Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Goodbye, Don Brown


Don Brown (image via Freep)

Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown has been dismissed by the program.

Michigan's defensive finishes during Brown's tenure:

  • 2016: #1 (tied with Alabama) in total defense, #2 in yards/play, #2 in scoring
  • 2017: #3 in total defense, #6 in yards/play, #13 in scoring
  • 2018: #2 in total defense, #8 in yards/play, #16 (tied with Utah) in scoring
  • 2019: #11 in total defense, #10 in yards/play, #25 in scoring
  • 2020: #84 in total defense, #56 (tied with Troy) in yards/play, #96 in scoring

Hit the jump for more.

The decline for Michigan has been pretty steady. I don't necessarily blame Brown for the precipitous drop in 2020. It's not his fault that Ambry Thomas opted out and arguably the two best players on defense got injured early in the season (Kwity Paye, Aidan Hutchinson). My personal belief is that if Brown returned in 2021, the defense would have rebounded somewhat. But would it have been enough?

Regardless, someone has to answer for Michigan's abysmal season. And if it's not the head coach, coordinator heads have to roll. If you're going to hold players accountable and bench them (such as quarterback Joe Milton), then you have to hold coaches accountable and let them go when they're not performing.

Some people have tried to blame one single thing for Brown's downfall, like a refusal to recruit defensive tackles (not true), a refusal to recruit cornerbacks (not true), recruiting the northeast (overblown), etc.

Like with anything, Brown's "failure" was a combination of things. He gave up too many points to Ohio State in 2018 and 2019. His defensive players lacked confidence and motivation in 2020. The defense was not prepared for Michigan State in 2020. His messing around with the 3-3-5 was nonsensical. Ultimately, I think the MSU game in 2020 was the nail in the coffin, because Michigan quite simply didn't adjust throughout the game.

It also didn't help that Michigan was unable to put any kind of decent pass rusher on the field once Paye and Hutchinson got hurt. Brown (and defensive line coach Shaun Nua) should have someone else on the roster who can get after the quarterback, whether it's Luiji Vilain, David Ojabo, Jaylen Harrell, etc. In past years Michigan has had a few guys who can get pressure (blitzing inside linebackers, Taco Charlton, Chase Winovich, Noah Furbush, Josh Uche, Rashan Gary, etc.), but Michigan in 2020 had nobody except its starting defensive ends who could generate an organic pass rush. They finished #12 out of 14 Big Ten teams in sacks per game (1.5), and they had two games with 0 sacks and two different games with 0 quarterback hurries.

Anyway, I believe that Don Brown has some good coaching years left in him, and someone is going to get a good defensive coordinator.

As for Michigan? I've heard lots of talk about recently fired Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason, who worked for Jim Harbaugh for one year at Stanford in 2010. Over the years there has been a lot of talk about Harbaugh getting the band back together from one of his previous stops, and that has not been the case most of the time. No coach on the current staff is a former player or coach from a previous Harbaugh stop, and there have only been a few cases of that overall (Pep Hamilton, Tim Drevno, Greg jackson, D.J. Durkin).

The two most recent coordinators (Brown and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis) were both brought in with no direct connection to Harbaugh.


  1. Are Shaun Nua and the LB coach dismissed too?
    What hurt the defense the most is Greg Mattison leaving. There is very good reason Ohio St wanted him.

    1. I don't think that information has been relayed yet. Personally, I don't think it's a good idea to clean house immediately if you haven't hired a defensive coordinator. For all we know, a guy like Charlie Strong might be hired as defensive coordinator, and Brian Jean-Mary was Strong's defensive coordinator. So if you fire Jean-Mary and then end up hiring Strong, you've basically burned a bridge.

      Agree on Mattison. I know I've said it multiple times, but he's the #2 defensive line coach in the country, IMO. That was a big loss.

    2. Thunder
      I have seen you talk about Greg Mattison. You said the guy at Ohio St is the #1 D Line coach. Now they are together.

  2. DL - specifically DT - CB's with athleticism, adjusting to ohio's pass happy Offense, being stingy with NE recruiting ... there's a lot to point to as a root cause in our Defense falling apart. But the HC is the guy in charge, and every problem can be traced to his "hands off" approach on that side of the ball. Is it because the offense was much, much worse?

    I get the feeling we will be replacing the entire staff next year anyway

    1. I don't think the defense's failing had much to do with the offensive ineptitude except perhaps against Wisconsin. When Wisconsin starting putting points up on the board and the offense couldn't do jack squat, you could definitely see the life draining pretty quickly from those defensive guys.

  3. Did Brown go out and recruit himself? Or did he simply communicate what he felt were areas of need, and the recruiting coordinator then guided the outbound recruiters?

    1. No, no, that's not how recruiting works. Brown did go out and recruit, but coaches don't go out and find players on their own. Coaches go out, get names and info, and bring back film/info to the staff. Offers don't go out unless the head coach and/or coordinator approve. They also get names and info through recruiting services they pay for (not 247 and Rivals, but more obscure, less public companies), and those names, info, and film are brought to the head coach/coordinator for approval.

      There's a lot of misinformation about the recruiting coordinator's role. I might have to make that a separate post. But the recruiting coordinator is largely just a conduit between the coaching staff and recruits. He arranges on-campus visits, arranges when coaches might visit a school/prospect, keeps track of kids' birthdays or other "minutiae," etc.

    2. If you find time, please do write an article on the reality of recruiting. It would be very interesting. I'd love to better understand a few things:

      (1) How does a team prioritize and coordinate within its overall recruiting needs? If offense wants 15 and defense wants 15 but you only have 20 slots, what then?

      (2) What makes a recruiter a "great" one, a "good" one, and a "bad" one. Is it mostly personal rapport and relationship?


  4. Do you wonder if Don Brown just got what I like to call "Wade Phillips Syndrome?" This is where your defense is amazing the first few years and then everyone kinda figures you out afterwards. Then you get fired, resurface with another team and your defense is amazing again for a few more years...

    1. Yep. This kind of thing is harder to quantify, but I think you become somewhat predictable as a coach at times. A certain head coach's philosophy or recruiting philosophy can kind of pin you into a corner, and you just get comfortable there...and then other teams just starting ganging up on you and you don't know how to adjust.

      This absolutely happens in real life. Even when people aren't "game planning" to beat you, I've heard the theory that you should change jobs every 10 years or so just to keep yourself from becoming stagnant.

      If Brown goes somewhere else, people are going to use film of him at Michigan...but that film might not be relevant at, say, Syracuse or Virginia Tech because those teams have different talent bases. So while Brown was mostly a 4-3 guy at Michigan, he might have to use more of his 3-4 package. And while he was man coverage at Michigan, he might have to run more zone somewhere else.

      In high school I know people talk about fitting players into your system, but we have more success by switching systems every few years because you fall into a rut and/or opponents figure out how to beat you when they're seeing the same thing from you every year.

      The HS program I'm in hit a wall several years ago, and the head coach didn't adjust. The program went downhill, and he was replaced. Then a new coach came in with some fresh ideas - same players, but fresh perspective - and things took off a little bit.

      I do think Brown is a flexible coach, because he has used different schemes in the various places he has been. But I think you want to cycle through ideas a little more, and Brown just stuck with the fastball far too long (blitz and play man coverage) rather than saying, "Okay, this year we're going to play more Cover 2" to show a different look and because our personnel has changed.

      I'm not saying change the terminology or anything, because you don't want the kids to get confused. But you change your emphasis and maybe expand certain packages. Brown just didn't seem to do that until after this year's MSU game, and by then it was too late. I think the kids were tired of getting beaten by Ohio State, and then when MSU threw the ball all over them, they gave up.

  5. The kast time Michigan's defensive line was solid two things were different than now. Greg Mattison ead coaching it, and Michigan had a good 300+ lbs DT, Bryan Mone.
    Mo Hurst played like he was +300. I think he was 297.

    Need a BIG d line.

    joseph dreamed dreams

  6. Yes, there are some that worked out decent but his recruiting still was below-avg for UM standards.
    Primary recruiter: Tyler Martin (2022), Osman Savage, Kris Jenkins, Taylor Upshaw, Sammy Faustin, Kwity Paye, Josh Uche, TJ Guy

    These are the guys he got to go to UM. Only Paye was good from the East coast, and Uche from Florida. Otherwise, most of these kids were reaches and mostly irrelevant. Also, they aren't up to UM standards. I'm not even mentioning other kids that were processed out like the LB this year. There is only 1 kid that had a ranking of 90 or higher. This is diplorable as a recruiter from UM, let alone a defensive coordinator. Most of his success were from other recruits from the previous regime Wormley, Hurst, Gary, Pepperers, Bush etc.

    I like his aggressive style and he'll do great at a smaller program but he just couldn't adjust. UM doesn't need a Derrick Mason or Jim Leavitt, they need a young, great recruiter who surrounds himself with experienced assistants.

    1. I should mention, my list of players are DEFENSIVE guys only from out of state (also forgot Kalel Mullings who also was a 93 rating). He was primary for a number or offensive lineman too. Those weren't impressive either though.