On Jan. 17, 2021, Mike Macdonald was announced as the next defensive coordinator at the University of Michigan. Macdonald — formerly a linebackers coach of the Baltimore Ravens — inherited a historically bad unit coming off one of the worst seasons in program history.
Macdonald orchestrated college football’s most improved defense as the Wolverines jumped from the No. 95 ranked scoring defense in 2020 to No. 8 in 2021. Moreover, Macdonald helped transform the organizational culture within Schembechler Hall and empowered players to take command of the team.
One year and 11 days after his initial hiring, Macdonald is on his way back to the Ravens, this time as their defensive coordinator. He leaves behind a brief legacy of resurrection, inspiration and success.
To paraphrase Bill Murray from Ghostbusters, “He came, he saw, he kicked ass.”
But now, the Michigan Wolverines are again without a leader of their defensive unit and with spring football looming, this is a vacancy that immediately needs addressed. Here are the top three candidates to fill that role.
Currently Michigan’s defensive backs coach and defensive passing game coordinator, Clinkscale is the in-house continuity pick. Coach Clink is already due for a co-defensive coordinator promotion based off an achieved incentive in his contract, and giving him complete control would end this coaching search before it begins.
Clink is well respected within the building and has one year of collegiate defensive coordinating underneath his belt. If head coach Jim Harbaugh does not want to burden Clinkscale with the entirety of the defense, he could split the duties between Clink and newly hired defensive line coach Mike Elston.
While currently searching for a new home, Fangio is never without potential suitors. Most recently the head coach of the Denver Broncos (2019-21), it appears Fangio is on his way back to the ranks of coordinators after a disappointing tenure (.388 win percentage in three seasons) in the Mile High City.
Fangio previously worked with Harbaugh at Stanford as his defensive coordinator for one season and then followed him to the San Francisco 49ers for four more seasons together.
Widely regarded as one of the best defensive minds coaching today, it wouldn’t be a bad move for Harbaugh to gauge Fangio’s interest in returning to the college game.
The former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, All-American, two-time Super Bowl champion and Michigan alum is one of the hottest names in assistant coaching circles. Foote is currently the outside linebackers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has exclusively been working as a linebacker position coach in the NFL since 2015.
The hiring of Foote would keep with Harbaugh’s trend of bringing back former Michigan players to join his coaching staff.
Although Foote has no defensive coordinating experience, that reason alone will not stop Harbaugh from hiring him. Look back to only last season, when Harabugh — with his seat hotter than ever — brought on Macdonald who had no prior coordinating experience.
For my money, I believe Foote and Clinkscale will be guiding the defense in 2022.