Although Rutgers has yet to formally announce the hiring of Andy Buh as defensive coordinator, multiple reports indicated his move from Maryland is complete. Buh’s twitter profile now states he is in that role, as well as coaching the linebackers. In an effort to find out more about the new DC for Chris Ash, I reached out to Thomas Kendziora, one of the managing editors of SB Nation’s Maryland site, Testudo Times. Buh was the defensive coordinator for the Terps the previous three seasons, where he had mixed results at best, at least statistically speaking. Here is what Thomas had to say about Buh’s three years at Maryland.
AB: How would you classify Andy Buh’s three year tenure as defensive coordinator at Maryland?
TK: While “lackluster” might be a bit harsh, it was certainly uninspiring. Buh joined the staff in April after DJ Durkin’s original defensive coordinator hire, Scott Shafer, resigned in spring practice. Maryland’s defense ranked 74th and 116th in scoring in 2016 and 2017, respectively, while placing 79th and 85th in S&P+. This past season, the unit was 78th in scoring and 55th in S&P+, so there was some improvement. It’s hard to assign responsibility for the defense’s successes and struggles between Buh and Durkin, who’s a defensive-minded coach. Maryland ran a base 4-2-5 and struggled against the run all three years; this continued with Durkin out of the picture this fall.
AB: From a scheme standpoint, how aggressive was Buh in play calling over the past three seasons?
TK: My understanding is that Durkin actually called defensive plays during the first two years, and with him on administrative leave and eventually being fired this season, the defensive staff essentially called plays as a group. Linebackers and special teams coordinator Matt Barnes reportedly led those efforts from the field, while Buh and safeties coach Chuck Heater chipped in from the booth. So I can’t speak much to Buh’s play-calling. Given that Chris Ash assumed more defensive play-calling duties during this past season, I’d expect him to continue doing most of that in 2019.
AB: Statistically speaking, this past season was the best of the three for the defense under Buh, as they finished 63rd in total defense and 55th in S&P+ rankings. After a poor 2017, what did the defense improve upon this past season?
TK: The biggest difference by far is the increase in takeaways. Maryland recorded 18 interceptions, tied for the most in the country. It certainly helped to have grad transfer linebacker Tre Watson, who came over from Illinois and was the Terps’ best defender, picking off five passes and leading the team in tackles. Health was also a big factor, as the defense was close to full strength for a lot of the season.
AB: What were the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the defense under Buh?
TK: Maryland’s pass rush was a strength in 2016 but a glaring weakness each of the last two years. After Jesse Aniebonam went down in last year’s season opener, the Terps recorded just 16 sacks as a team in 2017. Things didn’t get much better this year, as Maryland had only 17 sacks even with Aniebonam back and Byron Cowart joining him up front. But the secondary was a strength each season, particularly in 2018, thanks to players like Darnell Savage and Antoine Brooks.
AB: How did Buh fare as a recruiter?
TK: For the most part, Buh didn’t factor in much to Maryland’s recruiting surge under Durkin. He’s not listed as the primary recruiter for any Terps commit in his three years, although he is the listed secondary recruiter for wide receiver Jeshaun Jones, who had a brilliant freshman season. He’s landed some decent recruits in his career, but it’s hardly been his specialty.
Thanks to Thomas for answering my questions on Buh’s tenure at Maryland.
This hire by Ash is certainly not an exciting one in regard to Buh’s track record. He does have multiple years of experience as a DC at multiple power five schools, but his results haven’t been that good. While he did have some success as a co-DC at Stanford, he also led the Cal defense to its worst season in program history his lone year on the job. He did have success at Nevada, but that wasn’t in a power five conference. His results at Maryland varied from bad to okay at the highest level of college football. Of course, offensive systems, injuries, and other factors come into play that can affect defensive performance, but Buh has an established enough of a track record to be skeptical that he can lead the Rutgers defense to a major step forward next season.
Two other concerns are that he wasn’t the primary play caller on defense for the Terps and that he didn’t make much of an impact on the recruiting trail at Maryland.
I may be in the minority on this thought, but I personally don’t think Chris Ash being the de facto DC and being the primary play caller next season is a good idea. He enters his fourth season firmly on the hot seat and it’s no secret he has room to grow as a head coach. His lack of awareness of personnel decisions on offense last season was alarming at times in my opinion. An example was his stating he’d have to ask the offensive staff why Isaih Pacheco didn’t play more in a game when asked in his postgame presser. He also went on the record saying he regretted not calling a timeout before OC John McNulty called a pass play at the end of the first half at Ohio State. Not doing so resulted in Artur Sitkowski taking a hit that knocked him out of the game in what was reckless decision.
For Ash to succeed and turn this program around, he needs to take control of the entire operation of this team. His defensive philosophy will still be in place and he will have his hands involved working with Buh. However, the idea that he should do the heavy lifting in running the defense would be a mistake. Sure, the defense performed better last season when he became more involved. That being said, the idea that the defense wasn’t always Ash’s to begin with is a bit humorous to me. Niemann and Ash had a long history together and to think they weren’t on the same page, at least most of the time, seems unlikely to me. Our David Anderson has gone on record that he didn’t see much of a change in philosophy or schemes when Ash became more involved. Perhaps the defense improved it’s urgency and motivation with Ash more vocal, but it’s also possible players mostly just performed better, especially seniors with their careers winding down.
Additionally, the biggest deficiency with the program right now is a lack of talent and depth. Ash needs assistant coaches who can make a significant impact on the recruiting trail. Based on recent history, Buh doesn’t inspire confidence that he will be able to do that at Rutgers.
At the end of the day, Ash was in a very difficult position in finding a new defensive coordinator. Finding a coach who could have a major impact in their first year seemed unlikely, as the best coaches are already employed by better programs. It’s unlikely a coach having recent success in their current role would take a chance on Ash and Rutgers with the possibility of a change being made after next season.
I do think with the circumstances Ash was challenged with, he made out about as best he could. Buh has solid experience and he has game planned against the Big Ten and East division specifically for the past three years. It’s a better move than hiring a position coach to step up as DC or someone from an FCS program. It’s also a plus that Buh will be coaching the linebackers, allowing Ash to hire a tenth assistant to focus on another area of the team. A quarterbacks coach seems to be the popular thought about the fan base, but I don’t think it’s a given that’s the direction Ash will go in.
Of course, Ash got himself into this difficult situation with his team going 1-11 last season. It will be a challenge to upgrade any position coach spot available, which includes offensive line coach after the departure of AJ Blazek. Ultimately, Ash needs a lot to break his way for Rutgers to make an significant improvement on the field next season. Hopefully, Buh turns out to be a good hire and helps the defense take a much needed step forward in 2019. I’m just not that optimistic that he will.