Coordinated visions: Bullough brings tough, aggressive approach to Syracuse defense

Luke Rafferty | Asst. Photo Editor

Chuck Bullough is set to lead the Orange defense under head coach Scott Shafer, a man he says he trusts "like a brother."

On the first day they met in Kalamazoo, Mich., Scott Shafer and Chuck Bullough realized their football philosophies were almost identical. Their defensive schemes were similar, and their approaches to developing players the same. Shafer and Bullough worked in tandem to build a sturdy defense at Western Michigan in 2005.

Eight years later, they’re together again to do the same at Syracuse.

One of Shafer’s first moves when he was promoted from defensive coordinator to become the Orange’s head coach was to find his replacement. Shafer turned to his close friend and football brother Bullough, who spent the last two seasons as a defensive assistant for the Cleveland Browns. Bullough’s known as a 4-3 defensive guru, but also as a fiery, in-your-face coach.

He’s exactly the coach Shafer wanted to be his defensive coordinator.

“There’s only a handful of people in the business that you trust like a brother,” Shafer said when he announced Bullough’s hiring. “There’s a lot that you respect, but there’s only a handful that you trust. The highs and lows of all the years being a coach, the guys that got your back all the way through and those are usually the guys that you have an opportunity to work with.”

Bullough comes from a football family. His father, Hank, was a longtime coach in college football and in the NFL, working on the staffs at Michigan State and for the Baltimore Colts, the New England Patriots, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills.

Chuck Bullough graduated from Orchard Park High School while Hank was with the Bills. Bullough was a stud linebacker in high school, and his final two choices for possible colleges were Michigan State and Syracuse. He visited SU and former Orangemen head coach Dick MacPherson, but decided to play for the Spartans instead.

Still, Bullough said the chance to come to Syracuse to work for Shafer was a chance to come home. Friends from Buffalo have been calling him to congratulate him and tell him the Orange needs to win.

“Sometimes you go to jobs, you know the head coach, you’ve met him but you don’t really know him,” Bullough said. “You don’t know his philosophies, you don’t know what kind of guy he is, what kind of man, what kind of family man he is. Here it’s great, because I know him.”

They only worked together for one season at Western Michigan, but it was one of the most important seasons in their careers. Shafer was the Broncos’ defensive coordinator and Bullough was his linebackers coach. They built a sturdy defense that helped WMU finish the season 7-4, one year after it went 1-10.

Shafer said Bullough is a true football coach. At one point during the season at Western Michigan, Bullough had his father come and speak to the team. Chuck Bullough brought with him one of the championship rings he won during his coaching career. He told the players that if they wanted to see or hold it, they could stick around after practice.

When practice ended, only about 25 players stuck around. Bullough couldn’t believe it.

“What the hell’s going on?” Shafer remembers Bullough saying at the time, “Why didn’t the rest of them want to see it?”

Former Western Michigan linebacker and defensive end Josh Behrens said Bullough was always intense during the Broncos’ practices. Behrens remembers him running around as much as the players.

And the intensity worked, he said. He always got the most out of his players.

“From the film room to the practice field, once we hit the field, he was loud, intense, running around, showing people how to do things,” Behrens said. “For God’s sakes, if you give that guy a helmet, he’d be right in there playing next to you during practice.”

As intense as he was, players still respected him. Matt Ludeman was one of WMU’s linebackers in 2005, and said Bullough was either a role model or father figure for many of his players. He was also brutally honest, he said.

But there was another side to Bullough.

During training camp in 2005, Ludeman and some of his defensive teammates were sitting in one of the coaches’ offices watching film. Bullough walked in, drenched in sweat. He was wearing a whistle around his neck, and the whistle had a white rubber cover.

Ludeman said he’s still not sure what it was, but thinks Bullough either got red Sharpie on it or had a bloody lip, because the white rubber had a red smudge on it.

“Coach, it looks like you’ve got a little lipstick on your whistle there,” Ludeman told Bullough.

Bullough walked over to Ludeman, picked him up by his collar and put him on the desk.

“Don’t ever say that to me again,” Ludeman said Bullough told him.

But that was as much as Bullough could say before he started laughing. Bullough was intense, but only at the right times.

Ludeman also said Bullough remembers to call all of his former players on their birthday, even years after he’s coached them.

Shafer said that’s how he knows Bullough’s players respect him. They’ll call him to check and see how he’s doing or wish he and his teams luck.

“Those are the guys I want to surround myself with,” Shafer said. “Guys that are more talented than I am. My dad always said that, too, and we’ve all heard it, ‘Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are but also people that are as passionate as you are, too.’

“That’s what we’ve got in Chuck Bullough.”

Bullough left Shafer and Western Michigan after only one season to join Rick Neuheisel’s coaching staff at UCLA. He was the Bruins’ linebackers coach in 2008 and defensive coordinator in 2009. UCLA led the Pac-10 Conference in total defense, tackles for loss, turnovers forced, scoring defense and pass defense.

But the 21 points the Bruins allowed per game were too much for Neuhisel, and he fired Bullough after the season. At the time, Neuheisel told reporters Bullough’s 4-3 mindset didn’t fit at UCLA. He wanted to use a 3-4 scheme.

Now Bullough is at Syracuse, where he’ll be taking over a defense that Shafer built into a rock solid unit, with a 4-3. The Orange is losing five players to graduation on the defensive side of the ball, including strong safety Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse’s leading tackler, and middle linebacker Siriki Diabate.

Whoever takes their spots, though, will be expected to play at a high level, regardless of how young they might be.

Austin Pritchard was a freshman at Western Michigan in 2005, and saw significant playing time due to injuries to other players. He was only 18, and months removed from high school, but Bullough told him that wasn’t an excuse.

“That was never acceptable. It wasn’t like, ‘I know you’re a freshman, it’ll be OK,’” Pritchard said. “It makes you grow up. When you’re forced to play a lot of freshmen, that’s what you need.”

Bullough said at his introductory press conference his defense will look a lot like Shafer’s, with the exception of some minor adjustments. But Syracuse will still have a 4-3 defense and the same third-down package.

Shafer and Bullough have always shared the same view of football, especially on defensive schemes. It started at Western Michigan. Now, eight years later, it continues at Syracuse.

“That excites me to have Chuck aboard,” Shafer said. “He’s a special guy and a special coach.”


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