The offseason transformation of the Michigan football coaching staff took another major step this week when one assistant decided to leave Ann Arbor, and another decided to stay. After spending over 25 years donning the Maize and Blue as a coach and player, Jim Herrmann will be wearing different colors next year. The New York Jets officially hired him as their new linebacker's coach late last week, thus ending his nine-year run as Michigan's defensive coordinator. As was mentioned Thursday, the man replacing him is one already very familiar to Wolverine fans. Former defensive backs coach Ron English opted to back out of his decision to join the Chicago Bears staff after being offered the job as sole defensive coordinator in Ann Arbor. The uncertainty with both assistants presented a difficult challenge for Michigan headman Lloyd Carr.
"I was in a position where I didn't want to lose either of them, and yet I knew Ron had a job offer and I knew Jim was going to have one," said Carr in today's Detroit News. "I wanted to try to keep them both."
Herrmann won the Broyles award as the nation's top assistant in 1997 for his role in deploying the country's top-ranked defense, helping the Wolverines win a national title. Defensive inconsistencies in the seasons since caused the once prevalent praise for his job performance to morph into condemnation. By accepting the Jets post he not only is taking a positive step in his career progression, he is also gaining relief from the criticism that gained more and more momentum over the years.
"It's an exciting move," said Herrmann to the Detroit News. "It's something I've wanted to do for a while. My life is here (in Ann Arbor), and I'll always be a Michigan man. Deep down on a Saturday afternoon, I know where my heart is. But this is something I've always dreamt of, something I've always wanted to do."
With Herrmann on the way out, Carr identified English as the man he wanted to take over the reins of his defense. The odds of that happening seemed to be slim since, just a few days previous, the three-year U-M-assistant had decided to accept a job on Lovie Smith's staff coaching defensive backs. However, the lure of fulfilling his own professional dream was enough to cause him to have second thoughts. In the end, well-liked coach chose to follow his heart.
"I came to the decision to accept the job Thursday morning," English said to GoBlueWolverine. "I just felt like it was an outstanding opportunity. I felt like I could make a difference at Michigan. I felt like it was something that I've really worked toward throughout my career… to coordinate a defense. I just had a hard time turning it down."
Speculation that English had been angling for the coordinator's slot at Michigan has grown in recent days thanks to reports out Chicago about the Bears brass feeling they had been used as leverage. While it is easy to see how the unfortunate timing could lead one to that conclusion, the chronology of events does not substantiate it. English's choice not to approach Michigan regarding a counter to the Bears opportunity, and the five days he ultimately took to ponder the Wolverines eventual offer, are both indicative of no premeditation on his part. His track record in the profession further disproves that notion.
"My clothes were packed and my office was empty," English said. "I planned to go to Chicago. There's no question about that. People are always going to speculate, or what have you, but you can look at my career. I've been offered jobs by plenty of big time universities and I've always honored my commitments. If you look at my background, I don't try to leverage anybody. I try to do things the right way."
With that difficult decision now behind him, English attention is focused on the task of molding the Michigan defense in his image. In the day and age of multiple offensive sets with multiple player packages, defenses have tried to keep up by deploying just as many. Because the very nature of defense is reactionary, complexities on that side of the ball can often slow players down. While it is clear that English will devise his fair share of schemes to counter some of the innovative offensive attacks, it is also apparent that simplification will be one of his major keys.
"I think the first thing you have to do is have the kids understand your base defense," he said. "What is your base defense? What is your identity on defense? Then they have to understand that they can be successful just through technique, effort, and striking people. If they can just execute, they can be successful."
Indecision can be a defense's biggest enemy, and by stressing fundamentals English hopes to eliminate as much of it as possible. "It's not like we're going to have a drastic overhaul on defense, because I don't think that's our problem," English explained. "What we're going to do is change our style of play. We're going to have to be more violent, we're going to have to play harder and faster, and we're going to have to play with more confidence. We're going to know exactly what to do."
Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine for much more from English on his philosophy and how he plans to implement it in his new role as defensive coordinator.