Can Art Kaufman Revive The California Golden Bears’ Defense?


Nov 9, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans tailback Silas Redd (25) hurdles California Golden Bears cornerback Cedric Dozier (37) at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The California Golden Bear defense was one of the worst defenses in the history of college football. The Cal defense was devastated by injuries and sapped an already thin defense unit. A combination of poor coaching, poor depth, and inexperienced players led to one of the worst statistical seasons in Cal Bear history.

The team finished in the bottom seven of nearly every major statistical category, including the nation’s worst scoring and passing defense. They averaged 47.4 points allowed per game, 528.4 total yards allowed per game and 6.9 yards per play. They also finished at the bottom of the nation averaging just a single takeaway per game. Many fans placed the blame firmly on the shoulders of defensive coordinator Andy Buh and were calling for him to be fired after just one season.

At first, it looked like Andy Buh would retain his job as the defensive coordinator. Many people pointed to his contract and buyout as the reason the Cal administration was hesitant to part ways. Then came the day of reckoning, as Cal demoted coach Buh to a defensive position coach and fired defensive tackles coach Barry Sacks and defensive backs coach Randy Stewart. The biggest question became, which coach could Cal bring in to quickly turnaround the defense?

The list of candidates that began popping up in rumors became abundant, as Cal left no stone unturned to make a splash hire. The list included Greg Robinson, DeWayne Walker, Clancy Pendergast, Randy Shannon, and a host of others. Many fans saw those names and began to get excited that they could potentially lure in a known name. The fan favorite was a reunion with former defensive coordinator Pendergast with his track record in the Pac-12 and the recent success he had in reviving the USC defense in 2013.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Art Kaufman’s name came up as person on coach Dykes’ short list. Then he was hired about five days later. What can Cal fans expect from the former Cincinnati defensive coordinator?

Kaufman’s career is filled with plenty experience as a defensive coordinator at a variety of levels and conferences. Most recently, Kaufman has been a defensive coordinator in the ACC, the Big 12, and the American, while he also has stints in Conference USA and the SEC. So, he has been around the block and seen various levels of competition. He has also competed against the spread offenses run in the American Conference. He defenses have been relatively solid over the last few seasons.

He coached at North Carolina in 2011 as the defensive coordinator in the lone season of Everett Withers’ tenure. He inherited a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball that was left from the Butch Davis era. His team allowed an average of 365.2 total yards per game, 24.8 points allowed per game, and averaged 1.8 turnovers per game. There is a catch, those numbers were worse than the previous season. The Tar Heels averaged 338.5 total yards allowed per game and 23.2 points allowed per game. Kaufman only lasted a single season, as Withers would be fired at the end of the year.

Kaufman would then catch on with Texas Tech and head coach Tommy Tuberville and try to turnaround an awful defense. He would see improvements in many of the major statistical categories. The defense went from allowing 485.6 yards per game and 39.2 points per game in 2011 to 367.3 yards allowed per game and 31.8 points allowed per game. This situation is what Cal fans are going to lean on when talking about Kaufman, as this is the same sort of situation that he is entering. He is tasked with repairing one of the worst defense units in the country.

Last season, Kaufman would follow Tuberville to Cincinnati. Again, Kaufman inherited a pretty solid bunch and again they either stagnated or got worse in several key categories. The one area of improvement was in yards allowed per game, which went from 388.1 yards allowed per game to 315.6 yards allowed per game. Again, Kaufman inherited a talented bunch of players and he could not improve the overall performance of the unit. He would be let go by Tuberville following the season.

While one of his defensive units showed major improvements, the other two stops saw him inherit a good defense and then be able to not improve on their previous performance. That is a troubling sign that he was unable to improve a talented defense. He will give you a good, but never an elite defense. Which brings up how much of an option does Kaufman become in the long term, especially if he can never get continued improve from his defensive unit?

The other issue facing Kaufman is the depleted defense depth chart as the team loses five key members in their front seven and probably their top defense back to transfers and the pro draft. So, Kaufman could be forced to potentially go even younger on his defense, which could spell disaster against much more talented and experienced teams. Recruiting has picked up a bit for Cal with several junior college transfers that could provide immediate help, but starting true freshmen is not ideal situation for the coaching staff.

Overall, this hire looks to be relatively solid, but a bit underwhelming with some of the other names that are still available. Kaufman should be able to come in revitalize the defense and make them a respectable unit, but will he be able to get the over the hump and turn them into a top of the conference type of unit? The Cal defense might not show immediate improvement with the lack of experienced depth on the two deep, but at least the light at the end of the tunnel looks much closer.