The Michigan Wolverines reportedly have their new defensive coordinator (or at least one of them?) in Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Mike Macdonald. His was a name that came out of nowhere over the last day or so. That makes it understandable if you are not all that familiar with his background leading up to this point.
Here, we take a look at the road that will lead him to Michigan after the NFL playoffs for the Ravens.
MacDonald, 33, did not have a typical path through the coaching ranks. He was a student at the University of Georgia majoring in finance and never played football past high school. But as a profile of him writes, he enveloped himself in game film and understanding the strategy and concepts that come with coaching.
During his time as a student at Georgia, he worked as an assistant coach at Cedar Shoals high school and coached the running backs and linebackers. After that position sparked a coaching passion inside him, he pursued a position as a graduate assistant with the Georgia Bulldogs. He started by coaching the scout team and eventually worked under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in helping develop the linebackers.
Jump to the NFL
At 26-years-old, MacDonald was hired to John Harbaugh’s staff with the Baltimore Ravens as a coaching intern and spent time working with the defensive backs in 2014. He would spend the next three seasons as a defensive assistant before being named the defensive backs coach in 2017 and eventually took over the linebackers coach job that was left behind when Don Martindale was elevated to the Ravens’ defensive coordinator post. MacDonald has held that role since.
The Ravens had the No. 1 defense in the league during the 2018 season and coached a Pro Bowl linebacker in C.J. Mosely. The defense was once again elite during the 2019 season that saw the team finish with a 14-2 record. This past season, Baltimore once again sent a linebacker to the Pro Bowl with Matt Judon getting the nod. He also helped develop first-round pick Patrick Queen, who is seen as one of the best young linebackers in the NFL and finished with 106 total tackles and three sacks during the regular season.
MacDonald has put in the work and an endorsement of John Harbaugh given the defenses and teams he has coach, whether he is Jim’s brother or not, carries a lot of weight. I’m not sure if this is a situation where you turn the keys to the defense entirely to him, but this could wind up being a really solid hire if paired with a co-defensive coordinator with experience at this level. He is a sponge and someone who does not seem married to any sort of concept or idea, but he also has not had a chance to run a defense, either.
Is this a splash hire? Certainly not. Is it one that changes the outlook of the program under Harbaugh? Not really. But compared to the grizzled veteran who was set in his ways with Don Brown, it does not feel like a significant issue to go younger with someone who has spent a lot of time in the NFL and has worked in a variety of roles. Seven years with the Ravens is nothing to scoff at, but the concerns about his lack of experience in a job that is going to require figuring a lot of things out are not unwarranted. Would Macdonald be a candidate at Michigan if not for the brotherly connection? That is probably unlikely. But he seems like a hard worker, a quick study, and someone that has a long coaching future ahead of him.
It is not a stretch to suggest that Harbaugh’s situation and a perceived lack of stability even with the extension hurt them in attracting a bigger name. That leaves you in a spot where you have to roll the dice and take a chance. All you’re left to do is wait and see what happens.
It is hard to get a read on what this means for the rest of the staff until the whole picture is complete. But this might be something that works if you’re able to pair him with a Tim Banks-type. It might not, either. But that is the chance that Michigan takes by bringing Harbaugh back at all.