According to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown has been fired.
This is Michigan’s first staff change after a calamitous 2-4 season, in which it ranked 87th in yards per game and 96th in scoring defense nationwide.
Brown signed a contract extension in January 2019 that was set to expire after the 2021 season. He would have been given a $600,000 retention bonus had Michigan kept him, on top of his base $1.1 million salary, which was set to rise to $1.7 million next season had he been kept.
Assuming he was fired without cause, though, Brown’s buyout is equivalent to his outstanding base salary — or $1.7 million, per his contract — plus any “earned but unpaid” incentives for team performance. It does not appear that Michigan reached any of the incentives in Brown’s contract this season. That buyout amount is contingent on his not finding a new job.
Hired in 2016, Brown made the Wolverines into one of the best defenses in the nation, a mark at which they stayed for the next few years. However, they gradually slipped down those rankings through the years while also struggling to recruit at key positions such as defensive tackle and cornerback.
Brown’s defenses also struggled to acquit themselves against the nation’s best offenses, getting embarrassed by Saquon Barkley and Penn State in 2017, Jonathan Taylor and Wisconsin in 2019 and Ohio State on a yearly basis. After a now-infamous 62-39 loss at Ohio State in which the Buckeyes ran crossing routes to the tune of nearly 400 passing yards, Brown vowed to be better. In 2019, Ohio State scored 54 points in a win.
“I don’t blame players for anything, OK?” Brown said in May. “You blame the old guy, right here. OK? I gotta do a better job of getting our players ready and I promise you I’m going to.”
But that never came to pass.
The Wolverines’ defense was at the center of their problems this year. Though they lost their best cornerback, Ambry Thomas, to an opt-out and their best pass-rushers, Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye, to injuries at various points of the season, Brown’s defense couldn’t overcome the issues.
All year, it struggled with penalties, it struggled to get pressure and it struggled to cover opposing receivers downfield. That proved to be a poor combination, as Michigan gave up over 400 yards of offense in five of six games.
After the season’s third game, a loss at Indiana in which quarterback Michael Penix Jr. carved up the Wolverines for 342 passing yards and three touchdowns, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked if he still had confidence in Brown.
“Yes, I do,” he said. “Yeah, I do, very much so. I love all of our coaches. Every coach on this staff. They work extremely hard. Their schemes are really good. And they coach them good. And we just keep forging ahead. We stay after it to make that next step. Critical step.”
That confidence seems to have eroded over the following weeks, as the defense kept struggling.
And now, Brown is looking for a new job.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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