Over the seven years of the Jim Harbaugh era in Ann Arbor, the head coach has had to make decision after decision when it comes to filling assistant coaching vacancies. Not a season has gone by where he hasn’t had to replace someone within the program.
As Harbaugh made each decision over the years, one coach was waiting patiently for his opportunity to arise, all while having an opportunity in the moment in the SEC, just a few states away in Kentucky.
Steve Clinkscale finally got that opportunity this offseason when Maurice Linguist, another offseason acquisition by Harbaugh, bolted Ann Arbor back in May, just a few months into the job, to take the head coaching role at the University of Buffalo.
Harbaugh had to act quick. Linguist had already been recruiting kids for months. A handful of Michigan’s committed players were thanks to Linguist.
And act quick Harbaugh did. Linguist was named head coach at Buffalo on May 8. And on May 12, Clinkscale was named the new defensive passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach at Michigan.
But let’s back up to how “Clink,” as he is commonly referred to, got to where he is today.
An Ohio native, Clinkscale attended Ashland University, a private Christian school in the city of Ashland. He played as a defensive back at the university and started all four years. After he graduated, he returned to the football program and coached the defensive backs from 2001-07. He also coached the linebackers his final season with the program.
Coaching defensive backs his entire career, he took jobs at Western Carolina (2008), Toledo (2009-11), Illinois (2012) and Cincinnati (2013-15). He then took the same position at Kentucky in 2016 that he had been coaching all those years.
He was well-known before his time at Kentucky, but he began recruiting at a high level during his time in Lexington, especially in the state of Michigan. Clinkscale dipped his toes into the Mitten State often on the recruiting trail. The highest-rated recruit to come to Kentucky because of him was from Michigan — Justin Rogers, a four-star defensive line prospect who was ranked No. 52 overall on 247Sports’ composite. He played high school football at Oak Park, the same school where the second-highest-ranked player Clink brought along to Kentucky — four-star offensive lineman Marquan McCall.
During his tenure at Kentucky, Clinkscale acquired letters of intent from student-athletes who played in in Oak Park, Detroit, Mount Morris, West Bloomfield, Auburn Hills and Ypsilanti. Needless to say, he built up a presence in the metro Detroit area, and is a coach who resonates with the high school coaches and players in the region.
It’s one thing to recruit well, but it’s a totally different thing to develop those recruits. But Clink was able to do both those things at a high level at Kentucky. The Wildcats’ secondary delivered on all 13 of the team’s interceptions in his first year coaching there in 2016.
The historic 2018 season for Kentucky was also a successful one for Clinkscale and the defensive backs. Following that season, Mike Edwards, an All-SEC safety for Kentucky, was picked in the third round of the NFL Draft. Lonnie Johnson, another Kentucky safety, was picked even higher in the second round.
According to Clink’s MGoBlue page, “(Kentucky’s) 2019 secondary replaced its top six producers from the 2018 season and still ranked second nationally in fewest touchdown passes allowed (nine) and third in passing yards allowed per game (167.8). The Wildcats were top four in the SEC in pass defense during his last three years. They lead the league in 2019 and 2020, and also lead the league in interceptions in 2020 with 16, good for third-best in the entire country.”
Expectations aren’t high for Michigan’s cornerbacks this season, and rightfully so, because of how poorly they played a season ago. But Clinkscale has turned things around quickly for defensive backfields in the past. With the ever-growing, deafening at times, moans and frustrations from the fan base toward the same man who hired him just a few short months ago, can Clink work his quick magic once again in Ann Arbor?