After two years in a row of ranking 114th in total defense, Texas Tech’s trying more than just another new guy in charge on that side of the ball.
The Red Raiders are trying a new volume.
Maybe Art Kaufman can get the message across in a way that translates to better results.
“The last two years we’ve had the guys who scream their heads off if you do good or bad,” said Tech safety Cody Davis, a senior. “He compliments you when you do good and says, ‘Hey, this is what you did wrong,’ when you mess up.
“That builds confidence with his players and just lets them go out there with a clear mind and play.”
Texas Tech has had four defensive coordinators in the last four years, third-year head coach Tommy Tuberville breaking in a new one each season. James Willis, in charge of the 2010 defense, and Chad Glasgow, who succeeded him in 2011, were never hard to find.
Willis had an NFL-linebacker pedigree and oversaw a defensive staff that was young and intense. Glasgow, if anything, dialed up the intensity more. His voice grew raspy from practice to practice or pre-game to post-game from the yelling he did.
Kaufman, hired in January after Glasgow’s unusual departure, is admittedly more low key.
“My approach is — and I tell the guys all the time — I only get upset if a guy’s not hustling, if a guy’s not working his tail off or he repeatedly makes the same mistakes,” Kaufman said.
“You’re going to make mistakes out there. As long as you’re hustling and doing all you can do and not making stupid mistakes, I’m constantly trying to teach you. That’s my whole philosophy is to teach these guys.”
Thus, during the Red Raiders’ spring practice, it wasn’t uncommon to see Kaufman talking calmly, one on one or one coach with two players, about something that had just unfolded and how they could have handled it better.
“I think, overall, that’s the way I wanted to be coached as a player,” said Kaufman, who was a two-time all-America linebacker at Arkansas-Monticello. “As a coach, I know if it’s important to a player, he’s going to pay attention, he wants to do well, and I think that’s where I am.
“If players want to do well, they appreciate people trying to teach them. I’ve probably learned some of that through the years, but I think a lot of it’s the roots of where I come from.”
In his mid-50s, Kaufman is beginning his 32nd year in coaching. He’s been defensive coordinator at five other schools: Northwestern State, Mississippi, Arkansas Tech, Louisiana Tech and last year at North Carolina.
Keeping whatever ego he might have in check, Kaufman says he’s learned a lot from assistants who have worked under him.
Along the way, he’s developed a sense for when to give his players the benefit of the doubt.
“They came here to play hard, so I don’t feel like I have to yell all the time,” he said. “There’s going to be times, but I know this: If I’m yelling and screaming all the time, how much of that are they going to get?”
Each of the last two years, Tuberville rolled the dice with a first-time defensive coordinator. He’d known Willis from their years together at Auburn. He plucked Glasgow from the TCU staff after the Horned Frogs’ back-to-back trips to BCS bowls — the Fiesta after the 2009 season, the Rose after the 2010 campaign.
The Red Raiders had no success with either. After last year’s debacle, Tuberville removed two defensive assistants, replacing them with two coaches he’d had on staff in past stops. Glasgow reacted angrily, cleaning out his office, then insisted to athletic director Kirby Hocutt that he had not resigned.
After going back and forth via e-mail for more than a week, the two sides reached a settlement, with Glasgow going back to his role as a position coach at TCU.
Tuberville turned to someone with whom he had more history. He and Kaufman both grew up in Arkansas and played at small in-state schools.
When Tuberville got his first head-coaching job, in 1995 at Ole Miss, he made Kaufman his defensive coordinator. When Tuberville got in a bind with bad defenses at Tech, he sought out Kaufman again.
The timing was convenient for both. Tuberville needed a new DC, and Kaufman was looking after the North Carolina staff broke up.
Tuberville said there’s been no change in terminology or techniques.
“The only thing we’ll do is change how we’ll practice a little bit and how we’ll do game plans, because he’ll do most of those,” Tuberville said. “He’s worked for me. He knows me. He’s sat down and watched every film for the last four or five years from every (Big 12) school, kind of ingraining himself in terms of what he’s getting ready to face, because you can’t do it in a two- or three-day period.
“It’s gone well. What you worry about is how the players accept the coaches — not just the coordinator, but the other guys — and it’s really gone well.”
Tech linebacker Terrance Bullitt relates with humor that when Kaufman is teaching in the film room, he doesn’t always show video from yesterday, last week or even last year. Bullitt jokes that Kaufman pulls out game tapes that are black and white.
“Not really,” Bullitt said. “It was back in the day. I want to say at one point Peyton Manning was on the screen at Tennessee, so it was during that time period. It was really good, though.”
Bullitt is diplomatic about Glasgow’s role in the defense’s 2011 meltdown, when the Red Raiders gave up a school-record 471 points and single-game records of 66 points twice.
“Coach Glasgow’s a great coach,” Bullitt said. “I have respect for him. It just didn’t work out. But everyone’s buying into coach Kaufman’s system, and we’re going to be ready. He knows what he’s talking about.”
Kaufman is a stickler for keeping the defense simple. He might decide eventually that his new players know the system well enough to deploy more sophisticated alignments. During the spring and first half of preseason practice, though, the Red Raiders’ defensive ends, cornerbacks and safeties lined up on the same side of the field each play, rather than flip-flopping based on the offense’s strong and weak sides.
Davis, a senior safety who has been through all four defensive coordinators, said Ruffin McNeill’s was easiest to learn and then Kaufman’s. Picking up Kaufman’s system, he said, was simpler than learning the ones taught by Willis and Glasgow.
And he likes the approach taken by Kaufman and defensive backs coach John Lovett, another veteran.
“I really like the coaches and where their heads are at,” Davis said, “for letting the players play.”
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