BERKELEY – Art Kaufman has been here before.
Cal’s first-year defensive coordinator has spent the previous two seasons rebuilding a defense at Texas Tech in 2012 and then establishing one of the nation’s top defensive units last season at Cincinnati.
Now, he is looking to do both with a Cal defense that struggled mightily during the 2013 campaign.
“The biggest thing is to give guys a foundation that they can hang their hat on and a base to start from,” Kaufman said. Sometimes we want to go to the end and find the answer before we know what the whole process is, and it’s all a process. For me that brings patience.”
Although Kaufman may have patience, he also knows how to get results quickly.
His defensive unit in his lone season at Cincinnati a year ago was one of the best in the country, ranking in the top 10 nationally in both rushing defense (6th, 104.5 ypg) and total defense (9th, 315.6 ypg), and among the top 30 in 10 of the 11 primary defensive categories tracked in the national stats.
His accomplishment the previous season at Texas Tech was arguably just as impressive when he led a complete overhaul of a defense that ranked 114th nationally the previous season in total defense (485.58 ypg). Under Kaufman the Red Raiders improved to 38th (367.31 ypg) with a pass defense that was 15th (192.00 ypg).
Both teams had winning records and played in bowl games.
Although he has proven he can get quick results, his approach is relatively measured and simple.
“We don’t have to be ready to beat the first opponent today,” Kaufman emphasized after the first several spring practices. “It’s a process of building towards doing that, but it isn’t about the opponent right now. It’s about us, where we are and where we need to be to get the final result on gameday.”
Kaufman likes what he sees during the early stages of this mission.
“The biggest thing is that they’ve given us what we’ve asked of them,” Kaufman said. “If we’ve told them they need to improve in terms of effort or comprehension of what we’re doing, then that’s what they’ve done. We haven’t put a lot in yet, but the main thing is that they have retained things from each of the previous practices and applied them to the next practice. It kind of gives us an idea of where we are.”
A new beginning is where both the Golden Bears defense and each of its individual players are.
“One of the things that we always talk about is that everybody’s slate starts clean,” Kaufman said. “Guys may have been labeled as being one way and they’re not at all that way Everybody changes in their lifetime, whether they grow up, there is a life-changing experience, or maybe it’s a strength or maturity level thing.”
Kaufman is on a quest to start anew to find the right pieces to the puzzle
“Exploratory would be a good word for it at this point,” Kaufman said. “We want to gather all of the information that we need to get this thing put together.”
In addition to gathering information he’s also disseminating plenty of it with a coaching style that focuses on player education. Kaufman can be seen during practice spending nearly equal time with each of the defensive position groups and is always looking to impart even the smallest nugget of knowledge.
“The big thing is that I want to understand what each player can do, not just what I see on film but what he’s doing in each of the drills,” Kaufman said. “It gives me a little better feel about them and even if I only have an extra 45 seconds with one of them, maybe I can give them one piece of information to reinforce what the position coach is doing. That’s why I want to get my eyes on each player so I can study what guys can do well, or maybe what they don’t do well, so I won’t ask them to do something that they can’t execute.”
“We try to get our players to understand that they are one piece of the puzzle,” Kaufman added. “If they understand what their role is, where they have to be, and why they have to be there that’s critical. We try to explain to all our players why they have to do the job a certain way, or why they have to be in a certain place at a certain time within a certain call. If they can understand that then I think it makes it easier for them to believe it.”
One of those players who definitely believes is returning starting junior linebacker Jalen Jefferson.
“Coach Kaufman is one of the best defensive coordinators that I’ve been with,” Jefferson said. “He definitely knows his x’s and o’s, and gets guys where they need to be.”
Kaufman knows exactly where that is and has a strong track record of getting his guys there.