Don Brown is out as the defensive coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines football program in the first major change of the offseason for the program. This is a move that would suggest that an extension — or at least the bones of one — has been agreed to with Jim Harbaugh as they attempt to rebuild and reboot the program.
Nobody here will claim they have a shot to go hire Brent Venables or Wade Phillips or something crazy like that as the new architect of the defense. These are realistic candidates based on ties, needs, what Michigan looks for, etc.
Derek Mason, former head coach, Vanderbilt
Mason just ended a seven-year stint at Vanderbilt that saw him amass a record of 27-55. Harbaugh hired him as his defensive backs coach at Stanford in 2010. Under David Shaw, he ascending to associate head coach and defensive coordinator before taking the job at Vandy. Given his ties to Harbaugh and his availability, many have circled him as someone to watch for Michigan.
Tim Banks, co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach, Penn State
A graduate of Detroit Martin Luther King High School, Banks has been another popular name in Michigan circles as of late due to some social media activity among the coaching staff. Banks, 49, was the defensive coordinator at Central Michigan from 2007-09 before stops at Cincinnati and Illinois as the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach. He currently holds that role with Penn State and has been there since 2016. Banks has helped strengthen PSU’s recruiting footprint in his hometown of Detroit and would be a fit at U-M.
Chris Partridge, co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach, Ole Miss
Many will argue that Partridge should have been elevated at Michigan after last season, but he elected to move on to Ole Miss under Lane Kiffin to pursue a new opportunity. Michigan’s safety play and special teams was strong when he was with the program and he is seen as one of the best young recruiters in the country. One would have to think he would take the phone call if his former head coach called him back to gauge interest, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Marcus Freeman, defensive coordinator, Cincinnati
Here’s one that might be a little off the board, but might be a sneaky-good hire. Freeman, 34, is a former Ohio State Buckeye that has had stops at Kent State and Purdue before joining Luke Fickell’s staff at Cincinnati to run the defense. He is a rising star in the profession that would help to solve Michigan’s state of Ohio problem. But, he’d have to have an interest in making the jump north to a school he was bred to hate. It’s probably unlikely, but would be a good get if they could make it happen.
Jim Leavitt, defensive coordinator, Florida Atlantic
The former South Florida head coach was hired to run the linebackers room for Harbaugh with the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-14. Since then he has had stops at Colorado, Oregon, Florida State and FAU this season. The Harbaugh ties put him on the list here, but it has been hard for the 64-year-old to nail down a consistent job over the last number of seasons.
Jim Leonhard, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin
This seems like a massive longshot given that Leonhard continues to coach elite defenses at his alma mater. Given what his defense has done to Michigan’s offenses over the last number of years, a blank check offer to him wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.