University of Arizona football fans may soon get a close-up look at Big Ten football without having to leave the Tucson campus.
More specifically, the Michigan Wolverine brand of football.
Don Brown was hired away from the University of Michigan a couple of weeks ago to begin rebuilding the Arizona defense. He will serve as the defensive coordinator on the staff of new UofA head coach, Jedd Fisch.
The much-traveled Brown, who has nearly 45 years of coaching experience at a dozen different college programs, spent the last five years directing the Wolverines’ defense, one of the most respected in Division I.
But the Arizona program will also have additional Michigan influence going forward.
Already on board Fisch’s inaugural staff was Jimmie Dougherty, who was also part of Jim Harbaugh’s staff during the 2016 season when he served as an offensive analyst for the Wolverines. Dougherty, hired Jan. 4, will be the Wildcats’ passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
And just a week ago, Fisch named Keith Dudzinski his linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. Dudzinski spent last season as a defensive analyst alongside Brown in Ann Arbor.
That brings a heavy influence of Michigan football, on both sides of the ball, to Tucson and the Pac-12.
Brown is going to be a key element to Arizona’s rebound following three losing seasons under Kevin Sumlin that included three straight losses to in-state rival Arizona State. Sumlin’s final game as the Wildcats’ head coach was a humiliating 70-7 loss in the annual Territorial Cup game. He was fired the next day.
That loss was the final straw for Sumlin, who left Tucson following a 12-game losing streak. Much of the Arizona problems stemmed from a defense that ranked among the worst in Division I. Sumlin fired his 2019 defensive coordinator with four games still left to play, and last season saw little improvement.
That pretty much outlines the challenge that lies ahead for the new DC.
Brown spent his entire college playing career as a running back, but it was his reputation as a defensive guru that made him so much in demand when he stepped into coaching. His defensive system is extremely aggressive and always attacking, which, over the years, has earned him the nickname “Dr. Blitz.”
A coaching career that spans four decades can be traced back to his beginning as an assistant coach at Dartmouth in 1982, followed by his first gig as a defensive coordinator the next year at Mansfield University, a Division II school in Pennsylvania.
He had three stops as a head coach on the way up the coaching ladder. During his dozen seasons at Massachusetts, Northeastern, and Plymouth State, he led those programs to a combined five conference championships and six playoff appearances.
In recent years, he was defensive coordinator at Boston College, UConn, and Maryland prior to taking the Michigan job. During his three years at Boston College, he took that team to two bowl games. The 2015 squad led the nation in total defense.
But it was his most recent job at Michigan that really elevated his already-established reputation as one of the best defensive coordinators in the game. During his five years at Michigan, the Wolverine defense finished in the top 12 units in the nation in total defense four straight years and led the country in pass defense twice, in 2016 and 2017.
His tenure at Arizona may be the final career stop for the 65-year-old football icon. But, in the meantime, Jedd Fisch is counting on his new defensive coordinator bringing to the desert the kind of success he achieved at Michigan.
Whether he can bring in the kind of talent he will need to accomplish that is another story.
This won’t be like recruiting to the storied Michigan program.