offenses did he have to work against last year? Which offenses did he do a good job of holding down, and which offenses did he struggle to contain?
Matt Opper: The AAC has a little bit of everything in terms of offensive approach. From the Air Raid of Houston to the strictly pro style attacks of Louisville and USF. Louisville was far and away the best offense his defense faced and they played well enough for three quarters before Teddy Bridgewater did Teddy Bridgewater things and it all just sort of fell apart.
California Golden Blogs: How was Kaufman viewed by recruits? Was he a strong recruiter?
Matt Opper: Touched on this above, but he really didn't recruit all that much. He was only credited with one commitment for the 2014 class. No idea what that says about that his ability or inability to recruit, he just didn't do it at Cincinnati.
California Golden Blogs: Is there a type of play or scheme that Kaufman struggled to defend against?
Matt Opper: Not that cropped up at Cincinnati. His numbers were fine and I was happy with his performance.
California Golden Blogs: How would you assess his initial game plans and his ability to make in-game adjustments?
Matt Opper: The adjustments were generally excellent and that is where he really stood out this season. His gameplans rarely had big sweeping changes from the previous weeks, the Bearcats just sort of did what they do in the first half, regardless of outcome. When they came out of the locker room for the second half it was always with the intent to stop what the other team was going best, even if it meant getting out of his comfort zone as a coordinator.
Thanks to Matt and Down the Drive for the insight on Cal's new defensive coordinator!