Don Brown is in his third season as Michigan's Matthew and Nicole Lester Family Football Defensive Coordinator in 2018. Brown is widely regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the country; his units are known for their attacking style and stingy run defense, with a fierce commitment to a heavy blitz scheme.
In both of Brown's first two seasons leading the defense, Michigan's unit led the nation in both passing defense and third down conversion percentage allowed. U-M became the first program since 2004-05 Alabama to allow fewer than 1,750 yards passing in consecutive seasons. U-M ranked first or second nationally in seven categories in 2016, and was top-three in five categories in 2017. An incredible 21 of 22 defensive starters have earned All-Big Ten honors during his tenure (11 in 2016, 10 in 2017), including eight who received first-team recognition. Four Wolverines have earned All-American recognition under Brown: Devin Bush, consensus honorees Maurice Hurst and Jourdan Lewis and unanimous selection Jabrill Peppers.
Opponents have been forced into three-and-outs at a high rate against Michigan; 44.5 percent of possessions in 2016 and 51.2 percent in 2017 resulted in three-and-outs. U-M averaged 9.3 tackles for loss per game in 2016 and 8.5 the following year, leading the NCAA with an 11.64 percent sack rate.
In 2017, the Wolverines led the Big Ten in five categories, including pass defense, sacks, tackles for loss, first and third downs allowed. The year before, U-M led the Big Ten in eight defensive categories, including scoring defense, pass defense, pass defense efficiency, third down conversions allowed and red zone defense.
Under Brown in 2017, Michigan was the only team in the country to hold five opponents to fewer than 200 yards of total offense, something only three other schools accomplished four times during the season and something no other Big Ten school has accomplished the previous 20 years. Eleven of 13 opponents were held under 200 yards passing.
Michigan's linebackers enjoyed career seasons under Brown, too, with all three starters setting new career-highs across the board. Mike McCray recorded 84 tackles, 17.0 tackles for loss (No. 3, Big Ten), 5.0 sacks, one interception and one pass breakup. As a true sophomore, Devin Bush received second and third-team All-American honors and was named a finalist for the Butkus Award. He recorded a team-best 102 tackles, adding 9.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, nine pass breakups and one interception. Bush's classmate Khaleke Hudson made 83 stops, a team and Big Ten-best 18.5 tackles for loss (No. 2, Big Ten), 8.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and 11 pass breakups.
Bush (first team, coaches; second team, media), McCray (honorable mention) and Hudson (third team, coaches) each earned All-Big Ten accolades as well.
In 2016, U-M allowed just 28 red zone trips all year, fewest in the nation, and when opposing offenses did get into the red zone, U-M's red zone defense percentage of 71.4 often stifled them. On the turnover front, the U-M defense allowed just 11 passing touchdowns all season while generating 13 interceptions and 19 total turnovers.
Eight opponents were held to fewer than 85 yards rushing, and that same number of teams failed to score a rushing touchdown against Michigan. The team surrendered just 53 fourth-quarter points all year. U-M finished second in tackles for loss per game (9.3) and ranked fourth in tackles for loss per game (3.54), the only school in the country to average more than nine and three in those two categories. Eight games in 2016 featured double-digit Wolverine tackles for loss, and seven of U-M's 13 opponents were held to 10 points or fewer.
Brown helped U-M's linebacker core excel too, as Ben Gedeon (106 tackles), Mike McCray (76) and Jabrill Peppers (72) each set career-highs in tackles and all three earned all-conference accolades. In addition to ranking one-two-three on the team in tackles, that trio combined for 13.5 tackles for loss, with each registering at least 4.0 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Peppers earned unanimous first-team All-American honors and cornerback Jourdan Lewis was a consensus first team All-American as well. That duo collected four Big Ten awards (three, Peppers; one, Lewis) as being the best at their respective positions, and were named winners, finalists or semifinalists for the following awards: the Jim Thorpe Award (Lewis), Paul Hornung Award, Lott IMPACT Trophy, Rotary Lombardi Award, Maxwell Award, Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Walter Camp Player of the Year and the Heisman Trophy (Peppers).
A native of Spencer, Massachusetts, Brown brings 35 years of coaching experience to U-M, including 22 as a defensive coordinator, as of the end of the 2016 season. He has spent time all over New England, including 12 seasons as a head coach, compiling a 94-45 record at three different institutions (Plymouth State, 1993-95; Northeastern, 2000-03; Massachusetts, 2004-08) with five conference titles and six playoff appearances.