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

  • Hungry

    Thanks Jeff for the excellent journalism. Did you ask him why he left the coordinator position at Nevada to become linebacker coach at Wisconsin? Wasn’t that a “demotion” that he was trying to avoid? Especially when he thought so highly of Chris Ault!

  • 66Bear

    You sound pretty negative, Hungry. I’m happy with everything I’m hearing from Coach Buh and Coach Dykes, and what I’m seeing, from the recruiting results to the open practices, etc., etc. I’m particularly pleased with the willingness and ability of Coach Dykes to communicate in an open and direct manner, which seems reflected in Coach Buh’s remarks. I’m really looking forward to seeing a well-coached, motivated, and competitive team on the field this fall, and I believe that that’s what we will see. I hope that that’s enough for you, Hungry, but I doubt it. Go Bears!

  • rotfogel

    I still think Scarlett should stick at OLB not Weakside DE, that’s my opinion though.

    McCain and Jalil should be the DEs in the 4-3.

  • Juancho

    Good question hungry.

    Rotfo i have your concern but for mccain. He just seems so skinny that i worry hell get manhandled by a tackle.

    Excited for the season. Think buh will do well.

    But if i have to pick one answer i didnt like it was his first. Choosing the 4-3 because its what he knows doesnt inspire confidence in me. Especially bc jeffs question was framed around the premise that most are now 3-4s.

    Jeff can you interview the QBs ?

  • Gobears49

    Two items.

    1. I admit I know more about offensive football than defensive football, but it seems to me, given the increasing use of quarterback as runners, as well as the use of the spread and using more of the football field to attack, mobility on defense is becoming more important, to be able to react to more things and over a wider area. From that standpoint, it seems having four linebacker on the field rather than three would make the defense more flexible and thus be the best defensive formation for Cal.

    2. I’d rather have an interview with whoever directly coaches the QB’s rather than the QB’s themselves. Would love to have Jeff discuss in detail what skills are most important for a QB have. I know Dykes says he will adopt his offense to the best QB’s skills, but I don’t really believe that. I think he will choose a QB who fits in best with his system.

    Maybe, if the QB coach worked for Dykes at La. Tech, he can discuss why they went with certain QB’s there over others, based upon what that QB did best. It would also be great if the coach discussed what he sees as the the strengths of the QB’s we have, based upon what he has seen on film, but I doubt the coach will answer that, as he will not want to put anyone down and will defer to letting them just show what they can do, as spring football is just about to start.

  • BlueNGold

    Not being a self proclaimed football expert, I have a lot more confidence in a coach who wants to use a system because he knows it and feels he has some mastery of it as opposed to someone who elects to go with whatever system or formation is currently in vogue. Time will tell whether it is the best approach, but until then I am inclined to give Coach Buh the benefit of the doubt and not obsess publicly as to how much confidence it does or does not inspire in me.

  • Gobears49


    Blogs like this, I believe, are available for people to express their opinions, though respectfully, on anything that comes to mind. This blog, and others, provide an opportunity to exchange views on a wide variety of subjects, including possible disagreements with coaches. If it is just for expressing a belief in following whatever a coach says, or just supporting him in general, why do these blogs exist, as the only comments would be supportive and they would be so dull that nobody would read them?

    Following your viewpoint, all of the comments calling for Tedford’s head were way out of line. We should have just marched, in silent lockstep, following our designated leader until the powers that be chose another leader who we should also agree with (and never question), in lockstep.

  • Juancho

    Nice post gb49. The reason newspapers are dead is bc people would rather dialog and share opinions online than just absorb static information.

    I for one love this blog bc of all the different opinions and personalities.

    Bluengold i like your post sans the final remark. You make good points. I think buh will do well.

  • Gobears49

    At the risk of not supporting a coach, and expressing a contrary viewpoint from his, let me state something about using the 4 – 3 defense rather than the 3 – 4. I seem to recall, though I could be wrong, that Dykes recently said he would go with a QB with the best skills and adapt his offense to that player, I really don’t believe that, as I think he will go with a QB that best fits his sytem, but I think that is very close to what he said.

    If true, the defense should similarly adapt their defensive philosophy to what positions they have the best and deepest level of players. In recent years, that has been at linebacker. I believe that was a primary reason given why Cal switched from the 4 – 3 to the 3 – 4 a few years ago.

    Again, I think that following a philosophy of adapting your style of football to what your players do best (or, very similarly, where you have the best and deepest level of players) should be followed across the board. Perhaps others, including Coach Buh, could counter that we are just as strong and deep on the defensive line, or perhaps even stronger, than we are at linebacker. That is fine. He can say anything he wants and his opinion deserves our respect, but not automatic agreement with.

  • Raf

    i cringed when he said “it’s what i know.” a coach needs to know the system that best stops opposing offenses and maximizes the talent of given players.

    do you know football or do u know a system?


  • noah

    The rationale for the switch to 4-3 probably makes sense. But it’s sad to know that the era of Cal producing NFL linebacker after NFL linebacker is probably over. All the terrific OLBs Cal’s had over the past few years are probably undersized ends in the new system.

  • Jeff Faraudo

    Gobears49 — I will be posting a similar Q&A with offensive coordinator Tony Franklin early this afternoon. He will address many of the questions you have.

  • Gobears49

    Thanks, Jeff. But Franklin won’t really be able to answer my primary questions, which dealt with the Buh’s defensive philosophy.

    Maybe you could just email Buh and ask him a follow-up question or two. If it is true that Dyke’s said (I believe to you) that he tries to mold his offense to the QB with the most and best skills, why doesn’t Buh do the same with his defense instead of being locked into the 4 -3 system. As I pointed out, in light of Dykes apparent flexible offensive philosophy, which is Buh so comparatively rigid?

    If you can get Buh to respond to this question and others you may have, if you can report back I’m sure that I would not be the only one interested in reading what he had to say.

    Thanks for your help. You are a very good reporter and I really liked most of your questions to Tedford, Barbour, and Buh, though I thought you could have gone a bit farther about Tosh-gate, which most know is my pet peeve. Also it’s great that you take a few moments to occasionally respond to people who make comments on your blog.

  • BlueNGold


    You are absolutely correct that this blog exists so that people can express their opinions, regardless of what others may think of them. But it also exists so that people who disagree with those opinions can express their views as well.

    I stated my opinion. I don’t think its appropriate to be posting comments about ‘not inspiring confidence’ when we have not seen any evidence of the product being put forward. I think we should give the new coaching staff the benefit of our support until such time as there is evidence suggesting it is misplaced. That was my point.

    Your point about calling for Tedford’s head misses the point entirely. Most of those calls came after the evidence was piling up that JT’s system was not working. We are starting with a clean slate here. Its a completely different situation.

  • Gobears49


    You have stated your opinion and have stated that you can disagree with others. I hope you can accept that I can disagree with your opinion, but am not sure of that.

    In my opinion, it is perfectly fine to question fine to question a scheme that has a coach has planned before he has a chance to execute it. Others on this blog with respect to the article Jeff has written about his interview with Buh have questioned Buh’s proposed scheme as well I have, primarily on the basis that he is imposing it in part, because that is what he knows best, rather than it being best for the team given our circumstances.

    In past discussions about Tosh=gate, you consistently misrepresented what I said and I called you out on it. You essentially did not agree with me that putting better talent on the football field will make it more likely than not that Cal will do better in football, will have better attendance, and will thus generate more revenue from football and, if memory serves me correctly, misrepresented what I said about that (probably saying that gate receipts WOULD happen rather than it was more likely than not that they would happen).

    I will do so again with respect to what you said above.

    1. I never said anything about “not inspiring confidence.” That must have been someone else, but I’m not going to spend time to look up who did say that, if that comment was even made by anyone.

    2. You also recently made a referenced to someone being “a self-proclaimed football expert.” I never said that, or even close to that, about any aspect of football, and I even prefaced my remarks that I did not know as much about offensive football than defensive football. I did state my opinion about some aspects of football that made sense to me, but that hardly equals my stating I was a self-proclaimed expert and football. Following your lead on this, consistent with everything else you said, once a coach says something, you have to either agree with that or just shut up, because you don’t have their credentials on the matter and/or their experience in dealing with it.

    You seem to have a habit about misrepresenting my remarks to try to support your arguments, which actually I don’t think make much sense. But go ahead and continue to misrepresent what I said and I’ll respond accordingly, telling you again and again where you misquoted me. Pretty soon people will just ignore what you write because you just don’t state the truth and they will easily notice that if they review what I wrote.

  • Gobears49

    Been offline for several hours. Just read what I wrote above. Not that it makes any difference, but I should correct one minor point. I said I didn’t know as much about defenses compared to offensive football, not the other way around.

  • Nor-Cal Scott

    After attending Sunday’s “Select a Seat” event I was shocked at how small Khairi Fortt is in person. He’s listed at 6-2 and 235#, but looks much lighter. He did tell me his knee is 100% and he’s ready to play.