Michigan DC Brown has become ‘Zoom magician’ during pandemic

By Ashley Bastock / The Blade
Fri, 22 May 2020 16:29:11 GMT

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ANN ARBOR — Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown in recent weeks has added new skills to his resume: “Zoom magician” and “virtual expert.”

“You've got regular phone calls, then you got the merge phone call, the three-way phone call, then you got the FaceTime, then you have the Zooms,” Brown said on a Zoom call with reporters Thursday.  “And then you have the FaceTime that you can utilize film in that usage. And all of these when I started six, seven weeks ago, I had no idea. But I am a virtual expert now.”

Since March, Brown, along with every other college coach, had to adapt to all virtual methods of communication during the coronavirus pandemic.

For one, these virtual tools have proven to be vital after the NCAA put a moratorium on in-person recruiting activities. Since mid-March, coaches have had no in-person contact with recruits, whether it’s on or off-campus, officially or unofficially. The restrictions were originally slated to be in place until April 15, and that was extended until at least May 31. Throughout this dead period, electronic communication has still been allowed.

Brown said Michigan is ahead of its recruiting pace from last year. Since March 25, Michigan has added 11 recruits to its 2021 class. The Wolverines currently have the No. 11 class in the nation and the No. 4 class in the Big Ten, per 247sports.

‘We've been able to spend more time, in essence on the recruiting trail via the virtual world,” Brown said. “And certainly know the guys and their families really well. So, in some respects, you've lost the ability to go on campuses across the country and meet coaches and spend time on their campuses and meet the the recruits, but in other respects, I think we know the guys a lot better than we knew them in a normal scenario. So it may have been a difficult process when it started, but looking back on it, there's some things I don't know if I changed much in terms of how you go about doing your business on the recruiting trail.”

Virtual methods of communication have also proven immensely helpful when it comes to players who are already on the roster. 

The University of Michigan suspended all athletic activities on March 12. The football team was slated to begin spring practices the following week on March 17, but those never got underway.

Since that time, players have been doing workouts on their own and report back with results. They also are able to still do virtual meetings with their position groups and watch film. Brown said defensively, it also helps that his system has been in place at Michigan in the past four seasons. While things still change every year, the big-picture concepts by and large remain the same.

“For the bulk of our players, there's a good amount of consistency in terms of knowing what to do,” Brown said. “I would be more concerned if I was now the defensive coordinator at John Smith University and it was my first year on the job and I've had to go through this. Because I think that's gonna be a challenging scenario for guys across the country that are new on offense, or new on defense, or even special teams, for that matter.”

But while the program and college athletics in general have gotten by in the past couple of months with virtual methods of communication, that doesn’t mean they aren’t itching to get back to normal. 

Earlier this week, the NCAA voted to allow voluntary on-campus athletic activities to resume in football and men's and women's basketball starting June 1.

But according to a Michigan football program spokesman, players returning to campus for workouts is multi-layered. 

Beyond the NCAA vote, the state of Michigan would need to lift its stay-at-home order, which earlier this month was extended by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer until May 28. After the stay-at-home-order is lifted, they would need to wait until Whitmer gives the clearance allowing gyms and weight rooms to reopen. Following those two steps, it would then be up to the university and athletic department to give the final OK for players to return.

With social-distancing practices in place, workouts and meetings will look different, with players and coaches spread out and in smaller groups. 

“Just meeting as a defensive staff, I'm not sure we're going to be able to just walk in Schembechler Hall and go back to our defensive staff room and think we're going to practice social distancing,” Brown said. “But we can go to the defensive team room and spread out in there and do that. It's going to require a small group meetings. So positionally that'll be an important piece. And you might have to wear a mask going into the building. I really don't know what's ahead of me, but I can tell you this: I'm looking forward to it and I'm excited about it. That I will tell you. I can't wait to coach football.

We're just anxious, chomping to get back into the building and get back to some form of normalcy. Because I love my seat in that room when I’ve got the two screens and I just feel like I'm in my element there. Sitting in my spare bedroom on Cape Cod sometimes just doesn't cut it.”