Don Brown's Impact on Michigan Goes Far Beyond the Players He's Coaching

Don Brown's Impact on Michigan Goes Far Beyond the Players He's Coaching

Football

Don Brown's Impact on Michigan Goes Far Beyond the Players He's Coaching

ANN ARBOR, Mich — While some teams have good coaches, Michigan has a truly great one.

Honestly, that’s a bit reductionist, because the Wolverines have Jim Harbaugh, Pep Hamilton, Jim McElwain, Greg Mattison, Mike Zordich. And while Harbaugh may have gotten all the early fanfare, there’s probably one coach more revered on the staff at this juncture: defensive coordinator Don Brown.

In his two seasons in Ann Arbor, Brown has overseen the nation’s top-rated and third-best defense — both with the nation’s best pass defense — each year.

He has a fiery personality, but not in the way that makes you pause or feel less than. He’s forthcoming and honest — which is one reason why when the media gets to talk to him, there’s a certain giddiness in and around Schembechler Hall.

He has a way where, even when he’s abrasive or coming strong, that somehow warms the cockles of the heart, as Jim Harbaugh might say.

Michigan’s new linebackers coach Al Washington is on his second stint coaching with Brown. As Brown was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Boston College, Washington was overseeing the Eagles’ running backs.

He’s noticed why players and other gravitate so hard to the 63-year old Massachusetts native.

“Kids love him,” Washington said. “Just like anything, you feel connected to something, you’re more prone to give effort. Effort’s key. I think our guys play hard, and it has a lot to do with they know how he feels about them. I think that, outside of scheme, that’s the real difference with Coach Brown, and how he coaches guys.”

But the players aren’t the only ones who get the benefits of having Don Brown in the program. Nor are the fans.

The sometimes forgotten factor in all this are the coaches who work under Brown on a daily basis.

It’s truly something when a man knows his X’s and O’s the way that Brown does. He’s fielded top defenses at Michigan, but that wasn’t an anomaly, by any stretch. At Boston College, he took the Eagles defense from 93rd overall to 11th to first, in just three years. His first year with UConn, 2011, the Huskies had the 51st best defense, and was 9th overall the next year. He took Maryland’s defense from 83rd in 2009 to 39th in 2010.

In short, Don Brown knows how to field a really good defense.

That’s a benefit that the coaches who work under him get that might go unrecognized. They get to learn from him, the schematics, how he does things from day-to-day.

Asked what he’s learned from Brown from a coaching standpoint, Washington nearly demurred, because the list was potentially too long to mention.

“I could be here all day,” Washington said. “Every day you learn from a schematics standpoint, in terms of what he wants, because there’s a vision. It takes time to understand it. And just how to conduct your business. I think that I’ve grown a lot just to see how he handles day-to-day situations. How he handles adverse situations. How he handles kids. How he handles problems that come up.

“Just overall football, seeing the game differently, I’ve been fortunate to see all three sides – as a player, coaching offensively, coaching special teams. But this is a deeper understanding of football defensively. So, every day is a learning experience for me. It’s a big reason why I’m here. It’s been a great experience and fulfilling in that way.”

However, it goes much further than X’s and O’s.

While Brown might get the best out of his players and put the in the best position to succeed, so, too, does he with his coaching staff.

Of course, Washington didn’t have to come to Ann Arbor after one year at Cincinnati. But knowing the man he would be coaching under at Michigan and working with him again — that made it a no brainer.

“He cares,” Washington said. “You know what I would say? He’ll never allow – whether it’s a player or a coach under him – to underperform. I guess, it’s what everybody, human nature, you kinda absorb different things, and sometimes you lose focus. But he’ll always bring you back and always make sure you’re fulfilling your potential. He’s been there for me as a mentor. If I have a question about anything, he’s always there. He’s a great boss in that way.

“Not so much motivation, but again, you’re involved in something, you need perspective sometimes,” Washington continued. “Especially in your own world, you’re looking at one thing, and there’s a big picture taking place. Sometimes you need that – you need that big picture perspective at times. The coaches, head coach, the coordinators – that is a major part of it, being in that position. Like being a boss, you’re responsible for one phase, but there’s a big picture going on, and sometimes you need to bring it back to understanding this is what it is, this is why it’s important.”

Michigan safeties coach Chris Partridge got his first opportunity to be an on-field coach at the college level under Don Brown.

On-staff as Michigan’s recruiting coordinator, after a successful stint as Paramus (NJ) Catholic’s head coach — the high school program which once had Jabrill Peppers, Juwann Bushell-Beatty and Rashan Gary — when D.J. Durkin left for Maryland and Brown took over as the Wolverines defensive coordinator, Partridge got the chance to oversee perhaps the most important position in Brown’s defense: the linebackers.

Two years later, things have shifted, and Partridge is working with the safeties — a position he studied when he was a recruiting coordinator, as he noted, when speaking on a different subject. “Now remember, I was off the field that year, I wasn’t in all those meetings. Now, when I was able to be in meetings, I sat in the safety meetings with Greg Jackson then, and with John Baxter with special teams.”

Three years into his on-field coaching career, Partridge looks at the impact Brown has had in a different way: he looks at the wealth of riches and knowledge all around the defensive coaching staff.

Having the man at the top with so much coaching talent at each position group, it just bodes for an unparalleled experience from a coaching perspective, Partridge says.

“For me and Al, if you really look at things, if you make a Christmas list of what coaches you want to work around, we have that,” Partridge said. “It’s Don Brown. I’m in the secondary with Mike Zordich. Got Devin Bush in the room. Those guys have done it at the highest level. Coach Brown can straighten you out in an instant. And he will straighten you out in an instant – coaches or players!

“It’s awesome – we’ve got Coach Mattison coaching the D-line. It’s really an unbelievable environment and experience. It’s hard as a young coach not to succeed and be great. Because you watch these young guys do it and how they’ve done it for years. You just follow those guys and you’ll be alright!

“It’s good – Coach Mattison, Coach Brown, Coach Zordich – those guys – every day, they guide you and you can ask them stuff. They’ll get you right, they’ll get you focused.”

Michigan’s focus is currently on installing the 2018 playbook and discerning the starters from the rotation. Brown & Co. however will turn the focus to Notre Dame in earnest starting next week, with the Week One kickoff set for 7:30PM on Sept. 1 in South Bend.

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