Don Brown: 'Players aren't chess pieces. They're human beings'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Wednesday October 26, 2016

In the second quarter of Michigan’s game last Saturday, Illinois broke off a 45-yard run, before Jabrill Peppers ran the runner down. It was a five-man pressure by Michigan.

So what did defensive coordinator Don Brown do the next play? The same thing. It resulted in a dropped would-be interception. 

Like I tell them, if we give up something in a five-man pressure, guess what? The next play, I guarantee you, will be another five-man pressure. So you might as well we used to that,” Brown said. “We’re not going to back off. We’re not going to go, ‘Oh, it didn’t work.’ We’re not going to do that.”

Michigan led 28-0 at the time and won 41-8. The Wolverines are 7-0 heading to East Lansing this week.

In his first year leading the group, Brown’s defense is at the top of the country in most key defensive stats — No. 1 in scoring and 3rd down, No. 3 in rushing yards per carry. But he says it’s not just about numbers and X’s and O’s like the players are pieces to a puzzle. He was asked Wednesday about developing relationships and how that plays a role.

“I told them a story,” Brown said. “Back when I worked for Carmen Cozza at Yale (from 1987-92), one of the things he told me was, ‘Those players aren’t chess pieces. They’re human beings, and they want to have a relationship with you. If you want them to play hard for you, develop relationships. Those are the things that are important.' I took that to heart.

“The most important thing you do is get those guys to understand we’re all in it together. We’re all human beings. We all care about one another. That’s in good times and bad. It’s easy to do when you’re 7-0. Tough to do when you’re on the off side of that coin. It’s really an important piece.”

Brown was up for the Broyles Award last season and may be again. He has head coaching experience at UMass, Northwestern and Plymouth State. Is that something he’d be interested in again? He’s not thinking about it. Nor is he thinking when his career could end. Brown is 61 years old and has coached since 1977.

“Don’t think beyond what I’m doing, no question about it,” he said. “Let’s just say this: If this ended up being it for me, I’d be more than happy. In talking to some of the guys in the profession, they all say you’ll know. When I hit it, that’s the end of it. I’m not cheating anybody. When we get to that point, move on, and that’s it. I don’t cheat the game and the players in the game.

“You’ve gotta have an energy level, expertise, you’ve gotta be willing to research in the offseason, you’ve got to be willing to take chances, do those things. If you can’t do that, you get out. How long? I don’t know. I know this: I’m having a blast. My health is good. Life is good.”

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