An underwhelming 2020 season induced an offseason overhaul for the Michigan football team, particularly on defense.
The Wolverines placed an emphasis on assembling a younger coaching staff, parting ways with 66-year-old defensive coordinator Don Brown and replacing him with 34-year-old Mike Macdonald. Michigan also brought in a trio of new defensive assistant coaches, the oldest of whom is 43.
Amid the turnover, though, one coach remained.
Shaun Nua signed a contract extension in January, retained for his third season as the Wolverines’ defensive line coach. In just two years, Nua, 40, went from one of the youngest coaches on staff to one of the oldest.
“If you’re not producing, of course change is gonna happen,” Nua said on Wednesday when asked to reflect on the tumultuous offseason. “Everybody just looks forward to, not even the future or the past, but for the present. Excited for practice today. That’s kind of the mindset that everybody’s taking on right now.”
Throughout fall camp, players have spoken openly about the apparent culture change within the program. The comments, merely by association, belittle the prior regime — which Nua was a part of. But those remarks aren’t coming at Nua’s expense.
“He’s still coach Nua,” junior defensive tackle Chris Hinton said on Tuesday. “A really energetic guy always, an extremely loving coach who’s really there for us. With the new staff, I can tell that he’s just still that energetic guy. He doesn’t let things affect him. So it’s great that we brought coach Nua back. The guys really appreciate him.”
The transition from Brown to Macdonald represents a stark shift schematically. Brown deployed a unique press-heavy system; in terms of the defensive line, he emphasized speed and quickness, which often left Michigan undersized and vulnerable to being gashed on the ground.
That’s not the case in Macdonald’s more traditional 3-4 system. To adjust, the defensive tackles have gained weight over the offseason, while looking to Nua to ease the transition.
“It’s defense,” Nua said. “They’re gonna do the same thing defensively up front, and that’s where everything starts. 4-3, 3-4, still adds up to seven. So, same thing, same concepts.”
The players have lauded the advantages of having a younger coaching staff, with coaches like Nua who are closer to them in age being easier to relate to. But the similarities in age benefit the coaches, too.
Nua, Macdonald, safeties coach Ron Bellamy (39), linebackers coach George Helow (34) and defensive passing game coordinator Steve Clinkscale (43) are all no more than nine years apart. While they have only worked together as a unit for a few months, Nua emphasized that their chemistry has come together nicely.
“All the coaches, we all put our hands together and raise that whole front,” Nua said. “It’s a big connection. We’re all related.”
That would seemingly bode well for Michigan’s fortunes this season. But, as Nua indicated himself, production is the ultimate barometer. On Saturday, the Wolverines and their revamped defensive coaching staff will get their first crack to make good on their word.