Mike Macdonald, Wolverine

Mike Macdonald, Wolverine

January 17, 2021
Mike Macdonald (image via MGoBlue)

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Michigan has hired Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Mike Macdonald to be the new defensive coordinator, replacing Don Brown, who is now at Arizona.

Hit the jump for more.

Macdonald is just 35 years old, so his coaching history is somewhat limited. He did not play college football while attending Georgia’s business school, but he coached high school ball while a college student. He then became a quality control guy for the Bulldogs from 2011-2013. In 2014 he became a defensive intern for the Ravens, then coached as a defensive assistant (2015-2016). He became the defensive backs coach in 2017 and moved to linebackers coach from 2018-2020.

Of course, Jim Harbaugh’s brother John is the head coach of the Ravens, so the recommendation for a new defensive coordinator almost certainly came from John. The two have cooperated numerous times on players and coaches: the Ravens have drafted Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, and Ben Bredeson, while Jim plucked Jay Harbaugh from the Ravens staff in 2015, too.

It’s unclear what base scheme(s) Macdonald will employ at Michigan, but considering his background, but I would expect to see Michigan run more 3-down looks with a rush linebacker. I expect Michigan’s defense to look more like it did under D.J. Durkin than under Don Brown. Georgia and Baltimore have been more 3-4 teams over the years. Baltimore runs a lot of zone blitz schemes with the 3-4, frequently showing single-high coverages but then dropping a safety deep to play more of a Cover 2 or Quarters look.

One criticism of Don Brown was that he stuck too much with man coverage, and I do not think that will be an issue with Macdonald. With Brown it was either man coverage or Cover 2. I think Macdonald will be more multiple than Brown was.

As a recruiter, Macdonald is young and has NFL experience with an elite professional defense. He also played high school ball at Roswell (GA) Centennial and coached at Georgia, so he presumably knows the area and has at least a few connections in the South. I know people were down on Brown for recruiting the Northeast so heavily – which I think he was unfairly vilified for – but that probably won’t be an issue for Macdonald. (I won’t spend too much time on this because it gets off track, but players from the Northeast have generally played well and stuck around, whereas players from the South have generally underperformed and/or left early.)

Macdonald has also never been responsible for calling a defense, which means Michigan now has two coordinators on staff (along with offensive coordinator Josh Gattis) who had never been play callers before coaching in Ann Arbor. While there’s an inherent risk with a rookie/inexperienced play caller, I do like Macdonald’s career track. He has coached in two solid defensive programs, and his positions have done well in the NFL.

Overall, I think this is about as good of a hire to be made aside from hiring a proven coordinator. Macdonald checks all the boxes (NFL pedigree, youth, southern connections, winning tradition, good positional play) except for play calling experience. I look forward to seeing what Michigan’s defense will look like under him.

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