Mike Macdonald is swapping his Harbaugh allegiance — again.
After just one season in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s defensive coordinator is returning to the NFL to assume the same role for the Baltimore Ravens, leaving Jim Harbaugh with a gaping void to fill on his coaching staff.
Last January, the 34-year-old Macdonald left Baltimore to join the Wolverines’ defensive staff on the recommendation of Ravens coach John Harbaugh. Prior to coming to Michigan, Macdonald spent seven seasons on Baltimore’s staff, most recently as the linebackers coach.
Macdonald was the undisputed architect behind Michigan’s stunning defensive transformation. Replacing the embattled Don Brown, Macdonald rejuvenated a beleaguered unit that ranked as the third-worst scoring defense in the Big Ten in 2020. In 2021, the Wolverines’ defense emerged as a strength, allowing just 17 points per game — the eight-best mark in the nation.
Macdonald overhauled the crux of Michigan’s defense, implementing a more traditional 4-3 scheme, a philosophy that befitted the team’s personnel. He devised and executed a scheme to slow down Ohio State’s high-powered offense, snapping the Buckeyes’ eight-game winning streak in the vaunted rivalry. The Game, which ultimately served as the downfall of his predecessor, served as Macdonald’s exclamation point.
Throughout the season, players and coaches alike heralded Macdonald’s impact. Edge rusher David Ojabo, who evolved into a future first-round pick under Macdonald’s watch, lauded Macdonald for making “the game fun again.” Junior cornerback D.J. Turner, another player who made tremendous strides, noted that Macdonald “gave me a chance.”
“I always wanted to be a defensive coordinator at any level,” Macdonald said last month before the Orange Bowl when asked to explain his decision to come to Michigan. “If you want to do it at the biggest stage and have an impact on an organization, then this is the place to do it. Very thankful that (Harbaugh) gave me this opportunity, and you can see, it’s kind of like you’ve got to pinch yourself.”
A few weeks later, Macdonald’s words ring hollow. Now, with Harbaugh’s own future still very much marred in uncertainty amidst a craze of NFL rumors, the Wolverines will have to reshuffle their defensive staff and find a new primary play caller.