Wildcats officially hire Don Brown as defensive coordinator

Jan 7, 2021, 12:50 PM | Updated: 1:11 pm
Defensive coordinator Don Brown of the Michigan Wolverines look on during the second half while pla...
Defensive coordinator Don Brown of the Michigan Wolverines look on during the second half while playing the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Michigan Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Wildcats head football coach Jedd Fisch posted a cryptic tweet Tuesday indicating he landed a rumored target for Arizona’s defensive coordinator opening, former Michigan DC Don Brown.

The school announced the official move on Thursday.

“Today is a huge day for Arizona Football as we have the opportunity to welcome Dr. Blitz to our football program,” said Fisch in a statement. “Don Brown has coordinated the most elite defenses in all of college football, year in and year out, and today Wildcat Nation, we get to introduce him to you as our new defensive coordinator. I have known Don since 2016 when we worked together but have respected and admired him as a coach for many years prior. He is incredibly passionate and a phenomenal teacher.

“He brings an energy and enthusiasm to play an attacking style of defense, one in which all former and current players, football alumni and our fan base will be proud of and genuinely excited to watch on Saturdays in the fall.”

Fisch hinted at the move by posted a photoshopped Arizona Lottery ticket that included one row of ascending numbers — 14 through 19 — listed above what appeared to be a random set of numbers.

The random set is the total yards allowed per game by Brown’s defenses from 2014 through 2019 in his time as defensive coordinator at Boston College (2013-15) and Michigan (2015-20).

Brown helped turn around Boston College’s defense before his arrival under head coach Jim Harbaugh at Michigan saw him replace D.J. Durkin, who took the Maryland head-coaching job in 2016. Led by Brown, the Wolverines maintained a top-five defense in terms of yards allowed per game until this past season.

“I am honored to be a part of Coach Fisch’s staff at the University of Arizona,” Brown said in a statement. “I promise to work tirelessly to make our defense into something that our players, alumni and fans can be proud of. My focus will also be to develop our student-athletes so they can play at an elite level and achieve success, which requires dedication, a tremendous work ethic and building great relationships. I can’t wait to get to Tucson and be a part of the program Coach Fisch is building.”

Fisch and Brown became familiar with one another in 2016 when the former served as Michigan’s passing game coordinator, quarterbacks coach and wide receivers coach.

Michigan went 2-4 in 2020 and fired Brown after the team slipped to 89th by allowing 434.5 yards per game.

Over the past five years, the Wolverines defense in yards per play allowed ranked second (2016), sixth (2017), eighth (2018), 10th (2019) and 56th (2020).

Maybe more impressively, Brown’s final year at Boston College saw his defense allow 15.2 points per game (fourth-best in NCAA) and rank first in total yards allowed per game (254.6). It was also best in yards allowed per play (4.1) despite the Eagles’ offense scoring 17.2 points per game and going 3-9 on the year.

Brown, 65, has spent most of his coaching career out east, serving as head coach at UMass (2004-08), Northeastern (2000-03) and Plymouth State (1993-95).

Brown’s nickname, Dr. Blitz, makes his character as a coordinator clear — and it fits a school that is hoping to reach back to its Desert Swarm identity from the Dick Tomey era that produced players like Tedy Bruschi, Ricky Hunley and Chuck Cecil.

Bruschi met with Fisch before the head coach landed the job to replace Kevin Sumlin and has since advocated for the new head coach.

Fisch made it clear since he was introduced that the Wildcats would welcome past players back to Tucson and that history as a blue collar team. Hunley (defensive line) and Cecil (defensive backs) were among the first assistants hired to Fisch’s staff.

Arizona has since added former New Mexico State head coach and long-time NFL defensive backs assistant DeWayne Walker as a nickels/corners coach.

Brown fits with that group, bringing attacking play-calling to a team that struggled to put up a fight with poor recruiting, player retention and coaching on defense in the Sumlin era.

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