Don Brown: 'If you're not running to the ball, you're a traitor'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Monday January 16, 2017

Don Brown doesn’t want traitors, and he doesn’t want tourists.

Michigan’s defensive coordinator gave a presentation to a ballroom full of coaches at last week’s AFCA Convention in Nashville and talked defense. A quote on the first slide said it all: “Solve your problems with aggression.”

Brown was a finalist for the Broyles Award this year and had one of the top defenses in the country. All 11 starters earned at least All-Big Ten honorable mention. While explaining the 2016 goals, one was to tackle with relentless passion. And that means everyone.

If you’re not running to the ball, you’re a traitor. Might as well go play for the other team,” Brown said. “If you’re not running, you’re a traitor. You look at everything.”

Among the other goals: Create one more turnover than TD’s allowed, intercept one of every 15 passes, no runs over 20 yards, four negative-yardage plays, seven QB knockdowns and more. This year's Michigan D met nearly all of them.

Brown’s entire philosophy is built on aggression. The Wolverines were top four in sacks and tackles for loss this year. It doesn’t always have to be a blitz, but Brown says you’ll never see him rush three.

“One of the core values is attack, attack, attack. That’s the mindset I want them to have,” he said. “Now, are we blitzing every down? No. Do we three-man rush? No. Never. Do we four-man rush? Absolutely. A lot. Do we five-man rush? A lot. Do we six-man rush? Yes. Not as much as five and four, but we do six. Do we do seven-man rush? Absolutely. Same deal. But we determine when we do it. It’s a mindset, and you have to get them to think along with that.”

As for “tourists,” it means you’re not playing if you’re just happy to be there, or if you’re just happy to be at practice.

“No tourists on defense. Nobody get on the bus for a free ride,” Brown said. “Coach (Harbaugh) has a great line, ‘No steak-eaters on the bus.’ Where you show up, get your steak and get on the bus. No steak-eaters on the bus. You’ve got to earn your steak.

“We have a thing we do I think is really good. We monitor all reps for every players in every practice. I know that’s difficult to do. I’m not saying it’s not. But if you’re on the scout team and you took six reps, steak-eater. Coach knows everything. He knows how many reps each guy is taking, offense, defense, kicking. If you’re the freshman linebacker and think you’re going to hang out, that’s not going to happen.”

Among the last points Brown made in his hour-long presentation is that every player mistake comes back to the coach. If the player messed up, the coach didn’t instill it well enough.

It’s not professional football. College football is about growth and learning, and that comes from teaching. Brown will be tested next year, replacing most of his starting 11.

Don’t blame the player. That’s on us. Don’t blame the player," Brown said. “I tell our guys all the time, ‘All your mistakes belong to me, because at the end of the day, that’s it.’ We’re all big boys in here. That’s how we make our living. Nobody said it was easy. The greatest profession, career that there is.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to