Michigan football: Yes, the loss of DC Mike Macdonald is a big deal
Sugarcoat it, choose to see the sunny side, turn that frown upside down — it doesn’t change the fact that the loss of defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald is a major blow to Michigan’s overall progress.
A staple of Wolverines football since the day Jim Harbaugh returned, tough defenses have been about the only truly consistent aspect of the program, and Macdonald had one of the most well-rounded in Ann Arbor since the days of Greg Mattison. Though it only finished No. 20 overall, a big drop when examining past finishes, the Wolverines’ defense was one of the most consistent in the Big Ten this past season. In terms of B1G teams’ national rankings, only Iowa (No. 17 overall) and Wisconsin (No. 1) had better total defenses.
Macdonald didn’t get a chance to flex his skills a ton on the recruiting trail, but it’s a safe bet that he would have developed into one of UM’s top recruiters in short order — if not one of the best in the nation. His NFL pedigree speaks for itself, and it sounds like it’s telling him to return to the Baltimore Ravens, for whom he coached linebackers prior to joining Michigan’s staff this past season.
Oh, and John Harbaugh, the older brother of Jim, is the coach of the Ravens.
So does this mean that Jim Harbaugh is leaving Michigan? His brother is, after all, plucking one of his top assistants. That wouldn’t happen if Jim was staying put in Ann Arbor, right? Or does this mean that Macdonald was a rental all along, never a part of the grand scheme of UM football?
We’ll have to wait and see about the first question. And it’s doubtful that Michigan will publicly say that Macdonald was a one-year bridge to a permanent solution at defensive coordinator, a role that looks like it’ll be filled by Steve Clinkscale, the DBs coach, and Mike Elston, the D-line coach who just hopped over from Notre Dame.
That’s the conventional thought, anyway. Though media will speculate on other candidates, it’s likely that UM will fill the position with existing personnel. Why would the Wolverines go get an outsider right in the thick of recruiting season? That doesn’t make sense. Logic would suggest having Clinkscale and Elston share the DC role. Clinkscale has been an adequate recruiter for UM and Elston has a strong track record, most recently solidified by roughly a decade at Notre Dame.
According to 247Sports, Macdonald reeled in 5 players for Michigan’s 2022 class, including a pair of 4-star DLs in Derrick Moore and Mason Graham, along with a pair of 4-star LBs in Raylen Wilson and Jimmy Roller. Throw in 3-star EDGE Kevonte Henry, and that’s a decent first-time haul. Moore and Wilson committed in December, weeks before rumors began swirling about Macdonald. Could they end up choosing another school?
So back to the point: Having Clinkscale and Elston share the DC role could help hold things together, basically becoming the best-case scenario for UM. Doesn’t sound too bad, but it’s still far from ideal. Losing Macdonald also highlights the lack of continuity on Harbaugh’s staff. That doesn’t mean that they don’t fit or get along, it just means that Michigan can’t seem to keep a solid core for more than a couple of years — at best.
File Macdonald under the “Fisch Files,” a drawer containing information on ideal coaches who, for one reason or another, never stuck around Michigan for too long. A Fisch-coached passing game — or even him as the OC — with Macdonald calling the shots on defense would pretty much be the pinnacle for the Wolverines, who had great offense under Fisch (2015-16) and incredibly solid defense with Macdonald.
Harbaugh’s Michigan can attract some of the top coaches. Look at what Mike Hart has done with the running backs. Look at Jay Harbaugh’s entire resume at UM; he’s coached just about everything, and he’s done it well. But the question isn’t about getting talent, it’s about keeping it around long enough to establish some history. It’s about optics. How will recruits view Michigan, knowing in the back of their minds that their coordinator might not be there once they step foot on campus, or throughout their collegiate careers?
Building a championship program? How? Those require consistency and familiar faces.
Yeah, the super-fan Michigan media might tell you not to worry; it’s Michigan, after all, the leaders and best. Every 5-star recruit should want to play for UM, so on and so forth. But the reality is that Macdonald’s departure is a step backward, and it’s coming at the worst time possible.