As soon as Steve Clinkscale arrived in Ann Arbor, Ron Bellamy knew he had a solid partner to work with.
The two previously crossed paths when Bellamy was the head coach at West Bloomfield High School — one of the most dominant programs in Michigan. Clinkscale was a secondary coach at Kentucky with a knack for recruiting the Midwest; it’d be impossible for them not to know each other.
So when the sudden departure of Maurice Linguist resulted in Bellamy moving from receivers coach to safeties and Clinkscale entering the fold as a defensive backs coach, the two gelled almost immediately.
“(Clinkscale’s) my guy,” Bellamy told reporters Wednesday. “You develop a relationship with college coaches — that was always my thing with West Bloomfield. I always wanted to make sure I had a great rapport with the players and the coaches. If I’m signing off on a kid going to college, I want to know who’s recruiting them and what that person is about.”
Michigan’s shift to a younger coaching staff in the offseason — and the hiring of Bellamy, especially — was largely viewed not just as a technical decision, but also as a way to refocus on recruiting to raise the program’s ceiling in the future. Logically, it makes sense — young coaches can more easily relate to high school athletes, and Bellamy himself better understands them thanks to his eleven years spent at West Bloomfield.
From that experience, Bellamy learned that recruits valued genuineness. Some of that is surface level — recruits will see right through a coach who promises they’ll play as freshmen while their entire rotation is upperclassmen, for instance. Even more, it’s about personal authenticity and being able to assure an athlete (and his parents) that he’ll be taken care of on and off the field.
That’s the culture Bellamy wants to help build at Michigan. Now on the other side of recruiting, he tries to emulate the qualities that he saw in coaches he respected — like Clinkscale.
“First and foremost, get to know the kids,” Bellamy said. “Make sure they understand that they’re loved. We tell them that we love them every day, just kind of building that trust. And they know we have their back, they have our back.
“It’s a brotherhood.”
Of course, a welcoming, winning culture also requires buy-in from the players. To create that, Bellamy started with the upperclassmen. Fifth-year safety Brad Hawkins came first, with Bellamy asking him to take more of a leadership role on the defense. Then, he worked with senior cornerbacks Gemon Green and Vincent Gray to do the same. Junior nickel corner Daxton Hill, too, has been tasked with building that brotherhood as one of the better players on the defense.
Bellamy’s ultimate goal was to have his players shaping the Wolverines’ culture themselves. So far, it looks as if it’s working.
“You want positivity in your room,” Bellamy said. “You want accountability and positivity. One of the things is we’re gonna lift our brothers up, and by doing that, they know how to check each other in a respectful, positive way.”
The early returns on Michigan’s defense this season are positive — as a unit, it looks smarter, more active and just more confident overall — but it also hasn’t faced the toughest competition thus far.
Bellamy can promote a positive culture all he wants, but if the Wolverines don’t sustain this early success, not many recruits will want to play for them anyway.
Still, that buy-in definitely doesn’t hurt.
“Coach Harbaugh, he has a message that he conveys to the program every day,” Bellamy said. “We’re just an extension of that message.”