Though not confirmed yet by the university or football program, the ScarletNation message boards (VIP subscribers only) started popping Saturday evening that Chris Ash was hiring Maryland defensive coordinator Andy Buh to his staff. NJ Advance Media’s Keith Sargeant reported soon after that Ash was hiring Buh, who worked together at Wisconsin in 2012, for the defensive coordinator position at Rutgers.
Since he was hired in December 2015, Chris Ash had one defensive coordinator, Jay Niemann. Though it was a revolving door at many other coaching positions, Niemann was a steady member even as other coaches were named “co-defensive coordinator” alongside him, Bill Busch in 2017 and Noah Joseph in 2018. Niemann’s contract expired after the 2018 season, so there was speculation he would not return. It was cofirmed in both reports that he has left Ash’s staff.
After Maryland named Mike Locksley their head coach last month to the position previously held by D.J. Durkin, there was not much time for a staff shake up prior to the early signing period. As a result, Buh (pronounced “Boo”) is still listed on the Terrapins official website as their defensive coordinator. Our friends at the Testudo Times indicated just last week that not much was buzzing about the position on the Maryland staff. That said, new head coaches usually clean house, particularly when the previous coach was fired.
Buh presided over the Maryland defense the last three years after previously serving as a defensive coordinator at Stanford, Nevada, and California.
Thoughts on replacing Niemann
At the time, I absolutely did not think Jay Niemann was the reason for the team’s early season struggles. During most of 2017, Niemann came in with excellent game plans in almost every game and opponents needed time to figure things out. A veteran-led defense with leading tacklers returning at linebacker and safety knew how to tackle in 2017, so why would they have forgotten in 2018? It was not Niemann’s fault that 8 of his scholarship players were suspended, his best player (Bless Austin) was lost for the season in the first game, and the Rutgers offense was so bad for three seasons, the defense couldn’t do much other than try to avoid being blown out when they logged so much time on the field before eventually wearing down.
During the stretch run of the season that saw the Rutgers defense make significant improvement though, Chris Ash took more control of the group. The same players started returning to form and others like Saquan Hampton finally reached their potential. There was not a significant change in strategy it did not seem, but Rutgers played with more fire and swagger which seemed to fuel more third and fourth down stops. Plenty of successful coaches are not outwardly fired up all the time, but it was obvious that Scarlet Knights players needed a boost from the coaching staff. Was the staff too nonchalant before? Was the staff too critical behind the scenes destroying player confidence? We may never know, but it was obvious a midseason change helped and there is no reason to go back to the way things were before that.
I do think Jay Niemann knows football, is a nice guy, and recruited linebackers pretty well so we wish him the best. In another program, he probably is the right man for the job.
Am I sold on Buh?
There was a comment about how Buh’s Maryland defense did hold RU to 8 passing yards while nabbing five interceptions last season. After laughing about the irony and sadness of those facts, reviewing how the 2018 Terps defense performed in other games wasn’t bad. These days offense is king, so the fact that they were only completely shredded once (by Ohio State in a game that went to overtime) isn’t terrible by any stretch. The other three disappointing performances came when the Terrapin offense was simply atrocious, sound familiar? The one game that really is perplexing was the 35-14 loss to Temple when the Terps offense failed to gain 200 yards themselves. The 2017 Maryland season was eerily similar.
Looking at the overall track record, there is reason to believe Buh will bring something to the defense and not too much will be lost in game planning. From a recruiting standpoint, it doesn’t seem to be on either end of the spectrum. Past success at other stops and experience coaching against as well as alongside others in the Big Ten (like Jim Harbaugh) should pay short-term dividends.
Schematically, Buh is not that much different from most defensive coordinators these days. Teams go back and forth between 30 and 40 fronts. They need to handle playmakers on the other side regardless of position, etc etc etc.
What I like about Buh is that he is more aggressive than Jay Niemann. Niemann even when he had Kemoko Turay preferred to play it straight up on first and second down while dialing up pressure on third. In theory, this is not a bad approach but it contradicts the mindset of most successful defensive players. Playing Cover-2 or even Cover-4 just lets offenses these days dink and dunk you down the field UNLESS you have monsters on the defensive line that allow your linebackers to roam freely. Buh will bring more pressure to force opposing quarterbacks to make quicker decisions. It’s higher risk of giving up big plays, but caters to the mindset of defensive playmakers while also making it more likely opposing offenses end up off-schedule.
Since Buh has not been mentioned much as a head coaching candidate anywhere, he shouldn’t be viewed either inside or outside the program as Ash’s heir apparent.
Rutgers probably needed a new defensive coordinator even if Chris Ash is the de facto DC. He needs to show short term improvement to save his job in all likelihood. So Ash’s checklist was probably the following for a new hire:
Needs a job quickly? Check
Have worked with in the past to avoid conflict? Check
Is familiar with Big Ten opponents? Check
Won’t be viewed as successor? Check
Has more experience than Drew Mehringer? Check
Can coach linebackers? Check
Plays a more aggressive style? Check
Recruiting upgrade? Meh, but a lesser concern than winning now
So Buh is not a sexy hire, but is probably what Ash needs at this point. Delusions of getting someone with huge pedigree to come to a team that just finished 1-11 with a head coach that may only have one more season would be a fool’s errand. Ash saw an opportunity for a proven guy with several weeks to spare before the signing period finishes who can meet players on official visits this month and could not pass that up.
Could Rutgers have done better than Andy Buh?
This poll is closed
If you answer yes they could have gotten someone better, please let us know who you think the Scarlet Knights could have landed as their 2019 defensive coordinator.