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Coaching Spotlight: Al Washington

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He’s young. He can recruit. Don Brown handpicked him to help with the linebackers.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Maryland Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

“He’s my dude, man.”

Khaleke Hudson used very Don Brown language to describe former Don Brown disciple Al Washington. It’s no coincidence Washington sounds just like his old boss.

Coming from a one-year stint as Luke Fickell’s defensive line coach at Cincinnati, Washington now shares linebacker responsibilities with Brown.

His main job may be to reignite Michigan’s presence on the recruiting trail, and as seen by the noise this summer, his influence is palpable.

Background

Washington originally hails from Columbus, Ohio, where he graduated from Bishop Watterson High. He followed those parochial roots to Boston College where he started for three years at defensive tackle. Much like fellow Ohioan Ed Warinner, he openly talks about how he escaped from his former state.

Unlike Warinner — a 30-year veteran with a focus on one position — Washington just finished the first decade of a journeyman coaching career. He coached defensive linemen at D-III Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, grad assisted at North Carolina State, helmed linemen at Slippery Rock and focused on linebackers at Elon.

He returned to his alma mater in 2012 and ran into Don Brown one year later.

Back in Beantown

Washington coached running backs from 2013-15 and earned Brown’s respect.

“He gave me love and he gave me mentorship,” Washington said during spring practices, “even though I was on the offensive side (of the ball).”

It’s probably due to the fact that Washington produced prolific backs Brown had to face every practice in Chestnut Hill. The most notable was 2014 Doak Walker Award-winner Andre Williams, the first ACC back to win it.

When Brown left for Ann Arbor, Washington slid over to defensive ends and linebackers, collaborating with veteran coach Paul Pasqualoni. In 2016, the Eagles averaged 3.5 sacks per game, led by current Tennessee Titan outside backer Harold Landry’s 15 takedowns. The rush defense also finished No. 8 nationally, despite a schedule featuring elite programs such as Clemson and Florida State.*

*Both were huge blowouts, but one can conclude BC simply lacked Brown’s schemes. Both teams scuffled against BC in Brown’s last year.

Last season at Cincinnati, he finally got the chance to run an FBS defensive line by himself. While 2017 saw a steep regression for the Cincy defense, don’t overthink it. By week two, Washington was forced to convert 300-pound defensive tackles to defensive ends. It wasn’t ideal.

His real role at Michigan

There are two things to consider with Washington in Ann Arbor. First, he gets to continue his journey of mentorship — from Brown to Pasqualoni to Fickell back to Brown. This is an energetic coach who produced results in Boston, so much like fellow assistant Chris Partridge, he is a candidate to stick around and run different position groups in the future.

His bigger role is to be the recruiting guru, and he's hit the ground running. He already garnered pledges from six 2019 prospects, including 247 four-star offensive tackle Trente Jones and “future Devin Funchess” Erick All.

He succeeds with kids by treating them, “like (his) younger brother.”

He currently is the point-man on several elite recruitments, most notably 5-star defensive end Zach Harrison, the No. 1 recruit in Ohio that lives minutes from Columbus. Since Washington entered the picture, Harrison is “more confused than ever” about his future college choice — presumed for years to be the Buckeyes.

He barely even considered Ann Arbor until Washington entered the picture.

“I didn’t really like (Michigan) that much, then Coach Washington got there and he brought me back and I had a good time,” Harrison said to 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong ($). “He took care of my family and now it’s one of my favorite schools. He really made an effort to get me on campus and show me a good time.”

Add in the close pursuits of 4-stars Kalen Deloach and Wandale Robinson, and the Washington effect is real. Michigan now ranks No. 5 on the 247Sports team rankings, as opposed to No. 21 last cycle.

The outlook

Washington, at worst, will be an excellent ambassador for Michigan on the recruiting trail. At best, he will follow the trajectory of former Brown lieutenant Brian Smith — now the defensive coordinator at Rice.

Smith worked with Brown at UMass, then worked different positional jobs before reuniting with his mentor from 2016-17. He used his time to climb the coaching ladder.

Brown picked Washington to help him for a reason. This season, he gets to elevate the play of two potential all-conference backers in Hudson and Devin Bush.

He’s got great linebackers to work with for his first year on the job. If he keeps up his great work on the recruiting trail, as well, he will have plenty more to work with for years to come.