Thursday, September 7, 2006 - The Michigan Daily
COACH E'S JUST A BALL OF FIRE,
REALLY. HE'LL LIGHT ONE UNDER
YOUR BUTT IF YOU NEED IT." a
DUDE WAS CRAZY."
SO WE COULD
JUST PLAY FOOT-
BALL, NOT THINK."
Ron English brought energy, passion and excitement back to the Michigan defense. Will the first-time
defensive coordinator also be able to return the Wolverines to their winning ways?
By Stephanie Wright * Daily Sports Editor
he first time LaMarr Woodley saw
Ron English, the coach was jogging
down the street sporting glasses and
a backpack. The defensive end real-
ized then and there just how energetic English
Defensive tackle Alan Branch met English
when the coach was recruiting Branch out
of high school. The junior says English has
always been the same - very intense and
passionate about football.
Safety Ryan Mundy said his initial impres-
sion of English was a little less specific.
"I thought this dude was crazy," Mundy
said with a laugh.
However you describe him - energetic,
intense or just plain nuts - English isn't your
average coach. Michigan's first-year defensive
coordinator might be just the man to reinvig-
orate the Wolverines' worn-out defense and
return it to the dominance of seasons past.
This much is certain: Thanks to English,
Michigan's defense has a whole new attitude.
ast April, at the Wolverines' first spring
practice,you could hear one man scream-
ing over all the noise in Oosterbaan Field-
house. It was English, yelling at his players to
move their asses and getting in their faces if
they didn't quickly comply.
"Coach E's just a ball of fire, really,"
Branch said. "He'll light one under your butt
if you need it."
Added Mundy: "He always knows what's
going on, so if he tells you something, you
Mundy said that as long ashe's been at
Michigan, the defensive coaches have always
been intense. But there's something about
English's combination of energy, passion and
strong vocal chords that makes the Wolver-
It might be the way English is upfront
about his expectations. He made it clear from
day one that he demands the best and won't
settle for anything less.
Or maybe it's because he understands what
it's like to play at a school that excels in ath-
letics and academics,having been a four-year
letterman at California.
Whatever it is, English's coaching style has
struck a chord with his players.
"In the past ... we kind of just did the job
(and) went back to the huddle," linebacker
Shawn Crable said. "Coach E brings excite-
ment when you look over and see the coach
excited as well as you. There've been days
when we have practice, and we're not excited.
He'll run out there, (and we'll) start getting
excited about playing. It doesn't bother him if
we're talking and we're talking trash. If we
back it up, it doesn't bother him at all."
As intense and demanding as English is,
his players also describe him as a friend and
mentor who treats them as equals and isn't
afraid to crack a joke or two.
During his sophomore year, Mundy found
himself at odds with English. Mundy admit-
ted he had been a "hard head" who wouldn't
listen to his coach's instructions. After the
season, English sat Mundy down to watch
film with him, and everything clicked.
"A light finally went on in my head, like
this dude knows what he's talking about, and
he's basically always right," Mundy said.
"Whether or not you want to admit it, he is
going to be right the majority of the time.
You've just got to listen to what he says."
Given how much players respected him,
it was only a matter of time before English
began ascending the coaching ranks.
Setting the stage
ithin days of the Wolverines' Alamo
Bowl loss last December, speculation
started swirling that Lloyd Carr's coaching
staff would undergo a major shakeup. The
No. 1 target on the list of Michigan fans and
media was defensive coordinator Jim Her-
Not so long ago under Herrmann, the
Wolverines boasted one of the best defenses
in the nation. In 1997, Michigan captured a
national championship on the strength of its
defense, a unit that gave up just five touch-
down passes and amassed 23 interceptions.
Cornerback Charles Woodson snatched eight
of those picks on his way to becoming the
first primarily defensive player to win the
But that smothering defense started to fall
apart the following year and has been sliding
Michigan hit rock bottom at the end of the
2004 season. In consecutive games, Ohio
State's Troy Smith and Texas's Vince Young
exposed the Wolverines biggest flaw: con-
taining running quarterbacks. Smith torched
Michigan for 145 yards on the ground; Young
almost single-handedly defeated the Wolver-
ines with 192 yards rushing in the Longhorns'
Rose Bowl victory.
Herrmann, a long-time Carr assistant,
received the bulk of the criticism after the
defense's meltdown in 2004. A group of
angry fans even created a website, wwwfire-
jimherrmann.com,dedicated to bashing him.
But Carr stood by Herrmann, appearing con-
fident that the experienced coach would be
able to end Michigan's defensive woes.
In the months leading up to the Wolver-
ines' 2005 campaign, players and coaches
promised a revamped defense that could
stop the spread, slow down scrambling
quarterbacks and wouldn't break down in
the fourth quarter.
The Wolverines improved on the first two
counts. This time around, Smith gained just
37 yards on the ground. But when it came to
finishing games, Michigan hadn't changed.
It might even have gotten worse. Wisconsin,
Minnesota, Ohio State and Nebraska each
overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to beat the
"Last year there were a couple guys who
should have done better, and as a team,
we didn't finish," Crable said. "A lot of
the coaches and a lot of the players, on the
defense especially, knew that when it comes
down to the end of the game, we've got to get
off the field"
Even after 2005 - another disappointing
season - Carr didn't publicly discuss plans
to fire or demote Herrmann, though reports
suggested he was considering it. As it turns
out, Car never had to show his hand. In early
February, Herrmann announced he would be
leaving Michigan to join the NFL's New York
Jets as linebackers coach.
he vacant defensive coordinator post
opened the door for English. Formerly
a secondary coach at Arizona State, English
joined the Wolverines' coaching staff in 2003.
The following year, English became the first
coach in NCAA history to have two defensive
backs earn consensus All-America honors in
the same season (cornerback Marlin Jackson
and safety Ernest Shazor). In his three years
as Michigan's defensive backs coach, English
had earned a reputation as a respected and
well-liked coach who demands the best from
English seemed like a perfect fit to take
over the Wolverines' beleaguered defensive
unit. The only problem was that English
had already accepted a position with the
As much as English enjoyed the challenge
of being a college coach, recruiting and teach-
ing young players, his goal was to become a
defensive coordinator. With that post occu-
pied at Michigan, English saw an NFL job as
an ideal stepping stone. On Feb. 7, the Bears
announced that they had hired English as
their new defensive backs coach.
"They're really the No. I defense in the
NFL;' English told The Associated Press
when he accepted the job."Typically, coaches
in my position have to break in with a strug-
gling team, so to get this opportunity with a
good, improving team is tremendous."
Then the situation in Ann Arbor changed.
Once it became clear Herrmann would be
leaving for the NFL, Carr offered English the
Wolverines' defensive coordinator job.
The Californianative had a tough decision
"I was leaving (for the NFL) in my mind,"
English said. "When (the Michigan job) was
offered to me, it was hard because this is a
job that I really wanted. I thought it was a
great opportunity for me tocoordinate this
defense, and an opportunity I didn't think I'd
Even though English wanted this job for a
long time, he said it took five or six days of
soul-searching for him to make up his mind.
Even now, English appears to tense up while
discussing his decision.
"My word's important to me" English
said. "I'd never given anybody my word and
broken it, and so that was hard. It was really
a hard thing."
On Feb. 9, English told the Bears he had
decided to turn down their offer, and he
rejoined Michigan's coaching staff. When
Herrmann announced his departure a few
days later, it was all but official that English
would become Michigan's new defensive
Keep it simple
nglish had seven months to revamp a
defense with an abundance of experi-
ence andtalent but little endurance. Michigan
ranked third in the Big Ten in total defense
last season. The Wolverines knew how to shut
down opponents; they just couldn't do it for
So English and the rest of Michigan's
coaching and conditioning staff decided to
intensify the Wolverines' offseason training
"When we lifted, the workout (would be)
going well, but right toward the end they
made it real difficult for you to get out of
there"Crable said."Youhad tobuckle down;
you had to focus?'
Never the most dedicated lifter, Branch
focused on improving his strength. Line-
backer Prescott Burgess changed his
diet and dropped almost 15 pounds. The
entire defense attacked its offseason con-
ditioning regimen with more intensity
The result is a leaner, quicker, stronger
squad built to stay fresh through the end of
the fourth quarter.
"More than the weight, and the weight
is a big issue, I think we're in pretty good
condition right now" English said. "We've
had a great summer of training. If you look
at our kids' bodies, they look different, and
I think they look better. I think we're in
To take advantage of his well-conditioned
players, English went back to basics and
designed a defense based on playing fast,
getting to the ball quickly and tackling with
authority. The basic scheme is similar to what
the Wolverines ran last season; the biggest
change is the mentality.
English spent the first eight practices of
spring ball drilling his players on the funda-
mentals of the new system, running through
every possible scenario over and over. He
wanted the defense to know the basic pack-
age inside and out before adding any blitzes
"We run a lot of things, but we know what
we're going to run;' Crable said. "He really
doesn't throw too many things in there. He
kind of gives you a heads up as to what he's
thinking... or what's coming up so you know
what's going on."
Last year, Herrmann tailored the defensive
package tothat week's opponent,whichmeant
players had to learn a new defense before each
game. English places a greater emphasis on
his defense dictating what opposing offenses
can do, not the other way around.
"The playbook is way simpler" Crable
said. "He simplified itso we could just play
football, not think."
fter so many disappointing seasons, a
lot is expected of English in his first
year. He's supposed to infuse an under-
achieving defense with swagger andtough-
ness and teach them how to finish. In the
eyes of many fans, he has to be perfect.
So far, so good.
Michigan exploded out of the gate
in its first game, notching six sacks, 11
tackles for loss and two forced fumbles,
both of which it recovered. The Wolver-
ines had Vanderbilt quarterback Chris
Nickson on the run because of their pun-
ishing hits in the pocket, not their weak
But English knows all too well that his
squad will face tougher tests in the future,
beginning next week when the Wolverines
travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame
and Heisman frontrunner Brady Quinn.
Michigan's schedule features a number
of contests against experienced quarter-
backs, including Wisconsin's John Stocco,
Michigan State's Drew Stanton and Iowa's
Drew Tate. And, of course, there's that trip
to Columbus to face Troy Smith and No. 1
Ohio State's explosive offense.
It's a big challenge, but English seems
like just the man to take it on.
He might be the only one crazy enough
to do it.