Football: Talking defense with Andy Buh

With spring practice set to get under way Monday, here’s a Q&A I did recently with new defensive coordinator Andy Buh, who came to Cal from Wisconsin, where he coached linebackers last season for a Badgers team that played in its third straight Rose Bowl.

Buh is recovering from from shoulder surgery he underwent the week before signing day to repair a torn left rotator cuff he suffered in a fall while jogging on an icy day in Madison.

Buh and his wife also are awaiting the birth of their second son, due in the next couple weeks.


Andy Buh

Here’s our conversation:

Why change to the 4-3 in an era when most teams are using the 3-4?
“First of all, it’s what I know — that’s probably the most significant reason. Anytime you coordinate a defense you want to be a master of it.”

What do you see as the strengths of the 4-3?
“It can defend all the different types of offenses we’re going to face. I believe in the way football has become where the quarterback is such a threat, both run and pass, that four defensive linemen are almost critical in terms of keeping linemen off the linebackers, having good pass-rush lanes, squeezing and constricting gaps and not making it such a space game. Those are all the principles of the 4-3. We’ll sit more on our technique and our fundamentals than our scheme.”

What are your priorities for spring ball?
“No. 1’s always going to be putting our personnel in the right positions. No. 2, once we do that, teaching the base fundamentals of our game.”

Cal has a lot of returning linebackers. How will you adapt your personnel to the 4-3?
“The first thing I did when I got here was analyzed what that transition was going to be like. We analyzed a lot of film and looked at a lot of the body types that we had. We found out that a lot of our outside linebackers could be converted to close and open-side defensive ends. The open-side body types for us are speed, edge rushers, Chris McCain-type guys. The close-end side they’re a little bit beefier. Kyle Kragen is that type, Brennan Scarlett is that body type.”

Who else could be at that close or strong side end position?
“Puka Lopa and Mustafa Jalil. Jalil is a swing guy who’s a cheeseburger away from playing defensive tackle.”

And at the open side besides McCain?
“Nathan Broussard, Dan Camporeale, Ted Agu. (JC transfer) Sione Sina has got the size and the length to be an inside guy, but he’s got the athleticism to play at the open-side end.”

How would you assess the talent level you’ve inherited on defense?
“I think it’s unbelievable. A lot of people back. We’re a little bit deficient in our secondary. We’ve got a handful of guys — it’s not a stable.”

Describe your defensive philosophy:
“The first thing is we want to be sound. The attacking and all that stuff are more cliches than anything else. As a defensive coordinator I want to be sound fundamentally. I want the fans to see a defense that doesn’t make glaring mistakes. I want to eliminate beating ourselves first. I think that’s a style that’s going to fit really well with what we do offensively.”

How do you respond to the perception that defense is an afterthought for Sonny Dykes’ teams?
“It’s exactly what you said — it’s a perception. It’s not the reality that walks the halls of this building. The first indication is we signed 13 defensive guys and only signed 11 offensive guys. That indicates No. 1 where his priorities are. If we could have gotten two of those corners at the end, we would have signed 15 defensive guys.

“Second indication is (Louisiana Tech) won that WAC championship two years ago because they played stellar defense. Coach Dykes and I have a relationship that goes way beyond this opportunity here, and he’s always talked about having a team with a great defense. He’s the son of a defensive coach — it’s in his blood.”

How do you and Dykes know each other?
“Sonny and I met back in 2003 when he was at Tech. Cal had a defensive coordinator here back in the early 2000s named Lyle Setencich. I was here as a young administrative assistant under Lyle. When Lyle and (Mike) Leach connected at (Texas) Tech, I would go back there to study football, and that’s where I met Sonny.”

What coaches have influenced you?
“It goes all the way back to Chris Ault when I was playing and coaching (for him at Nevada), to Pat Hill at Fresno, to Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. And then obviously Lyle had a big, big technical, defensive influence on me. There was (defensive coordinator) Chris Ash at Wisconsin, and (head coach) Bret Bielema.”

Talk about your time as co-defensive coordinator under Harbaugh at Stanford:
“I never had play-calling duties. I was only a co-coordinator in title. I was promoted after my first year there to co-coordinator. Ron Lynn ran the defense. There are multiple reasons why a lot of us left and the major one was Jim was looking at NFL opportunities and we knew that a lot of us wouldn’t be able to go with him.

Did Harbaugh fire you?
“He did not let me go. I did not get fired. I left Stanford to be a coordinator (at Nevada). That’s what I wanted to be. I knew once those demotions were coming in terms of being stripped of those titles, that it would be hard to get back into that position to be the play-caller. So that was probably the second reason why I left.”

What was it like working for Harbaugh?
“It was awesome. It was unbelievable. What you see is what you get. He’s 100 percent football. He’s an ultimate competitor. And he thinks football around the clock. So just his competitive nature, his win-all attitude.”

How special was it to return to your alma mater and be defensive coordinator for a Nevada team that went 13-1?
“That was one of the greatest times in my coaching career. For (Ault) to entrust me with being a playcaller before I’d ever been that, and be able to step in there in 2010 and have the season we had, it was one of the greatest years in my coaching career.”


Jeff Faraudo