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What to expect from new football defensive coordinator Don Brown

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Former Michigan football defensive coordinator and current Arizona football defensive coordinator Don Brown stands on the sideline and looks out to the field with his hands on his hips in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Courtesy of University of Michigan Athletics.) 

New head football coach Jedd Fisch has filled out his coaching staff over the last few weeks. His most prominent hire was nabbing former Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. 

Brown has been in the college coaching business for about 45 years and was with Michigan since 2016 where he and Fisch first worked together. Brown is highly regarded throughout the country as an assistant and has even been nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant that season. 

He has had a top-15 defense from 2014-19 and fielded back to back No. 1-ranked defenses in 2015 and 2016. Brown’s defense at Michigan got a bit gashed this past season the shortened season and player opt-outs, making it a whacky year for almost all teams. Brown was dismissed from his duties at Michigan after the Wolverines' disastrous 2020 season where they finished with a 2-4 record. 

What To Expect From Don Brown

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His nickname is “Dr. Blitz”, so that might give you some insight on how he operates. Brown is an old school style coach and lives by the mindset of hitting hard and playing full speed till the whistle is blown — and even a little after that. 

This is honestly good for Arizona as this program needs a wake-up call in regards to physicality and toughness. Brown’s past defenses have run a 4-2-5 zone scheme and have excelled at it. He will always have one middle linebacker that is a general on the field and controlling the middle from hash to hash. 

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His defenses have blitzed on over 50% of snaps since his Boston College tenure and that will come from the secondary or the off-speed linebacker. His defense’s primary idea is to get pressure on the quarterback early and give the secondary an easier job with their roving safeties. With the way college football is adapting, stopping the pass is the way to roll. 

The main part of this 4-2-5 that has been exposed is when the opposing teams run a lot of crossing and mesh concepts. With only two linebackers the middle of the field can get gashed and that is where Brown will have to adapt. He will need to bring a safety up and play as a box safety to help contain the middle, which is what he had with former Wolverine and current New York Giants' safety Jabril Peppers back in 2016. 

It is not a complicated scheme but it is one that requires speed and your front-four to be aggressive and tough. Brown should find success early in the Pac-12 as the offensive lines are much weaker, compared to the Big Ten, and none of their opponents will be used to such a blitz-reliant defense like the new Wildcats’ unit will potentially be. 

Thoughts on the Hire

Fisch getting Don Brown is very impressive for a first-time head coach like him. This is where his NFL and past job connections are really kicking in. Don Brown is more seasoned and accomplished than Fish himself and now they will be calling both sides of the program. Getting a guy as well-known as Brown will be great for recruiting as he has pumped out multiple first-round and early-mid round draft picks during his Michigan tenure. 

Getting guys drafted is a big part of being a good program, it shows how you develop players and put them in the position to succeed. The most important part of this hire is that it shows the change the program is making. They need to be so much tougher on the field. The team seemed far too soft during the Kevin Sumlin era. Anytime they were beaten, they seemed to quit. Brown will not accept or allow that. He will lead a unit that believes in itself and will go out there to be playmakers on defense. 


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