Here's why Michigan football is making the right move by firing Don Brown
Five years ago while looking for a new defensive coordinator for football in Michigan, Jim Harbaugh sat down and flipped through college football stats for the 2015 season.
One school kept popping up among the usual suspects: Boston College.
So Harbaugh hired the man behind these defenses.
"Look for good defense mechanisms and it's easy to see, it was number 1 in the country," Harbaugh said in 2015. "Top of the list in several categories."
And for the most part, Brown did what the numbers said he would. He coordinated four defenses that ended up in the top 12 in overall defense, with three - 2016-18 - being in the top 3. He brought Ann Arbor a physical, aggressive style of defense that resulted in lots of sacking and tackling - and more than a few NFL draft picks.
Michigan Defense Coordinator Don Brown speaks to players during a first-half timeout against Penn State at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020.
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Still, college football is a volatile business. No wonder the Wolverines have chosen Brown as their defensive coordinator after his fifth season.
The time only seemed ripe for a farewell.
The reasons for Brown's firing start with what happened this fall when Michigan posted a record losing 4-2 for the first time since 2014. Defense, once a strength of the program, was a major weakness, allowing an average of 34.5 points per game. The Wolverines took 56th place per game in the defensive courts. Rocky Lombardi from the state of Michigan - now in the transfer portal - threw 323 yards and three touchdowns. Rutgers' Noah Vedral - himself in his second Big Ten school - threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns.
It also went beyond the numbers.
The Wolverines looked undisciplined, with missed tackles and blown covers, and had problems all season. The problems started against Michigan state - when Michigan's secondary school was repeatedly set on fire while playing men's coverage - and continued in games against Indiana - allowing a single receiver more than 140 yards before halftime - and Wisconsin when that Badgers ran a limited selection of games and games scored 49 points - before scoring 20 points over the next three games combined.
[Forget the state of Ohio. Michigan football is now lagging behind Indiana too.]
Ultimately, however, these mistakes could pale in comparison to the battles Brown's defense had against the state of Ohio.
In 2018, Michigan traveled to Columbus with the nation's highest defense. U-M was a win after receiving the program's first college football playoff offer. Instead, the Wolverines suffered one of the most memorable casualties in the history of the rivalry - a 62-39 blowout that took the state of Ohio 567 meters in total.
Michigan Defense Coordinator Don Brown, left, and head coach Jim Harbaugh on Saturday, September 22, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on the sidelines against Nebraska.
Despite a bevy of NFL talent, Brown had no answer for the Buckeyes. Michigan's man coverage was torn to pieces by the Ohio state's intersection routes and network concepts, and the Buckeyes hit big in the game as well. Brown vowed that next time things would be different. But the state of Ohio racked up 577 yards and 56 points in 2019 as quarterback Justin Fields picked up where Dwayne Haskins left off.
The rift between the Wolverines and Buckeyes has only widened over Brown's tenure, and Brown's defense has earned at least part of the blame.
Is that fair
After all, Brown had three top 10 defenses. In 2016, his defense had Urban Meyer and Ohio State on the ropes at Columbus, keeping the Buckeyes down to seven points in the first 43:54. And in 2017 Michigan only allowed two touchdowns in the first 43 minutes against a superior Ohio state team before giving up 17 points in 17 minutes in a 31-20 defeat.
Brown had a successful five year run at Ann Arbor. He's been successful at essentially every coaching stop and will likely do well in his next job, be it as a defensive coordinator or as a head coach.
But his struggles in 2020 couldn't be missed. Also, Brown couldn't understand Michigan's pathetic failure to slow the state of Ohio in 2018 and 2019. And Brown would probably understand that himself.
"This game is not seen lightly," Brown said of Michigan's 2018 loss to Ohio. "It's not like, 'Oh, it's okay, let's move on.' I think everyone feels it. "
Contact Orion Sang at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more about the Michigan Wolverines and subscribe to our Wolverines newsletter.
This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press: Michigan Football Made Its Run With Don Brown
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