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Defensive Coordinator Musings

Now that Shafer is officially out, word on the interwebs is that the hire is coming internally, and that the 3-3-5 is coming to Ann Arbor.  First on Shafer:

"Yes, it is accurate," Shafer said this afternoon. "We just had a mutual decision. We had different thoughts on the way we did things. I take full responsibility for the demise of where Michigan's program is at this time."

[emphasis mine - B2]

Whoa, man, I know you're pretty upset right now about basically being dismissed, but anyone blaming only you for the this season's troubles can go sit on a stick.  There were so many factors playing into the way this season unfolded that to claim that the responsibility lands squarely on the defensive coordinator's shoulders is a bit...much.  I'm sure Shafer will find a good job elsewhere.  He's a good coach who fell ass-first into a perfect storm of calamity and bad luck at Michigan.  He should land on his feet.

If this sounds like I'm a little concerned about the firing, its because I am.  I don't have a particular affinity towards Shafer, mind you, and some of the fundemental flaws on defense were inexcusable.  However, I am extremely daunted by the task of rebuilding - again  - one whole side of the ball.  Any continuity that was established between this dismal season and the next is now wiped clean, especially if the rumors of the 3-3-5 are accurate.  We are all very quick to exlaim that Rodriguez needs more time; why wasn't that extended to Shafer?


A few quick internet rumors:

a)  Shafer and Rodriguez were not/are not getting along.  If this is the case, then Shafer needed to go.  A football coach needs a staff he can work with and a staff he can trust.  If Rodriguez didn't feel this way, then this move had to be made.

b)  Regarding the 3-3-5 I've heard message board rumblings and supposed "insider" whispers that some recruits have been told that the 3-3-5 is coming.  Here's the quote that I believe is very telling as to what formation we can see next year:

The two coaches had differing philosophies from the start as Shafer believed in a base 4-3 defense and Michigan began the season with that before morphing into Rodriguez's traditional 3-3-5 format late in the season.

"That’s kind of the reason the decision was made," Shafer said about their differences. "It's one of those deals throughout the whole deal (we debated.) We came up with that decision that it was time to go our own ways. It just didn't fit as simple as that is. I wish Michigan all the success in the future."

 These two things (the coaches' relationship and whether recruits have been specifically told that next year = 3-3-5) should be treated with some skepticism.  I am not a news source; I am not backing this as legitimate information.  Right now it remains in the realm of "internet rumors" and now you know.


Mgo has put together a list of potential replacements that I won't replicate here because, you know, it's already over there.  However, the vast majority of rumor-mongering has pointed to a hire from within to promote that continuity thing, both in recruiting and on the field.  To Mgo's list, I would add the following:

Jay Hopson


Jay is the current linebacker's coach, and a former Defensive Coordinator for Southern Miss, where he had some success, but mostly just above average stats.  The stats have come from because CUSA's site is really tough:

Southern Miss Total D

Year    Nat'l Rank    Ypg

2005:  74th              394

2006:  30th              308

2007:  47th              366

His in-conferece stats are a little better - he had the 2nd best D in CUSA in 2006 and 2007. 

This season, I thought we saw great improvement out of a linebacker corp that was shaky to flat-bad at first.  Mouton and Ezeh both improved significantly throughout the course of the year.  It's sometimes hard to judge position coaches when so much of what they do is behind the brick wall of the practice field, but Jay's unit seemed to at least improve, which is a good start.

Jay is also a Mississippi boy - played there, coached there, was born there, etc.  As you've probably noted (at least, you've noted it if you follow Michigan recruiting) Mississippi has become something of a target state for Michigan, with minimal results.  That state is crazy - you've got Ole Miss and Mississippi State both struggling with mediocrity, and yet, these 4 and 5 star kids with offers from schools like Florida, Ohio State, Michigan, and Oklahoma stay put and decide that mediocrity is indeed the way to go.  Promoting Hopson isn't going to change that, but it couldn't hurt either.

Finally, we come to the 3-3-5 rumor.  Southern Miss ran this type of defense quite a bit, so Hopson's got the chops to run what Rodriguez wants to run.  He also worked with Rodriguez for a year at Tulane, and since Hopson's still around, I assume the two can work together.  At this point, Jay matches up with nearly all the internet rumors circulating:

3-3-5?  Check

Relationship with RR?  Check

Internal hire?  Check

Recruiting bump in target state?  Check

For better or worse, I don't see how this guy doesn't at least merit mention as a replacement.

Bruce Tall


Tall came over with Rodriguez from West Virginia where he ran the safeties and secondary for 4 seasons.  He is currently the defensive line coach at Michigan.  His only coordinator experience came from a brief stint at Harvard between '98 and '01.  He also coached linebackers.  This guy is old-ish, and has coached every position on the defensive side of the ball.  He certainly knows exactly what Rodriguez expects out of a 3-3-5, and presumably has a good relationship with him.  Oh - and Tall spent some years at Western Michigan during 2002. 

Again, relative stats for defensive position coaches are hard to come by.  I will say that over the past few years, West Virginia has ranked 14th (2007), 109 (2006!!!!), and 35th (2005) in passing defense while Tall was the safeties coach.  This isn't to say that the entirety of the success in '07 or failure in '06 is directly attributed to him, but it gives us something to look at.  Hey, look at that.

The key with Tall is that he not only knows the 3-3-5, but he knows exactly how Rodriguez wants it to run.  This is a good thing.  Also, we've recruited a few safety/LB hybrid players since Rodriguez has gotten here that could populate that defense, if indeed a switch is made.  Tall knows what he's doing, and is a safe play for Michigan.


So what does it mean?  A new coach is going to be hired, and my guess is that it's one of these two names.  We're not getting Tenuta, we're not getting Tuberville.  A few of the names on Mgo's list intrigue me, mostly Chavis and Rhoads, but I kinda doubt that we go external on this - except for one name:  Jeff Casteel.  Current DC at WVU, he's seen what's going down with Stewert, and he may want to jump ship.  He's profiled briefly over at Mgo, so I won't do it here. 

If I were a betting man, and barring any craziness, I would put your money on Hopson, Tall, or Casteel.  I say "your money" because I certainly am not confident enough to bet my own.   I will say this:  We're going to know sooner rather than later.  There is no way that Shafer "resigned" without there being a plan.