John Harbaugh let Jim have a little Mike MacDonald — as a treat. But after a successful one-year loaner program that I have to assume is kind of like studying abroad for NFL position coaches into the weird, wonderful land of college football, MacDonald has been brought back to the Ravens as the program’s youngest defensive coordinator in history at 34 years old. MacDonald held a variety of roles with the Ravens during his seven-year tenure with them between 2014 and 2020, including linebackers coach and defensive line coach.
If this was all, in fact, some sort of premeditated brotherly conspiracy, I quite enjoy the image of the Harbaughs chatting on the phone, John saying, “You mind taking this dude on as your defensive coordinator for a year, see how he does?” No one’s going to argue that he shouldn’t have been brought on to Michigan, even if Jim knew that John wanted to bring him back sooner than later.
The impact MacDonald made at Michigan is practically immeasurable. In a single year as defensive coordinator with the Wolverines, MacDonald helped the team beat Ohio State, win the Big Ten title, put up a defensive Heisman candidate, and go to the college football playoff. As one Twitter user so beautifully put it, “basically the James K. Polk of defensive coordinators.”
It was no doubt valuable to get time in the coordinator position outside the NFL before getting tossed in headfirst to the Ravens’ struggling defense, which ended this season ranked 25th in the league after being the NFL’s No. 1 overall defense from 2018 to 2020. It remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to translate his success in college football to the NFL – always a tough transition, but made easier by MacDonald’s years of previous experience with the Ravens defense. He has his work cut out for him this year.
And while I know it wouldn’t work, and it’s kind of dumb, I can’t help but love the concept of the developmental year in college. As a diehard CFB fan, I understand the importance of loyalty and culture within a program, which means that one-year deals like this (planned or not) would be bad for the sport. It’s probably the fact that the two coaches involved are brothers that makes this one such a funny situation, so maybe John can just keep sending over not-quite-ready coordinators to little brother in Ann Arbor.
However, this also may not be going on much longer — in the craziness of the Tom Brady retirement report, Mike Florio broke the news that the Minnesota Vikings are reportedly interviewing Jim Harbaugh for their vacant head coaching position. If it’s the cold and snow that are keeping him in Michigan, I’m sure he’ll fit right in over there. Of course, it’s still early, and he may not get the offer or accept the job. We’ll keep an eye on the situation. Jim previously held the head coaching position with the San Francisco 49ers before his Michigan stint.