Less than four years ago, Brentson Buckner was coaching football at a small, private high school in Charlotte. This week he’s finalizing a deal with the Arizona Cardinals to become their defensive line coach.
For Buckner, a former Carolina Panthers defensive tackle, it will be his first permanent job in the NFL since retiring from the game in 2005.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, who is filling out his first staff as a head coach, was the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts this season, serving as interim head coach while Chuck Pagano battled leukemia.
Buckner and Arians know each other from the Pittsburgh Steelers, where Arians was the offensive coordinator from 2007-2011 and Buckner was an intern on the defensive coaching staff from 2010-2012.
“It’s a big jump but I was blessed with the years of playing in the NFL, coaching high school kids and even the little time with the (indoor football team) Charlotte Speed has really helped me build everything together,” Buckner said. “In Pittsburgh, the coaches let me see what a coach’s life is. I was in every personnel meeting, breaking down film, putting down practice plans. They exposed to so much and it was just natural.”
Buckner played 12 years in the NFL, the final five with the Panthers. He joined Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker and Kris Jenkins to form one of the most formidable fronts in NFL in the early 2000s.
Since retiring, Buckner has been the defensive coordinator at Victory Christian High, head coach at Northside Christian and head coach of the Charlotte Speed, though it folded before he coached a game.
The Cardinals’ 3-4 defense was one of the best in the NFL last season. They ranked second in the league in opponents’ third-down success (32.8 percent), fifth in pass defense and tied for 11th in sacks with 38.
Where Buckner, who coached a 3-4 with the Steelers, sees room for improvement is in a rushing defense that allowed 137 rushing yards per game, 28th in the league.
“It’s known as a passing league and everyone wants to throw the ball, consequently guys want to get to the quarterback,” Buckner said. “But it’s still a running football league. If you can’t stop the ball, you’re going to lose the majority of your games.
“We’re going to dictate how the game will go. When we touch the field, our main goal will be to stop the run. Then we’re going to pin our ears back and go eat.”