If there is one college football coach who has garnered the lion's share of the offseason publicity, it has been Michigan's Jim Harbaugh. If you wondered whether it was all for show, think again.
"You get what you ask for there," said Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, a son of the Bay State.
For those of us who love college football, Don Brown is one of the best known coaches from our region. He was defensive coordinator under Mark Whipple when UMass won the NCAA Division I-AA title back in 1998, he won 43 games in five seasons in Amherst from 2004 to '08— the winningest five-year stretch in UMass football history — and spent time as defensive coordinator at UConn and Boston College, before joining up with Harbaugh.
Brown told me that everything we see from Harbaugh is real. Brown said that it all comes from his love of the game.
"He loves football. He's constantly trying to better this program," said Brown. "He has a vision, and his vision in recruiting and the big picture of the football program, is exciting to be a part of."
I was watching ESPN's College GameDay Saturday morning and Brown was called one of the best defensive minds in the country by the analysts at the desk. The Wolverines started their season with 63-3 win over Hawaii, holding the Rainbow Warriors to 232 yards in total offense.
But for most of us who know Brown, he's always been known as an East Coast guy. From his youth in Spencer, Mass., to playing at Norwich, coaching at 11 different northeast colleges, and spending his summers on Cape Cod, one thinks of Don Brown as a New England guy. So what's a New England guy doing in Michigan?
"I don't know if I sit there and say why am I here. I am very deep-rooted with my guys in New England. I have tremendous friends from several schools that I coached with and there are certainly remembrances there, that's for sure," Brown said when we spoke after practice last week. "I'm a challenge guy.
"This opportunity presented itself and it was something I couldn't pass up."
What's unusual about this hire is that usually, coaches hire guys they know. Take Mark Raymond at Williams, who brought a couple of assistants with him from St. Lawrence (his old job) and a former Saints assistant.
But Brown and Harbaugh didn't know each other.
"Nope," said Brown. "He reached out to me and was very impressed with what we had done defensively [at BC] and I even think, according to Coach, Bill Belichick had a couple of good things to say."
College football coaching, in the words of Brown, is a small world.
"There are a lot of guys that we knew that we [had in] common, that knew him and knew me," Brown said. "Bob Sutton from the Kansas City Chiefs is a common guy. Obviously, some of the Boston College guys are now working for John Harbaugh with the Baltimore Ravens, so there was a connection there.
"Coach did his research, sought me out."
Brown said he feels fortunate to be at Michigan, and is confident that Harbaugh's vision will translate into wins.
The new defensive coordinator in Ann Arbor is more than ready to leave all of the extra-curricular activities to his head coach. Don Brown says he has one task.
"I'm a defensive guy, trying to do a job," said Brown.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.