After graduate linebacker Michael Barrett caught his second interception of Saturday’s game at Rutgers this one resulting in a pick-six — hordes of Michigan players rushed down to the endzone to congratulate him, running with him for his big moment.
Except they weren’t all players. One member of the mob was Michigan linebackers coach George Helow.
“I don’t know if you saw coach Helow running down the sidelines after the pic, he got tackled by one of our strength staff guys,” freshman linebacker Jimmy Rolder said Tuesday, smiling. “It was pretty funny.”
That’s just who Helow is. And his energy is as infectious as his intensity is obvious.
Those traits that he wears so confidently probably come from the long and winding road that brought him to Ann Arbor, coaching the linebackers on one of the nation’s top defenses.
After walking onto the Ole Miss football team, Helow earned himself some time on the field. He was never a massive contributor, but in 2010, he led the Rebels in special teams tackles and was nominated for the Burlsworth trophy — the award given to the nation’s premier player that started their journey as a walk-on.
After his playing career ended, Helow eventually found himself as a defensive intern at Alabama during the 2012 season spending time under the tutelage of both Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban and current Georgia coach Kirby Smart. Unsurprisingly, Helow looks back upon those experiences fondly:
“A lot of the structure under Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Kirby Smart and the way they did stuff defensively (was a) great learning tool for me as a young coach,” Helow said.
After Alabama, Helow went to Florida State and worked under Fisher, then Georgia, then Colorado State, and then Maryland for a final stop before coming to Michigan. It was a long path, each new stop garnering him a slightly better title than the last and helping mold him into the coach he is today.
He’s a coach that’s so passionate about what he does that he runs down the field after his players and needs to be tackled in order to be kept off of it. Helow is a constant ball of energy, but his sole purpose isn’t simply to fire a team up.
When you ask Helow a question, he’ll pause as he formulates the best response. That carefulness isn’t always obvious, but it makes it easy to see how he’s climbed the coaching ladder.
But that attention to detail hasn’t always shown up in his position group this season. The Wolverines have a strong defense, but if there was a deficiency to point to during the early parts of the year, it was the linebacker core.
Early in the year, Helow was asked time and again what was wrong with the linebackers, and he always gave the same response:
“There’s some technique things that need to be cleaned up there. They got us on a couple. We’ll get it corrected,” Helow said after the Iowa game when the Hawkeyes gashed Michigan’s linebackers
And while, nine games in, those concerns have never really gone away, there has been improvement over the past couple of weeks. Part of that is due to the lackluster offenses that Michigan has played, but there has been a tangible improvement.
Early on in the season, the Wolverines’ linebackers simply weren’t in the position to make the types of plays like Barrett’s pick-six that let Helow celebrate with his players. Last Saturday night, the same player was in that position twice.
So while Michigan’s linebacker core remains a question mark at this point, Helow has helped facilitate that tangible growth.
And at the rate his unit is progressing, maybe he’ll get to run down the sideline in celebration again before the season’s end.