Former defensive coordinator returns to Big House sideline — but for Eastern Michigan

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BY MICHAEL EISENSTEIN
Daily Sports Editor
Published September 15, 2009

He may be two years removed from the minds of Wolverine fans, but he works 10 minutes down Washtenaw Ave. First-year Eastern Michigan football coach Ron English is responsible for the two oldest classes of Michigan’s current defense.

That may make this upcoming weekend a bit awkward.

“It will be weird because (English) actually recruited me, and he's the reason I'm here right now,” junior safety Troy Woolfolk said.

The voice he will hear from the other sideline this weekend will be the same screaming he heard as a freshman on English’s stellar Michigan defense in 2007.

“(I want to) show him that he recruited me for a reason, so I'm going to try and go hard against him,” Woolfolk said.

English worked under former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr for five seasons before Wolverine coach Rich Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor.

With Michigan, English coached the secondary for three years before taking over as the defensive coordinator for his final two. In his first year calling plays, English’s defense was the best in the country against the rush and No. 10 overall, leading Michigan to the Rose Bowl.

In his second season, the defense was ranked just 24th in the country but was still very solid, particularly against the pass. But then Carr, who eventually recommended Eastern Michigan hire English, retired.

“I interviewed all the coaches,” Rodriguez said Monday, reflecting back his transition to Ann Arbor. “I interviewed the entire staff at Schembechler Hall. It took a few hours, but they were gracious enough to wait.”

Rodriguez ended up rehiring just one — running backs coach Fred Jackson. He “talked briefly” with English and thought he had done an “outstanding job as defensive coordinator." But Rodriguez decided to hire Stanford’s Scott Shafer, instead. Afterward, Louisville hired English to be its defensive coordinator.

"I had an idea in mind defensively, and we made a change after last year and I'm happy where we're at,” Rodriguez said. “But I know he's got a lot of friends here, as you would expect. He spent a couple of years at a neat place, and you're going to make a lot of friends. He's been fortunate. He got a head coaching job, and I'm sure he's going to make the most of it."

Rodriguez is clearly skirting around English’s past in Ann Arbor, and English doesn't seem to keep in touch with the players he brought to Michigan.

“I try to, but see, I have phone problems and I break my phone all the time,” Woolfolk said. “So when I do that, the number's never saved.

“I'll try to get his number sometime.”

What Woolfolk remembers most about his old coach, who became just the fifth African-American head coach in college football when the Eagles hired him, is the same fiery nature that the Big House used to see every Saturday two seasons ago.

“He was very intense,” Woolfolk said. “He was one coach — because I get screamed at by a lot of coaches — he was the one coach that, like, would scream at you and you would really fear him at the end of the day, so you wanted to do well. He's a good coach and I respect him.”