This is the second in an eleven-part pre-season series in which I introduce all eleven members of the Michigan football coaching staff between now and the season opener, starting with the lowest-profile and building up to head coach Jim Harbaugh.
When Jim Harbaugh moved linebackers coach Chris Partridge to coach safeties earlier this offseason, he needed a trusted replacement to oversee the heart of the defense. So he turned to a man his most important assistant, Don Brown, could vouch for — Al Washington from Cincinnati.
Before Cincinnati, Washington spent five years at Boston College, where he played from 2002 to 2005. While there, he followed an unusual path, assisting on the defensive line, then coaching running backs for three years, before one year as defensive line and linebackers coach. And while he and Brown never worked on the same side of the ball during Brown’s three years as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, the two were able to gain a special rapport.
“Don is a friend, a mentor, he’s on my Mount Rushmore of great coaches that I want to be like one day,” Washington said in April.
Washington arrived in Chestnut Hill a year before Brown after stints at FCS Elon and Division II school Slippery Rock. The Eagles struggled to a 2-10 finish in his first year after losing Luke Kuechly to the draft but rebounded to post winning seasons in three of the next four seasons.
While at Boston College, Washington recruited 2018 second-round draft pick, linebacker Harold Landry. He then coached Landry to his best collegiate season as linebackers coach in 2016, when Landry was voted second-team all-ACC.
On the offensive side, he coached the previously unheralded Andre Williams to his monstrous 2013 season in which he ran for 2177 yards and 18 touchdowns, winning the Doak Walker award and finishing fourth in Heisman voting.
But while Washington has built an impressive resume as a coach, his best work comes as a recruiter.
He has already secured six 2019 signees in just six months in Ann Arbor, including four-star offensive tackle Trente Jones. At both Cincinnati and Boston College, he was able to consistently draw players amid interest from bigger schools.
Landry signed for the Eagles over offers from Clemson and Ohio State, while 2018 recruit Malik Vann chose Cincinnati over Alabama, Florida State, and Oklahoma.
Washington has brought that ability to Michigan, signing Jones ahead of offers from Florida State and Auburn, and cornerback DJ Turner amid offers from eleven SEC schools, including Alabama.
The biggest storyline for Washington comes in his specialty, recruiting. While Michigan’s recruiting has taken a step forward under Harbaugh, it is no secret that the Wolverines must improve on the recruiting trail.
They have not secured a better class than Ohio State since 2010 and after an impressive fifth-ranked class in 2017, the 2018 class has widely been considered a disappointment, with no five-stars, just seven four-stars, and a sub-20 national ranking.
Washington was brought in to change that. And while he did help bolster Michigan’s 2019 class with five signings, including Jones, that have the group currently ranked 12th nationally, the real test will lie in his impact on the 2020 cycle.
Thus far, he is responsible for one of the Wolverines’ three 2020 commits, three-star wide receiver Kalil Branham but Harbaugh will be hoping Washington can help lead Michigan’s 2020 class back into the nationwide top five. To do that, he may need to draw at least one five-star, something he was unable to do with his four 2019 five-star targets.
On the field, Washington’s linebackers group will be at the core of the Wolverines’ vaunted defense. Junior Devin Bush is once again set to line up in the middle of Brown’s 4-3 scheme, with junior Khaleke Hudson on one side.
Mike McCray’s graduation leaves a hole on the other side with junior Devin Gil, sophomore Josh Ross, and sophomore Drew Singleton most likely to slot into his place. Singleton came into Ann Arbor the most touted out of high school as a top 100 overall recruit but Bush has full confidence in all three.
“I think all three of them have a great opportunity to hold that spot down and become the starter, become the backup,” Bush said in a spring interview with the Free Press. “I think those three guys have taken a big step and they’re going to take a bigger step as spring ball goes on.”
What they’re saying
Mo Hurst, on Twitter, after Michigan hired Washington: “Congrats to @CoachWash56 on the New job at Michigan! Recruited me at Boston College, great coach and great person!”
Mike Golden, Washington’s former high school coach: “When you recruit, you’re going into schools and you want administrators, teachers and coaches to trust you. You want parents to trust you. That’s Al. He’s so genuine.”
Jim Harbaugh, on Washington’s coaching future: “I’m putting the flag in the ground and saying I’m 100% sure that both Al Washington and Sherrone Moore are destined for the very top of the profession in coaching.”
Harold Landry, on his relationship with Washington at Boston College: “(Boston College) had faith in me. Coach Washington was like a second father.”
Trente Jones’ high school recruiting coordinator, on Washington’s recruiting efforts: “Coach Washington did a phenomenal job recruiting (Jones). He was recruiting him at Boston College, and when he left and went to Cincinnati, he kept in touch, then when he left Cincinnati for Michigan, it was the same thing.”