This is the fourth 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.
Ask any positive Michigan fan why they believe in this team and their answer will start with the defense. Specifically, the Wolverines? pass defense that has led the nation in yards allowed for three straight seasons.
Much of that success can be attributed to cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich, who has spent the past four years molding Michigan?s secondary into the fearsome unit it is today.
Though he now runs the cornerbacks unit, Zordich spent thirteen years as a safety in the NFL, for the Chargers, Jets, Cardinals, and Eagles before transitioning into coaching.
In 2009, he made the unusual jump from high school straight to the NFL, where he worked as an Eagles? defensive assistant for two years before two years working with their safeties.
He was let go by Philadelphia along with then-head coach Andy Reid in 2012, spent a year coaching safeties at Youngstown State, and then landed in Ann Arbor as cornerbacks coach on Harbaugh?s first coaching staff in 2015.
But while his background is as a safety, Zordich?s move to cornerbacks has paid dividens for the Wolverines. The cornerback duo of juniors Lavert Hill and David Long tormented opposing wide receivers all season long in 2017, posting the nation?s two lowest passer ratings when targeted among players who will return in 2018.
Neither Hill nor Long was expected to be elite entering the season. The duo did not see the field much in 2016 as Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling shut down opposing offenses. But when called upon to fill the void last year, they did so brilliantly, leading the nation?s top passing defense ? Michigan?s third straight.
Zordich?s efforts are also mostly focused on defensive backs on the recruiting trail. He is credited with bringing both Hill and Long to Ann Arbor, as well as junior linebacker Khaleke Hudson. 2018 four-star Miles Sims is another Zordich recruit who will join the Wolverines? cornerback corps this season.
With Michigan?s top two cornerbacks returning for 2018, this is a position relatively free of storylines. Whether Hill and Long can ascend to the next level will fall into Zordich?s control as the Wolverines aim for a fourth consecutive season leading the nation in pass defense.
?You?re never perfect in a coverage,? Zordich said. ?There?s always something wrong. So you?re finding those little things that we?re trying to correct.?
The progression of senior cornerback Brandon Watson?Michigan?s projected number three corner?and whether anyone such as sophomore Ambry Thomas can challenge for his spot will be another story to watch.
?We?ve got some talented kids,? Zordich said. ?So it?s exciting.
?You?ve got competition everywhere. Everyone?s fighting and scrapping and it helps build the team and makes the defense better.?
What they?re saying
MLive, on Zordich?s work in 2017: Zordich?s work here is to be commended, turning a cornerbacks duo from relatively unknown to, statistically, one of the best in the country.
Channing Stribling, on playing for Zordich: He?s had a great impact. Coach Zordich is a great coach, he doesn?t take anything from anybody no matter how good you are. That?s how I?ve always liked my coaches. ? The experience he had in the league, plus coaching has been great for us.
Current Dallas Cowboys? and former Michigan safeties coach Greg Jackson, on coaching alongside Zordich, his former NFL teammate: “I think we’re coming along well. We’re still growing into the system, me and Mike, (but) every week we’re getting better and better out there.”