Michigan football: Don Brown's dismissal as Wolverines' DC shouldn't be a shocker
If there was going to be a first one to take the axe at Michigan following a forgettable 2020 run, it was going to be defensive coordinator Don Brown.
On Tuesday, the Wolverines decided to part ways with “Dr. Blitz,” a 2-time Broyles Award winner whose subpar defense was a major contributor to UM’s 2-4 finish to a shortened schedule. The Wolverines finished with the No. 90 defense in the country. Statistically, Rutgers had a better defense this past season. So did Michigan State and Illinois. The Wolverines gave up 34.5 points per game, coming in at No. 12 in the 14-team Big Ten.
After being recognized as the nation’s top assistant on either side of the ball in 2016 and 2017, Brown has been on a steady decline in recent years.
Brown’s defense was also a clear liability in 2019, so his exit following one of the worst seasons in recent Michigan football history shouldn’t come as a shock. This past year only emphasized what many saw coming down the pike one year ago: UM was going to make a change, and Brown was going to be the first to receive walking papers.
During his first four years, Brown’s defenses consistently ranked among the best in the nation in every category, finishing in the top 12 each season and as high as No. 2 in 2016. Yards per play, points per game, pass breakups, tackles for losses — you name it, his defenses did it, and at the highest of levels. Scoring two touchdowns in four quarters used to be a challenge for opponents. During the past two years, they’ve found ways to put a pair of TDs on the board within the first 15 minutes.
In 2020, Michigan gave up 26 touchdowns in its 6 games.
Greg Mattison laid the foundation. DJ Durkin helped advance the cause. Brown, who was hired in 2016, was supposed to be the guy to really cement Michigan as a premier defensive program worthy of awe and admiration. If he achieved elite status with less talent and resources elsewhere — directing the top-ranked total defense at Boston College in 2015 — he was certainly going to change the game once he got a hold of Michigan’s embarrassment of riches.
He coached guys such as Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis, Maurice Hurst, Rashan Gary and several others who made it to the NFL. Josh Uche, Khaleke Hudson and Lavert Hill, to name a few more. Brown was supposed to keep up that rampant pace of star production at Michigan.
Michigan doesn’t have any AP All-Big Ten defensive selections for the first time during the Jim Harbaugh era.
It’s pretty easy to see what led to Brown’s demise. Here’s a look at why he was dismissed from his post.
Brown is OSU’s color
In 2016, Brown’s first go-around against Ohio State, Michigan’s defense helped push Ohio State to triple-overtime. Of course, the Wolverines lost, but it was only 30-27. The next season, UM lost 31-20. It was understood that the Wolverines would need at least 30 points to topple the Buckeyes.
And it was understood that Brown’s defense had to be the pillar of hope on the last Saturday each November. Brown had to tighten up things, and he vowed to do that. He said he wasn’t “going to cry about it” and would strive to “move forward” with a vengeance.
But then the Buckeyes turned it up a notch, tuning up Michigan 62-39 in 2018 and 56-27 in 2019. They dared Brown’s defenses to stop them. Ryan Day, who’s in his second year as Ohio State’s head coach, famously talked about doing much damage to Dr. Blitz’s defense.
After Jim Harbaugh snitched on Ryan Day during a Big Ten coaches phone call, Ryan Day told his team the Big Ten better have a mercy rule this season because they’re gonna hang 100 points on Michigan.
College football. The land of petty.
— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) August 6, 2020
For real, Day? Damn. That was ruthless, man.
Luckily for Michigan, OSU didn’t hang 100 — because UM had to cancel due to COVID-19 concerns, according to reports. But had they played, the Buckeyes would have most definitely put a hurting to the Wolverines. At least 60 points worth of pain and suffering would have been delivered. We’re talking somewhere in the range of 600 total yards and a few Buckeyes putting themselves in the rivalry’s record books.
That’s no exaggeration, either. There is no doubting that OSU would have easily thrown 7 or 8 TDs on the board — if not more.
Bowling (more liked bowled over)
Under Harbaugh, Michigan is 1-4 in bowl games. Under Brown’s defenses, UM is 0-4, giving up at least 26 points each time. Alabama won 35-16 during the 2020 Citrus Bowl and Florida spanked UM 41-15 during the 2018 Peach Bowl. When it came to big games, OSU and bowls, Brown’s defenses just burst at the seams.
More rivalry comedy
Michigan was 3-2 against Michigan State during Brown’s 5-year tenure as defensive coordinator. During the 3 previous meetings before this year, UM had given up a total of 31 points to the Spartans — and that’s including a 14-10 loss in 2017. In 2020, first-year MSU coach Mel Tucker managed to stun the Wolverines — specifically Brown’s defense — with huge chunk plays, a near-200-yard receiver and a 300-yard QB during a 27-24 victory.
There will be more coaching changes in Ann Arbor before next season. Brown was absolutely just the first alteration to a staff that needs some serious evaluation. He came in with a bang but couldn’t maintain. That’s the Don Brown era at Michigan in a nutshell. Seeing his exit, after these past two seasons, doesn’t come a surprise in the least bit. In fact, it was probably a move made one year too late.