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What is Michigan Getting in New DC Don Brown?

After looking at the stats, it's hard not to call Brown a home-run hire.

Jim Harbaugh

On Sunday, Sports Illustrated's Thayer Evans first reported that Michigan had hired Boston College defensive coordinator Don Brown for the same position to replace D.J. Durkin, who left to become Maryland's head coach, and Michigan confirmed the move on Monday. The hire has been universally praised:

If you scour the corners of the Internet, you'll find many more reviews just like that.

But I still had questions as I'm sure many of you do, too. My first one was what is Michigan getting in the 60-year-old Brown, who coached in the Ivy League and lower divisions of college football for over two decades before getting his first break at a Power 5 school (Maryland) in 2009. MGoBlog's Ace Anbender did an excellent job of rounding up various bits of information that speak to Brown's personality and mentality as a coach, and it seems Brown will get along just fine with Jim Harbaugh and the players.

My second question was what type of defense does Brown prefer to run. There will be lots of film to watch of Brown's defenses, but it's difficult to do that within 48 hours of a reported hire. Thankfully, Football Study Hall's Ian Boyd did the legwork for us one week ago before there were whispers that Brown could head to Ann Arbor. Boyd looked at how Brown built Boston College's 4-3 defense, and what he found is very encouraging:

The preponderance of press-man coverage played on the back-end really paired effectively with the front's ability to get effective pressure with their stunts and blitzes. When a QB is looking at tighter coverage that makes him hesitate then a good pass-rush can become a great one.

Well, that sounds pretty familiar to what Michigan did under Durkin in 2015.

My third question, though, was whether everyone was overreacting to Brown's most recent season as a defensive coordinator, during which he guided a Boston College unit that ranked third in the nation in Defensive S&P+ and first in many other categories. Was this just a flash-in-the-pan year where everything clicked for Brown and the Eagles despite that Brown didn't have many four-star recruits at his disposal or an offense that could relieve some of the burden firmly placed on the defense? I didn't know, so I decided to take a look at Brown's previous Power 5 defenses to discover the answer.

Scoring and Total Defense

Scoring defense is not the best tool to use to evaluate a defense, but the number of points a team allows per game still is pretty important, I'd say. The better tool is total defense or, more specifically, yards allowed per play, and the best tool is Defensive S&P+, which adjusts for the offenses that a defense has faced. I opted to look at how Brown's Power 5 defenses -- Maryland (2009-10), UConn (2011-12), and Boston College (2013-15) -- ranked in these categories under his guidance and the year before he arrived. The breakdown:

Maryland's Overall Defensive Ranks under Brown (2009-10)
Year Scoring Defense Total Defense Yards Allowed Per Play Defensive S&P+
2008 44th 63rd 56th 75th
2009 100th 83rd 87th 44th
2010 38th 39th 14th 36th
UConn's Overall Defensive Ranks under Brown (2011-12)
Year Scoring Defense Total Defense Yards Allowed Per Play Defensive S&P+
2010 35th 58th 40th 63rd
2011 49th 51st 56th 34th
2012 19th 9th 8th 38th
Boston College's Overall Defensive Ranks under Brown (2013-15)
Year Scoring Defense Total Defense Yards Allowed Per Play Defensive S&P+
2012 75th 102nd 63rd 80th
2013 78th 93rd 92nd 80th
2014 21st 11th 30th 36th
2015 4th 1st 1st 3rd

On the surface, Brown's defenses didn't improve much in his first seasons at a new Power 5 school. If anything, the defenses regressed from the previous season with his predecessor. But the S&P+ rankings, which adjust for strength of schedule, tell a different story. At Maryland, Brown's defense jumped from #75 to #44, and, at UConn, his defense jumped from #63 to #34. This didn't happen at Boston College -- the S&P+ rank remained at #80 -- but the foundation that Brown laid down in the first season was the springboard for better second seasons at all three schools. And, at Boston College, the only Power 5 school to give him a third year, Brown built one of the nation's best units.

One thing that I must note is that Brown never inherited an above-average defense at any of his last three stops. The best S&P+ rank that a defense had when he took over was 63rd at UConn. At Michigan, Brown is about to coordinate a defense that not only finished second in S&P+ but also returns most of its ferocious defensive line and two All-American defensive backs. Brown's never worked with this type of innate talent before, and he surely hasn't done it in his first year. He'll feel like a kid in a candy store in 2016.

Run Defense

Maryland's Run Defensive Ranks under Brown (2009-10)
Year Run Defense Yards Allowed Per Carry Run Defense S&P+
2008 71st 58th 68th
2009 66th 59th 59th
2010 21st 12th 32nd
UConn's Run Defensive Ranks under Brown (2011-12)
Year Run Defense Yards Allowed Per Carry Run Defense S&P+
2010 50th 44th 62nd
2011 3rd 4th 11th
2012 7th 2nd 10th
Boston College's Run Defensive Ranks under Brown (2013-15)
Year Run Defense Yards Allowed Per Carry Run Defense S&P+
2012 113th 88th 62nd
2013 57th 50th 63rd
2014 2nd 6th 33rd
2015 2nd 2nd 2nd

Brown may spend more time coaching the back seven -- he was a DB coach at Maryland and UConn and a LB coach at Boston College -- but his defenses usually are excellent up front. In the seven seasons that he's been a defensive coordinator at a Power 5 school, his defenses have been ranked in the top 15 in yards allowed per carry five times and S&P+ three times. The only times when his run defense wasn't good was in his first years with the Terrapins and the Huskies, and the run defenses he inherited were average at best.

Michigan's run defense in 2015 was 25th in yards allowed per carry and 28th in S&P+, which is far better than what Brown has started with before. Plus, the Wolverines' run defense actually was one of the best in the country before Ryan Glasgow went down with a pectoral injury and they faced uptempo spread-to-run offenses in Indiana and Ohio State. Glasgow will return next season along with a bunch of other contributors that should make up one of the deepest defensive lines, and, in 2015, Boston College held each of Notre Dame, Florida State, and Clemson -- all of which have top-20 offenses and top-30 run offenses -- to under four yards per carry. Brown will be ready for IU and OSU.

Pass Defense

Maryland's Pass Defensive Ranks under Brown (2009-10)
Year Pass Defense Yards Allowed Per Attempt Passer Rating Sacks Pass Defense S&P+
2008 78th 47th 61st 46th 95th
2009 97th 107th 105th 45th 90th
2010 77th 9th 9th 45th 31st
UConn's Pass Defensive Ranks under Brown (2011-12)
Year Pass Defense Yards Allowed Per Attempt Passer Rating Sacks Pass Defense S&P+
2010 66th 32nd 28th 52nd 64th
2011 113th 98th 70th 13th 90th
2012 36th 37th 35th 20th 30th
Boston College's Pass Defensive Ranks under Brown (2013-15)
Year Pass Defense Yards Allowed Per Attempt Passer Rating Sacks Pass Defense S&P+
2012 77th 45th 60th 124th 76th
2013 113th 107th 108th 20th 66th
2014 68th 69th 88th 38th 69th
2015 8th 22nd 9th 17th 15th

While Brown's run defenses have been superb, he's had more trouble getting his boys in the back into shape. His pass defenses have been better than average in only three of his last seven seasons (2010 at Maryland, 2012 at UConn, and 2015 at Boston College). And this past season with the Eagles is the only time he's had an excellent secondary (15th in S&P+). But there's a noticeable trend that falls in line with how his defenses perform overall. Those better pass defenses all were in his second and third seasons at his stops, indicating that it took some time for Brown to get the right defensive backs into his system. Here is what BC blogger Bill Maloney emailed to MGoBlog's Brian Cook:

What made this year different is that he finally had great DBs, especially at corner. This allowed him to do all sorts of twists, stunts, blitzs and allow the LBs to focus on run stopping. The DBs were asked to play lots and lots of man. And they played it physically. Brown also sort of coaches a "be really physical on every play because it is not going to get called Pass Interference every time." Maybe that will change if he has elite talent at Michigan, but he did that at UMass and UConn too.

Guess what? Brown won't have to worry about getting his guys into the system in Year 1 at Michigan because he'll already have All-Americans in Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers that excel at press-man coverage and were the headliners of a Michigan pass defense that ranked first in yards allowed per attempt, first in passer rating, and 11th in S&P+. Add in that Michigan's line thrives at stunting, and Brown will feel right at home.

Overall Conclusion

So what is Michigan getting in Brown as its new defensive coordinator? Honestly, this may be the perfect replacement for Durkin. Brown's defenses can go with multiple fronts, but he used lots of four-down linemen with press-man coverage behind it at Boston College, which is what Michigan ran this season. His defenses have been successful against explosive rushing attacks, including spread looks, which is what was Michigan's defensive weakness in 2015. And he'll have the weapons on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield to field a pass defense without any type of transition stage.

Brown, a DC who's always made the most out of little without much help from his offense, seems to be a perfect fit at Michigan from a scheme and attitude standpoint and will work with talent he's never had. Plus, Brown should fill in as Michigan's LB coach unless Harbaugh promised the spot to Chris Partridge and, hopefully, he will be able to solidify a position group that was Michigan's weak link last season and will be its biggest question mark next season. Brown likely won't be the recruiter that Durkin was, but that should be okay because it's not like Michigan's struggling on the recruiting trail with Harbaugh at the helm. And Ann Arbor likely will be Brown's last stop as a football coach.

All in all, it's hard not to call this a home-run hire for Michigan.