Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman and head coach Tommy Tuberville go back to their playing days in the obscure colleges of rural Arkansas, but their football coaching chemistry has never changed.
CINCINNATI -- Tommy Tuberville and his current defensive coordinator Art Kaufman both plugged away as low-level assistants throughout their early career, as all coaches do. Those days tend to be as long as the climb to the top rung of the coaching ladder.
Neither Kaufman nor Tuberville were on the same staff during those days in the 1980s and early 90s, but lived in the same circles. You see, both growing up in the South as former players from small, Division III Arkansas schools, coaches not crossing paths would defy the science of that football-crazy region.
When those paths did cross, the intersections didn't last for minutes with a handshake and hello. They drug on for hours, days. They only occasionally veered from football. No need. Not with two coaches so infatuated with the details and intricacies of the game.
"We used to talk football together when we were both assistants," Tuberville said. "Sit down for hours and talk and watch film."
During those sessions of stories and stats, a friendship based in philosophical agreement blossomed.
"We were kind of on the same page," Tuberville said, "kind of speak the same language."
The language matched more than dueling southern drawls. They found a bond over technique. It leads every discussion of teaching and learning the game with both of them. Both rose in ranks as linebackers coaches dedicated to teaching correct form to every step. So, when time came for Tuberville to find a defensive coordinator for his first head-coaching gig at Ole Miss, he wanted someone fluent in his language.
"You got to know what to do and how to do it," Kaufman said. "Making plays is technique, that's what it's all about. Defensively, if you are not a technician then the other team has to screw it up for you to make a play."
The trusted symmetry between Tuberville and Kaufman sat at the centerpiece of the revitalization of Rebels football that eventually led the head coach to Auburn and Texas Tech. Yet, entering last season in Lubbock, Texas, Tuberville boasted a disastrous defense that finished 2011 ranked 114 out of 120 FBS teams in yards allowed.
Tuberville needed someone able to return to the roots of great defense and what he preaches. So, 14 years after last coaching together, he reached to the roots of his own head-coaching career.
"He said, we got an opening, you want to get this thing going?" Kaufman said. "He had a couple of guys that I knew on the staff. I went out there and we talked. He said, 'Hey, here's what I need.' I said, 'Hey, that's what I'm looking for. Let's roll.'"
Roll they did. Wheeling out a Rosetta Stone of defensive football in the South, Kaufman transformed the defense through technique and simplicity into a top 40 unit in total yardage allowed, moving up 76 spots in the national rankings.
Molding a group enduring their fourth coordinator in four years, Kaufman relied on a system trimmed as far down to bare bones as necessary to assure each player understood their job fully. Remove complexity if necessary and let players react.
"Art is one of those that will never give up on technique," Tuberville said. "He'll never get in a game and panic. If we are not playing very well, we'll go back to base defense and play that. That's what I like about a coach."
The base will be a 4-3 with a principle focused on avoiding busted plays. A confident, consistent and persistent defense represent the characteristics of what would be Kaufman's ideal group.
"No. 1, (my ideal defense) knows what they are doing and smart," he said. "They chase the ball and they are physical when they get there. They don't bust, I've been around them when mistakes were made. We're not going to have any issues with that; whatever we got to do to make it simple enough. Two, we are going to chase the ball and be physical."
Kaufman hopes they'll execute all the philosophies he and Tuberville droned on and on about for hours decades ago. As much as the faces, lives and locations change between these two, the football doesn't. It's what bonds them. It's why they are together in Cincinnati.
"The thing that I'm adamant about and so is he, the little things, technique," Tuberville said. "You can line them up and run them through gaps all you want but if you don't play technique you can't beat some teams that are probably better than you. Football is a sport where you got to put 11 guys out there and they got to play well together. Only way to do that is to play your position and continue to stress that."
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