The offseason sentiment has been the same for three seasons now for Michigan football following bowl game losses.
“Just motivates us to be better, do better,” said junior VIPER Khaleke Hudson at Wednesday night’s media availability. “Last season didn’t end the way we wanted it to end, and we weren’t where we wanted to be.”
Changing that narrative requires change, but departures by defensive line coach Greg Mattison and linebackers’ coach Al Washington to Ohio State were not expected components of that change.
On Jan. 11, the Wolverines hired 36-year-old Anthony Campanile, a defensive coordinator at Boston College, to take over a linebackers unit that’s losing All-American Devin Bush. Campanile, though, is currently listed as an unspecified defensive assistant.
As Campanile met with Michigan media for the first time Wednesday, his gruff voice boomed, apt to match defensive coordinator Don Brown, who Campanile replaced when he first got hired by the Eagles.
“Coach Brown is an aggressive personality — I feel that way,” Campanile said. “I have an aggressive personality. I coach that way, he coaches that way. … I think coach Brown and coach (Jim) Harbaugh have made it a point to bring people in who have a similar mindset when they’re coaching. … Go coach with your hair on fire and in between the lines.
“Someone asked me what my experience has been like. I feel like I’m home. They’re like the people I grew up with, they’re tough guys.”
Campanile is an East Coaster, through and through. He is a New Jersey native who strictly played and coached football in New Jersey and Massachusetts before landing in Ann Arbor. Campanile worked at Rutgers with new wide receivers’ coach Ben McDaniels and has known special teams coordinator Chris Partridge since they were 13.
“It’s just fun being with some old friends, meeting some new people, everybody’s been great here,” Campanile said. “Any time you move in coaching it’s hard. I think if it isn’t hard when you leave coaching you’re probably in the wrong business. … Leaving the East Coast, leaving the pizza — that’s hard for me.”
While Campanile will mostly be coaching linebackers, the flexibility of his role lends him a voice across the entire defense, with Brown having the final say. The departure of Bush to the NFL draft, though, leaves his primary responsibility with questions to be answered. Namely, who can replace the sideline-to-sideline speed that made Bush a defensive linchpin?
Through the first week of spring practice, that player emerging from the “heated waters of competition,” as Harbaugh put it, seems to be sophomore Josh Ross.
“He’s good sideline-to-sideline, he’s a hard hitter, he reads offensive linemen very well, he’s where he has to be all the time,” Hudson said of Ross. “There won’t be a drop off at all, actually. He’ll do the same thing Devin Bush was doing, maybe even better.”
Campanile, of course, fawned over the group.
“They’re good, those are some of my early impressions,” he said, wryly. “Getting the chance to work with some of the guys has been awesome. Khaleke Hudson is a really talented kid, very humble guy, hard-working guy, and he practices like a maniac. … There’s a myriad of other guys like that.”
A newer unit will certainly present a unique challenge for the new coach, but he’s not starting at square one. Even before these past two months on the job, Campanile had an idea of what the Wolverines’ defensive unit was like. He calls himself a “football maniac” with encyclopedic football knowledge, a description that he attributes to having a football family — his father and three brothers all coached.
“Everybody grows up pretending they’re playing at Michigan in their backyard,” Campanile said. “I know I did. Everybody in our house did. I’m certainly very familiar with the things that are important here, the history here.”
Campanile may have missed his chance to don a maize and blue uniform, but he's already comfortable doing the next best thing.