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December 15, 2006
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The Michigan defense would be different under Ron English.
Leon Hall could attest to that.
As a sophomore in 2004, Hall already watched English mold Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor into consensus All-Americans while English was secondary coach.
Hall also benefited from English's no-nonsense style of coaching. Now a senior, Hall is one of the nation's premier defensive backs.
By the end of the 2006 season, the rest of his defensive teammates would share in the wealth.
"As soon as they added Coach English to the D-coordinator job, I knew we would have a turnaround season just because I knew what kind of guy he was," said Hall, a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy and Thorpe Award. "He's wasn't going to take nothing from nobody."
The 38-year-old first-year coordinator revamped the Michigan defense. The Wolverines went from a 7-5 season and Alamo Bowl loss to an 11-1 season, a No. 3 ranking and a Rose Bowl appearance.
For his role in the Wolverines' turnaround from a frustrating season to national championship contender, English was named Rivals.com's National Defensive Coordinator of the Year.
In 2006, Michigan's defense featured a Lombardi Award winner (defensive end LaMarr Woodley), two first-team All-Americans (Woodley, Hall) and two more second-teamers (defensive tackle Alan Branch, linebacker David Harris).
English's makeover of the defense started with the front seven. That might seem a bit odd considering his history as a secondary coach.
English's message to the linemen and linebackers was to play fast and play with intensity. The aggressive, attacking defense obliged. The result was a defense that was best in the country against the run and caused fits for opposing quarterbacks.
Woodley led the way with 11 sacks and 15? tackles for a loss. Harris followed with 15 tackles for a loss. Linebacker Shawn Crable added 10? more.
"What we've done is we've really stressed practicing with a high, high tempo," English said. "That's where it starts for us. It's every drill. We just try to do it in every drill. We try to play as fast as we can."
That attitude in spring drills and fall practice paid off quickly for the Wolverines.
The Michigan defense was dominant over the first month of the season, allowing a total of 74 rushing yards in the first four games. It also forced 10 turnovers over that span.
The production didn't come against slouches either. After defeating Vanderbilt and MAC champion Central Michigan in the first two games, Michigan held Notre Dame to four rushing yards and forced five turnovers in a 47-21 victory in South Bend for the Wolverines' signature win of the season.
Along the way, the Wolverines eliminated the late mistakes that doomed the 2005 season. Four of Michigan's five losses last year came on late scoring drives.
That attitude English brought to Ann Arbor, however, was nearly felt in Chicago.
In February, he accepted a position as the Bears' defensive backs coach. He backed out when offered Michigan's defensive coordinator opening. He said he was "as close as you can be to leaving."
Instead, he returned to replace Jim Hermann as defensive coordinator.
"It was an extremely difficult decision because both were great opportunities," English said. "It was hard for my family and me, and we just felt like we had a chance to affect change here at Michigan. We really wanted to do that."
When he returned to the Wolverines, he didn't have time to wonder if he had made the right decision.
"I just thought after spring football, we have a chance because we were getting better," English said. "The most gratifying thing was the way we approached the games week in and week out. We went after it and had fun and went into each week with a purpose."