What They're Saying: Clinkscale A Huge Add For Michigan, Big Loss For UK
As first reported by TheWolverine.com, Michigan Wolverines head football coach Jim Harbaugh has hired Kentucky defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale to serve in a similar role in Ann Arbor. U-M has not yet made an official announcement, and terms of the three-year deal have not been disclosed.
This move came just four days after Michigan saw co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Mo Linguist depart the program to become the head coach of the University of Buffalo. Many questioned what Harbaugh would do, but he answered the bell and was able to nab his first choice.
Tuesday's news led to plenty of reaction from around the college football world. Here is a look at what they're saying about Clinkscale to Michigan.
That should only help U-M’s chances with the latter, and Pollard has said as much.
“You couple that recruiting ability with what he’s done as a coach … that secondary has not only performed at a very high level on his watch, but much better,” Justin Rowland said. “He’s putting guys in the NFL. Lonnie Johnson [with the Houston Texans], Kelvin Joseph (a second-round pick at corner this year).
“They’re three-deep in the secondary this year. He brings in guys and makes them all cornerbacks to start, isn’t going to recruit guys he can’t teach those concepts to … that’s where he starts them all. Length at the position is important to him, and he recruits to it.”
All in all, Rowland said, it’s a huge loss for Kentucky. But it’s Michigan’s gain, and exactly what Harbaugh needed to do in replacing Linguist.
“It’s still Michigan,” an industry source said.
That’s the simplest explanation for why the Wolverines have been able to stay afloat despite encountering choppy waters. Since the season ended, they hired Mike Hart away from Indiana, signed four-star running back Donovan Edwards from West Bloomfield, Mich., and landed a commitment from five-star cornerback Will Johnson, a top-15 prospect in the 2022 class. When Linguist left unexpectedly after a few months on the job, Michigan pivoted and hired its top choice to fill the vacancy in a matter of days.
Those aren’t the moves of a program that’s completely lost its way. The Wolverines still have significant challenges, but at least on paper, their offseason changes reflect a roadmap for fixing problems that have plagued the program in recent seasons.
Coach Clink received more credit on the recruiting trail than he what he did on the football field. That happens when the head coach is a secondary specialist. [Kentucky head coach Mark] Stoops is not the only one responsible for the defensive backs’ recent success.
In the last three years four UK defensive backs have been selected in the NFL Draft. Excluding Super Bowl Champion Mike Edwards, Clinkscale played a significant role in recruiting all of them. He’s also helped develop UK’ s defensive backs into the SEC’s best.
Kentucky’s pass defense finished first in the SEC over the last two seasons. In 2020 the Wildcats were also tops in interceptions with 16. The three biggest wins of the season — Tennessee, Mississippi State and the Gator Bowl vs. N.C. State — were on the backs of the UK pass defense, combining for 12 takeaways through the air and three defensive touchdowns. Under Clinkscale’s tutelage, the secondary has become the strength of UK’s defense.
So what can Clinkscale add to the room?
Just as Linguist did, a fresh perspective — and perhaps more turnovers.
In 11 games this past season, Kentucky had 16 interceptions (eight from the secondary); that followed seasons of eight in 2019, nine in 2018, 11 in 2017; and 13 in 2016. Meanwhile, Michigan came up with two picks in 2020 (six games); nine in 2019; 11 in 2018; 10 in 2017; and 13 in 2016.
The Wolverines have had their share of ballhawks roaming the defensive backfield. But they are expected to play more zone defense under new coordinator Mike Macdonald, which could lead to more opportunities for interceptions. Clinkscale could help in that department, given the number of turnovers his defensive backs forced at Kentucky.
He has shown he can develop players for the next level, too, with three defensive backs — Lonnie Johnson (second round, 2019), Mike Edwards (third round, 2019) and Kelvin Joseph (second round, 2021) — taken in the first three rounds of the NFL draft and a fourth, Brandin Echols, who went in the sixth round in 2021.
Clinkscale's deep ties to the Detroit area helped Kentucky establish a recruiting pipeline that landed the Wildcats commitments from six highly-touted recruits between the 2017 and 2021 class, including current starters DeAndre Square and Marquan McCall and 2020 five-star prospect Justin Rogers.
"Coach Clinkscale, he brings a lot to the table," Thomas Wilcher, Square's former coach at Cass Tech High School in Detroit, told the Courier Journal in 2019. "He goes out there and he gets the guys. When he gets those guys, they’re coming there for him, they’re coming there because of the passion that he shows and the love he has for the kids he’s recruiting.
"I’ve watched him recruit kids at several schools. He goes there and he tries to just recruit kids based upon he knows he’s going to be a great player. Before the kid knows he’s going to be a great player, Coach Clinkscale has already told that kid, ‘Hey, I want you. Regardless of what anybody else says I want you because I know what you can become.’ I think that’s what sells it."
... UK's 2018 secondary ranked 36th in pass rating defense and only allowed 14 touchdown passes in 13 games, the latter number ranking 18th in the nation.
... In 2019, Kentucky was second in the nation in passing yards per game allowed (167.8) behind only Ohio State.
... That UK secondary was also second only to Ohio State with nine touchdown passes allowed and 13th in yards per attempt.
... In 2020, Kentucky was third in the nation with 16 interceptions in only 11 games. Nine of those came in consecutive weeks against Mississippi State and Tennessee in blowout SEC wins.
Kentucky's 2017 secondary was only 100th in passer rating and surrendered 21 touchdown passes to 11 interceptions and the 2016 secondary was 74th in pass rating defense. So it took Clinkscale's units a couple of years to get cranked up but with the right personnel they thrived.
He oversaw perhaps the best defensive backfields in the program's modern era, put three defensive backs into the draft over the past three seasons, and has overseen the building of a real and respected brand for UK at the position.
Social Media Reaction: Michigan Hires Steve Clinkscale
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