Michigan Football Defensive Backs Coach Steve Clinkscale Talks Philosophy
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Michigan DBs Coach on Philosophy: 'Coach Them Hard But Love Them Up'

The Michigan Wolverines would admit they are not exactly where they want to be defensively yet, but the players have responded positively to the new defensive coaching staff helmed by coordinator Mike Macdonald.

Macdonald's staff has been praised for the improved communication and culture they have brought to the locker room. Things did not cool over the bye week after a 6-0 start, defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator Steve Clinkscale revealed.

“They came back pretty hungry," Clinkscale told the Michigan media on Wednesday. "The first couple of practices were really good. They’re communicating well. They are practicing hard. That rest really helped them and they looked like what they are expected to. We’ll continue to trend that way.”

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Michigan Wolverines defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale
Michigan Wolverines defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale has brought a fresh mentality to Ann Arbor. (EJ Holland / TheWolverine.com)
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Clinkscale has been a stabilizing presence for the back end of Michigan's defense in more ways than one after being hired away from Kentucky. He came with a proven track record and was coveted by head coach Jim Harbaugh after original hire Maurice Linguist left for the Buffalo head coaching job in the spring.

The late addition to the staff did not have much of an impact. He hit it off with everyone in Ann Arbor from the start.

“It’s like I’ve known these guys," I walked in, it’s just like when I left the previous place. I knew the guys. The chemistry is very cohesive. There was never a lull where I had to work on a relationship because (someone) doesn’t trust me or like me. We went right to it. It started well and has continued to go well.”

Clinkscale, an Ashland University alum, has also been an integral part in opening the lines of communication between the coaching staff and the players simply by being himself.

“I played the game and I respect it," he said. "I respect that player and coach relationship. There are times where you come close to that line and get on them really hard. You have to understand in this day and age, those young men aren’t always coached like that at times. You have to find a balance per player. I coach them hard but I also love them up. We do a lot of things together. We’re a tight unit. They know I want the best for them. I want them to live out their dreams and get accomplished what they want to here.

"But it’s not going to happen just because you want to do it. You’ve got to put in the work. You’ve got to execute your assignment. There’s a lot that comes with it in doing things well on and off the field. Then having the ability to come in and sit down and talk to me when you’re just not feeling it today. They go through it. I talk to my guys in the NFL and the guys here. You’ve got to build that relationship so they know they can call on you to give them that incentive to get through that day. Win the moment. I take pride in that.”

Clinkscale feels he relates most to his players given his experience in their shoes and seeks not to dictate, but instead make sure his players have the resources available to them to be effective.

“When you play the position, sometimes you hear people talk about things you can do or should do and they’ve never been in that position," Clinkscale said. "I’ve been in that position. Maybe not at this level, but I’ve been there. I’ve lost games. I’ve won games. I’ve made big plays. I should’ve made a play. I missed tackles. I’ve made tackles. So I understand what they are going through and if they see things a little differently based on the concepts, then we want them to play how they see it.

"We just give them the toolboxes, whether it’s split safeties or the middle is closed, they have a toolbox. They can reach in and use them based on the formation or situation. However they may see it, we allow them and work together. There are times where I say no and I don’t see it like that. There are times where I’ll see it, we’ll draw it up and then we’ll all get on the same page. That’s what I tell them. When you have eye discipline, you can come to the sideline and tell me what happened. When I asked you what happened and you can’t tell me, it’s because you were looking at the quarterback the whole time and not the tight end or wide receiver.”

Michigan is fortunate to not be bitten by the injury bug on the back end of the defense, which has helped for continuity. However, the chemistry that is developed comes from the rotations that happen in practice during the week.

"Throughout practice, you have to throw other guys into the mix because they have to be comfortable with other people," Clinkscale said. "You never know what happens during a game. You always try to prepare for a different circumstance. But that chemistry helps. Sometimes, taking one guy out and putting someone else in because now the guys that are used to one person making the checks and calls, he’s not in there anymore. Somebody else has to do that. That’s how you develop safeties, nickels and corners. You teach them the game and how to work with one another. You don’t sit there and yell and scream at them all the time. You have to get them to understand that we all work together.

"The corners should be able to line up and play safeties. The safeties should be able to line up and play nickel or even linebacker the way this defense is built. You have to be cohesive and know the checks. We have to know when we make a check upfront, the corners have to know what the outside backers are checking so we know where our coverage rotation might be or our assignment. Everything is not just cookie-cutter playing Cover 3 or Cover 4. We have a lot of different checks and things we have to do.”

The defense belongs to the guys on the roster and what they can accomplish will add to the legacy they build through the rest of the season.

“I hope it does because this is their defense. Coaches, we come and go. This is their defense and they need to take pride in this. This is stuff they will be talking about for the next 40 years of their life. I think it does.”

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