Michigan players, coaches defend Don Brown amid criticism

Wednesday, November 18, 2020 - 9:03pm

The mask has come off for Don Brown, whose defense has allowed 34.7 points per game so far this season.

The mask has come off for Don Brown, whose defense has allowed 34.7 points per game so far this season. Buy this photo
Miles Macklin/Daily

After a loss to Indiana in which Michigan’s defense gave up 38 points and the secondary got torched — again — Jim Harbaugh was asked if he still had faith in his defensive coordinator.

“Yes, I do. I do. Very much so,” he said Nov. 7.

After another week of more of the same — this time to the tune of 49 Wisconsin points — the questions about Brown’s job security reared their heads again.

On Monday, sophomore safety Daxton Hill affirmed that the team wasn’t listening to the criticism.

We’re focusing on us, not really worried about trying to worry about the outside people. So whatever’s being said it doesn’t really matter,” Hill said. “Coach Brown, he’s gonna continue doing his job, motivating us to just keep battling, so he’s gonna remain coach Brown.”

It’s no secret that this year’s defense has fallen off Brown’s usual standard. Usually a top-10 defense in the country, the Wolverines this year have plummeted to No. 26 in SP+. They’ve allowed an average of 425.8 yards and 34.5 points per game and allowed opponents to convert 47% of third downs — ranked 10th, 11th and 12th in the Big Ten, respectively.

But Michigan generally does not fire coaches, including coordinators, midseason. Brown has one year left on his current deal, and if he is fired after this season, he will be owed the remainder of the money on the contract, which totals $1.7 million.

It’s likely that at least for the time being, Hill is right — Brown will remain “coach Brown.” It’s also not a program likely to even hint at “hot seat” talk. According to junior cornerback Gemon Green, coaches have told the team to stay away from social media, where criticisms and rumors abound.

If Brown is fired, we’ll know the day he is shown the door. Until then, the team will reaffirm its confidence. 

“This defense has been successful for many years and Don is an aggressive style coach, that’s who we are and that’s who we’re gonna be, we have added a couple wrinkles and I think they will help,” cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich said Wednesday. “ ... We have to adjust as coaches as well, we can't just keep banging our heads against the wall, we gotta give our guys a chance to develop and get settled in with the fundamentals and techniques.”

A common criticism of Brown’s defense is that he sticks too much to his press-man defense and doesn’t play enough zone. This year, that criticism isn’t valid  — Brown willingly deployed zone schemes more often in 2019 after Ohio State overwhelmed the Wolverines on crossing routes, and has continued mixing-and-matching this season. The bigger problem is that Michigan has struggled playing both man and zone and have been undisciplined, resulting in penalties.

Zordich, too, has looked inward, as his unit is one of the main culprits of the defense’s struggles.

“I don’t think I’ve changed (my coaching style) at all,” he said. “Maybe I should, being with the results that we’ve had the first couple games, but our kids are very receptive to the way I’ve coached and I think there’s a mutual respect between all of us and I see in the last, especially in the last couple weeks.”

Ultimately, even if there was a scheme issue, midseason is too late for a significant overhaul. If Michigan hopes to turn the defense around, it will fall on Brown and the rest of the staff to help the defense regain confidence, improve its technique and stay disciplined. 

That, above all, will determine the future of Brown’s job.


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