Jesse Minter is kind of like the newest iPhone.
Each time Apple releases the latest edition of its premier product, it’s less new and rather more of the same. Sure, it’s got a few new bells and whistles, but everything people loved — what makes an iPhone an iPhone — stays the same.
That’s exactly what people want. And that’s Minter.
“All the way back to the beginning, one of the reasons I was brought here was to keep continuity with what we were doing,” Minter, the No. 3 Michigan football team’s defensive coordinator, said Wednesday.
And continuity is something Minter does well.
Heading into the 2021 season, the Wolverines fired former defensive coordinator Don Brown for substandard performance, replacing him with Mike Macdonald. Under Macdonald, the Michigan defense thrived, turning around its identity and ending the year ranked eighth. But in the offseason, Macdonald left for a role with the same title with the Baltimore Ravens.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was left with a predicament: hire another new coordinator and re-tool, or look for someone who knew the system Macdonald ran and pick up right where he left off. Harbaugh went with the latter and hired Minter.
Minter did more than pick up where Macdonald left off, he improved. Currently, the Wolverines rank No. 1 in total defense, scoring defense and rush defense, and No. 4 in pass defense. But a large part of that is the carryover in the system.
“We’ve honestly kept that same kind of philosophy and defensive culture we really held over from last year,” junior defensive lineman Kris Jenkins said Monday. “And it’s really been interesting. We’ve been able to build off of with the new players that are coming up, so it’s really been a great opportunity. I feel like we’re really comfortable in the system that we got right now.”
To succeed in doing so is easier said than done. It took dedication from the moment Minter stepped foot in Ann Arbor to understand what steps were needed to reach the point his defense is at now.
He needed to understand the old system, insert his own spin on it, gain respect as a leader and coach and understand Michigan’s personnel. And part of understanding personnel wasn’t just current players, but understanding who the Wolverines lost.
“We lost some really good players, some key players, lost (Macdonald),” Minter said. “And it’s like, ‘How can we keep this thing moving in the right direction?’ Everybody kind of enjoyed the defense and liked what we were doing from a schematic standpoint. So just really try to keep it going and add things.”
From year-to-year, minor additions are the key. As teams play games, film accumulates, and defenses become readable and predictable. Even with a new coordinator, while running the same system, Michigan has to hedge against that reality.
The solution? Change it up — just enough.
“Our blitz rates might be different, or the way we pressure at times might be different, but overall it’s a lot of the stuff that we had in our playbook over the years,” Minter said.
Jenkins, though, thinks there’s even more change than what Minter let on.
“(The defense) is a lot different,” Jenkins said. “It’s more different than most people would notice, especially when it’s working off the new plays, the new people we got on board; working off our strengths, working off our preferences, working together as a unit.”
So far this season, the system — with all the changes and all the similarities — has exceeded expectations. Minter should probably take some credit for that, but he won’t. Instead, he gives the laurels to his players.
“I think it’s just the players,” Minter said. “These guys, we have a lot of talented players. They play really well together. They really enjoy playing together. They’re a very competitive group who wants to be perfect. And you’re never going to be perfect, but they want to get better every day.”
Again, like Minter — like the new iPhone — the Wolverines want to get a little bit better while keeping all of their best features. Even after a good defensive season last year, they want to get just a little bit better.
And so far this season, Minter and Michigan’s defense has been an upgrade.