Wink Martindale, Wolverine

Wink Martindale, Wolverine

February 10, 2024
Wink Martindale (image via On3)

Former Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has been hired as Michigan’s new defensive coordinator.

At 60 years old, Martindale has too long of a coaching history to run down. But as a native of Ohio, he went on to play at Defiance and then spent time coaching at Western Kentucky in the early 2000s, winning a DI-AA (now FCS) national championship as the defensive coordinator under Jack Harbaugh in 2002. He would go on to become the Oakland Raiders linebackers coach in 2004 and has been in the NFL ever since, spending time with the Raiders, Denver Broncos, Ravens, and then Giants.

Hit the jump for more.

Martindale coached the Ravens linebackers from 2012-2017 before moving up to defensive coordinator from 2018-2021. His defenses ranked #1, #4, #7, and #25 in that span. Following the 2021 season, he and the Ravens had a mutual parting of ways, leading to his spending 2022 and 2023 as the defensive play caller for the Giants. He reportedly left the Giants after the 2023 season when head coach Brian Daboll fired some of the defensive assistants without consulting Martindale . . . which is kind of like firing Martindale, but not quite.

Overall, Martindale is a highly qualified coach to carry on the defensive system Michigan has been running since 2021. Following the Wolverines’ firing of Don Brown in 2020, Jim Harbaugh turned to his brother for suggestions, and John Harbaugh sent defensive assistant Mike Macdonald to the Wolverines. When Macdonald left after one year, another former Ravens assistant Jesse Minter came to Michigan for 2022-2023. The coordinator who taught Macdonald and Minter the ropes in Baltimore?

Don “Wink” Martindale.

There has been concern on the internet because of Martindale’s age . . . and his lack of recruiting in the past twenty years . . . and his lack of familiarity with the college game. Let me address these one by one:

  1. Age is just a number: Wink Martindale is 60 years old and will be 61 by the beginning of the season. When Don Brown was hired in 2016, he was 61 at the beginning of the season. When Greg Mattison was hired in 2011, he was 61. Mattison and Brown were both great recruiters and they were highly effective in different ways. Brown had one of the top defenses in the country for several seasons. Mattison wasn’t quite as effective statistically, but his defense was a huge step up from the Rich Rodriguez years.
  2. Recruiting is just one part of the equation: While it is true that Martindale will probably not be an energetic recruiter turning over every rock and searching every nook and cranny for potential studs, it’s extremely rare for a coach to check every box. Some coaches are great tacticians and poor recruiters. Some coaches are great recruiters but lacking in X’s and O’s. Macdonald had zero interest in recruiting and Minter had just a passing one, so Martindale’s lack of interest will largely be a continuation of whatever Michigan had for the past three years at the position.
  3. This isn’t 2005: Criticism of guys coming from the NFL used to be relevant. There was a time when quarterbacks were statues, and the few exceptions were guys who just happened to be able to create if the pocket broke down – Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Jeff Garcia, Randall Cunningham, etc. It wasn’t often that NFL teams had options and designed runs for athletic quarterbacks. But in the past fifteen years, the NFL has adopted designed runs and options with the likes of Cam Newton, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and others. Martindale has been defending running quarterbacks for his entire defensive coordinator career and has lived in the world of RPOs, so the college game shouldn’t be a huge change for him.

Michigan head coach Sherrone Moore is 38 years old and in his first head coaching gig. I believe he needs an older, more experienced coach to bounce ideas off of. Ideally, that person would exist on defense so Moore can entrust that side of the ball to someone who can handle the burden. Throw in the fact that Michigan’s defenders shouldn’t have to adjust to much new terminology, and this should be a pretty seamless transition on the field.

Michigan has a national championship-caliber defense returning, so changing philosophies doesn’t make sense. Even if you assume – which I do – that Martindale will be here for a maximum of two seasons, it’s best to keep things as similar as possible so those guys can keep playing fast.

With news coming out today that defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale will follow Jim Harbaugh to Los Angeles, here’s a look at the coaching staff as it stands today:

  1. HC: Sherrone Moore
  2. OC/QB: Kirk Campbell
  3. RB: Mike Hart
  4. WR: Ronald Bellamy
  5. TE: Steve Casula
  6. OL: Grant Newsome
  7. DC: Wink Martindale
  8. DL: ???
  9. LB: ???
  10. DB: ???
  11. STC: J.B. Brown

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