Mailbag question: Defensive scheme mess last year


Hi guys,

Can you re-cap the whole defensive scheme mess during Coach Rod’s tenure?

My understanding was that Coach Rod likes to run a defense with a three-man front and that was one of the reasons he hired Shafer last year. Then in the latter part of last season, Michigan switched to a four-man front because the players asked for it, but also because — rumor had it – Coach Rod ordered the change. (Because the three-man approach just wasn’t working?) Now, Robinson is hired, who is known to prefer a four-man front.

Can you clear all this up? Has Coach Rod changed his preferences? If so, why? Or does he just not really want to worry about it and just let the defensive coordinator handle it — as long as it works?


Thanks for the question.

From day one, Coach Shafer told everyone he was a base 4-3 coach. For some reason, many of our “Blue Brothers” did not believe this and kept expecting Michigan to use 3-3 defense. When we reported last spring that Michigan has a base 4-3 defense, many, again, thought we were delusional or something.

We tried to explain that Coach Shafer was also using a three-front defense as his nickel package. He called this his “Okie 8” look. Michigan used this combination of defenses for the first nine games or so.

At the Purdue game, we could tell that Coach Shafer was not in control of the defense any longer because Michigan showed a 3-3 odd stack defense. It had not shown this look at any time before. In our opinion, the switch turned out to be a disaster.

The following week Michigan showed up against Northwestern playing a 4-2 defense — another different look.

Finally, for Ohio State game, Michigan returned to what they had used in first nine weeks of season.

If you are confused, join the club because you cannot be a good defense by constantly changing your approach. The defensive players need to know who is in charge, and what assignments they have.

Several things we reported over the past couple of months are coming out now. If you really want to know what happened, just go back and re-read our comments about the defense, about who was in charge, and about what was happening. Our reporting turned out to be correct, it’s just that now “other people” are reporting on it so it’s getting more notice. At the time, lot of readers didn’t like what we were writing about the defense. We understood that people didn’t want to believe the problems we saw. Nonetheless, the problems were there — and they were inexcusable.

If the defensive coordinator doesn’t have control over the defensive staff, and lacks the authority to assert his vision, then the confusion trickles down to the players — who know what’s going on — and who can’t play with the confidence, in the system and staff, that they deserve and need to have for top caliber play. The whole team ends up suffering.

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Written by CoachBt and ErocWolverine