Greg Robinson Re-Reviewed

Submitted by Brian on January 22nd, 2009 at 11:16 AM

On first glimpse the idea of hiring a man who says things like "it can maybe snowball into something that can catch fire" after he cratered a traditionally respectable-or-better program seems pretty dumb. I said so myself. But Rodriguez done did it anyway, so it's time to talk ourselves into it, or at least try to.

A Syracuse-oriented reader opines:

As a member of the Orange Nation, I can state that the Greg Robinson years were hard and lean.  In part, that was due to a growing talent deficit that Pasqualoni left behind.  Coach P's numbers look impressive until one takes into account the fact that SU went into a pretty serious decline after Donovan McNabb graduated.  He was running on empty by the time he left.
As for Robinson, his teams proved to be maddeningly inconsistent and just plain bad.  By all accounts, he was a decent guy.  His players never quit on him.  But he was not up to the head coaching task.  As a DC in the college game, he might be better judged by his last 2 years at SU (when, I think, he handled most of the defensive coordinator's job) and his 1 year at Texas.  SU's defense improved the past two years but was still pretty bad.
Would he fare better with others handling the recruiting and with a better talent pool at Michigan?  Probably.  Would he be much different from Jim Hermann or Ron English?  Who's to say?
Coming from the Big East, he and Rich Rod might have an affinity that would work at Michigan.  But that seems a pretty risky move for a team that just went 3-9 and had its worst defensive season in program history. . . .

As noted in the above-linked MGoBlog post, Robinson's last two years at Syracuse were pretty atrocious, and the evidence from his brief Texas posting (via Varsity Blue) does not suggest competence above and beyond:

Year Total D Rush D Pass D Scoring D
2003 25 9 58 6
2004 23 16 58 18
2005 10 33 8 8

That's about par for the course at a school that regularly out-talents all but one or two opponents a year. A couple commenters noted that my dismissal of his year at Texas was a bit harsh since a guy who turns in a really good defense when blessed with more talent than his competition is likely to find it nice and comfy at Michigan.

Point taken. Texas fans seem to remember Robinson fondly, at least. Various posts in highly positive thread on Hornfans:

He is a good guy and a good pick-up for UM. … I thought he improved our D when he was here.  … Good hire. Our D definitely improved while he was here, and no doubt he was helped a lot by Tomey. I loved Robinson's sideline demeanor. That. as much as anything else, reminded me how great it is to have fired up coaches roaming the sidelines. … I think he will do a great job at Michigan.

Also Texas coaches and players. Angelique gets fawning quotes from Mack Brown

"They're (U-M) getting one of the best defensive coordinators in the country," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Greg's a high-energy, creative, hard-working guy who has had success at both the NFL and collegiate levels. He's a veteran coach with a wealth of knowledge who the players really respond to."

…and Derrick Johnson, Texas' horrifying, bolo-punching linebacker demon from that 2004 team:

"He's a players' coach who is very patient with his players and works well with everyone," Johnson said. "He knows how to get his point across about what he expects and has you prepared for everything on game day. ... He was great for Texas."

HOWEVA, the defense Robinson inherited was pretty good and he held it at that level for a year. He didn't build anything up or (probably) have to coach anything up and that data point seems less relevant than the three disastrous years at Kansas City that preceded it or the four disastrous ones at Syracuse that followed it. Longtime college DC Carl Reese preceded Robinson and this guy followed him…


…suffice it to say that being Texas' defensive coordinator isn't the hardest job in the world. (Side note: Texas had better hope like hell the current guy is a bit better in the head job than the two men who preceded him.)

This table, on the other hand, was totally omitted from the first go-round on Robinson:

Denver Broncos
Year Total D Rush D Pass D Scoring D
1995 15 23 9 17
1996 4 1 10 7
1997 5 16 5 7
1998 11 3 26 9
1999 7 19 8 11
2000 24 7 31 23

After a ramp-up year that's (almost) four consecutive years in the top ten in total defense in the NFL. At the very least that indicates some level of competence.

So… what do we have? A guy who performs with talent and doesn't without it. Yeah, Greg Robinson and every other coach on the planet. This causes Orson Swindle, writing as someone named "Spencer Hall," to muse on fate at TSN:

Greg Robinson, fired Kansas City defensive coordinator, former Texas coordinator, and complete failure of a head coach at Syracuse, is firmly at fate's mercy now: he's the new defensive coordinator at Michigan, a move that has some Michigan fans near seppuku and others merely sighing and shrugging their shoulders. It would be very, very easy to pronounce this as a stillborn HR move from the start, a mistake taking a flyer on a guy who while good when surrounded by obvious, glaring talent -- see his successful stint in 2004 at Texas -- can be very, very bad, as anyone who saw his work at Syracuse can attest.

The whole fate thing weighs heavily on any Michigan fan contemplating Mallett or Pryor or the circumstances that led to David Cone being one of two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. If Rodriguez had walked into a viable dual-threat quarterback, or even just a viable single-threat one, his still toddling regime at Michigan would be far less precarious. Michigan's hope here is that Robinson was a product of his circumstances, and while he may be very, very poor at assembling advantageous circumstances for himself that won't be a problem where the four-stars flow in from the sea.

Orson, for his part, says that Michigan's "considerable talent on defense"—er?—combines with the mediocrity of the Big Ten and provides "good odds for a happy outcome." I'm less certain, but since I have a good friend who hired that guy on a coin above I'm very familiar with the process that gets you to "hey, this isn't so bad!"


PA Blue

January 22nd, 2009 at 11:39 AM ^

Since Robinson's best results are when he coached where there is talent (Texas) and Brian correctly points out they simply out-talent most teams, isn't it relevant to ask how those teams did in big games. To this point, I believe Robinson has a perfect record in "bowls" (including super bowls and college bowls). Doesn't that indicate a certain level of competence beyond being a "caretaker" since you don't simply out-talent your opponent in those games. You actually have to stop them. And he did.


January 22nd, 2009 at 11:41 AM ^

Though not initially thrilled with this hire, I'm now cautiously optimistic. Given that we don't throw $1million+ at coordinators (thus eliminating Holt-esque types), it seems the next best thing to do is to hire a former superstar whose chips are down. Surely GR has a chip on his shoulder and wants to improve his reputation after the past four years. That certainly plays to our advantage.

Like Joe Dumars assembling a bunch of guys with something to prove (Rip, Chauncy, Tay, Sheed, Ben Wallace) and watching them fight for a championship in 2003, hiring GR may be the best move RR has made yet.

P.S. Brian, did you say you KNOW the guy who MADE the hire of Chizik? I know you went down to the Auburn game earlier this year. I didn't know you were hangin' with the AD.


January 22nd, 2009 at 11:48 AM ^

I'm not on a Robinson-is-obviously-great bandwagon, but I think Brian is dimissing his Broncos resume a little too quickly. Four consecutive years in the NFL's top ten defenses with a team that had very good but certainly not great defensive talent is more than just a sign of some level of competence...I also think we can't underestimate the fact that Rodriguez coached against Robinson for a few years. I imagine you learn a lot about a guy when you've had to break down film and scheme against him. I also imagine Rodriguez must think Robinson is good against the spread, which is, after all, the offense run by more than half of U of M's schedule at this point.


January 22nd, 2009 at 11:47 AM ^

I'm glad you noted the Denver Broncos defensive stats under Robinson. Those were impressive, but those teams were abso-freaking-lutely loaded with great secondary and DL talent.

Less apparent but more impressive are Robinson's stats with the pathetic New York Jets under Bruce Coslett and for one year with Pete Carroll.

Between 1990 and 1994 the jets were an awful NFL football team. But defensively they could have faired a lot worse.
It would appear statistically that for 3 of 5 years the NY defense made of "paper airplane" talent actually played like jets on the gridiron (1991, 1992 and 1993.

Robinson's efforts placed the NY Jet's scoring defense at or above the league average. And anyone that followed the Jets during this painful period knows that they didn't have anybody.

1990: 23rd out of 28 teams ypg surrendered, 17th in scoring defense with 22 pts./game (Coslett)

1991: 12th out of 28 teams ypg surrendered, 10th in scoring defense with 18 pts/game (Coslett)

1992: 16th out of 28 teams ypg surrendered, 18th in scoring defense with 20 pts/game (Coslett)

1993: 8th out of 28 teams in ypg surrendered, 6th in scoring defense with 15 pts/game (Coslett)

1994: 22nd out of 28 teams in ypg surrendered, tied for 14th in scoring defense with 20 pts/game (Carroll)

This all makes Robinson's efforts at Syracuse, a team damned with painfully average recruiting classes somewhat inexplicable:

Syracuse Recruiting Classes under Robinson:

2005: 49th
2006: 51st
2007: 46th
2008: 50th

Given past experience, one might deduce that Robinson should have done better at SU with average talent.


January 22nd, 2009 at 12:26 PM ^

During his epic failure at SU, he was the Head Coach, not the DC. That could explain why he didn't do as good as you might expect. Just to throw this out there, some other people who were miserable failures at HC, but at least halfway decent coordinators:
Marty Mornhinweg
Ted Roof

A guy can hope, right?

Meeechigan Dan

January 22nd, 2009 at 11:57 AM ^

Summary: He might not suck as galacticly bad as he has sucked in recent history.

That fires me up!

That said, I think RR wanted a DC Emeritus: someone not to recruit or propose schemes, but to teach tackling, get along with his stud recruiting staff, and implement the scheme RR wants without fuss. He should be able to do that.


January 22nd, 2009 at 11:57 AM ^

Look at it this way, Robinson has 38 years coaching experience, 14 as a DC, he's been a BCS DI head coach, reportedly gets along really well with colleagues, and has two Super Bowl rings (which few coaches earn by accident). And now he wants to be our DC? It's not a sexy pick, but I'll take it.

Meeechigan Dan

January 22nd, 2009 at 12:26 PM ^

I think the real question here is what is RR's thought process on the defense. It appeared that Shafer had some free rein that was at odds with the assistants and all that came to a head during Purdue week. RR may be firm now in what he wants on defense and just needs a figurehead to manage all that, someone who won't go leave and knows the basics.

If RR is clear and firm on his defensive ideas, this would be an OK hire. If RR wants GR to be the idea guy on defense, we're screwed because no one who has been as bad at football as GR has at different times in his past has good ideas.


January 22nd, 2009 at 1:10 PM ^

"If RR wants GR to be the idea guy on defense, we're screwed because no one who has been as bad at football as GR has at different times in his past has good ideas."

Easily one of the more ignorant comments I've seen on this site.

The Syracuse situation is completely overblown. He came in at a terrible time when the program was already beginning a freefall and couldn't turn it around. Pasqualoni (very underrated as a coach) was able to take advantage of the situation in the Northeast in the late 80s and 90s (BC was mostly poor, there was no Rutgers of note, UConn wasn't D-IA yet) and build a top 20 program there for 10+ years or so. At the end of his tenure all those things had changed and competition for recruits became a lot harder (BC had become consistently good, Rutgers was and is now keeping NJ recruits at home, UConn's getting their fair share of guys). There aren't enough BCS level players to support even 1 program in the Northeast (NY and New England) much less 3. Robinson came in and simply didn't have the capability to turn things around.

There isn't anybody that's commented on here that thinks he doesn't know what he's doing as a defensive coordinator. His schemes were lauded by other Big East coaches and former players have talked highly of him as a defensive coach. Even after his Syracuse tenure he just got the job as the DC at Michigan which means somebody (in a position to know much more than anybody here) still respects his ability on that side of the ball.

This hire may not work out for a variety of reasons, but to presume that Greg Robinson can't come in to a top 20 program (last year notwithstanding) and add value as a defensive coordinator is laughable.


January 22nd, 2009 at 12:51 PM ^

The one long, positive article somebody linked to a couple days ago mentioned that Robinson's defenses boast an amazing scoring defense in the third quarter - meaning that he knows how to make adjustments. Do others agree that the third quarter scoring defense stat can help us separate the quality of the coach from the quality of the players he's coaching?


January 22nd, 2009 at 1:35 PM ^

ESPN is reporting today that Mike Trgovac is leaving as D-coordinator of the Carolina Panthers. Guess we missed out on a chance at bringing him back to Ann Arbor by a couple days.

matty blue

January 22nd, 2009 at 3:37 PM ^

the great unknown genius of the head coach search, now the great white whale of the defensive coordinator search.

i find the whole "mike trgovac for _________" conversation fascinating, i have to say. i'm not sure what the attraction is, other than the fact that he's an alum (which is admittedly a big deal to me). has he been mentioned for other jobs? is there a great clamor for him anywhere but ann arbor? i just don't get it.

J. Lichty

January 22nd, 2009 at 1:38 PM ^

my problem (if I have one) with the hire is not Robinson's ability, but rather the public perception that RR can afford to take.

After a year of taking a pummeling in the media and from some of the fan base, RR is not in the best position to take someone with such recent epic fail on his resume - regardless of whether Robinson is qualified or not.

On the merits of the decision, I have no problem with the hire. Look at Tony Dungy with the Vikings and then with Tampa where his defenses were way better, but where the defense ebbed and flowed in Indy while he was there.

I am far more worried about our personnel than I am about Greg Robinson. I think this defense is two years away from being decent. I am hoping for league average next year, but this will be a young squad.

Meeechigan Dan

January 22nd, 2009 at 1:55 PM ^

But the fanbase is not. And the media is largely irrelevant. This needed to be, if not an exciting hire, a solid one. A encouraging one. Not a shaky one.

We are all shambling forward, still in shock that the University of Michigan sucked at football last year, blindly and sometimes irrationally hoping that the RR hire was not a mistake. That we are not going to turn into Miami or Nebraska - a once great program desperate to find the right leader.

Against this backdrop, RR needed more than a mind-bogglingly horrid coach over the last three years.


January 22nd, 2009 at 3:25 PM ^

What are they saying? That he was a bad Head Coach? They want him to be good at a job he wasn't hired to do? Or do they really think he's going to be a bad DC? Do they know anything about him before Cuse? What do you say in his defense, if anything? I feel like you are just complaining to complain.


January 22nd, 2009 at 4:35 PM ^

how can you go along supporting what the media is saying now, when back in novermber everyone here was bashing on what the media had to say when they were ripping on rr?

you cant use the media perception when it is in sync with your point then turn around and denegrate it when you're in disagreement...


January 22nd, 2009 at 1:45 PM ^

success rate on 3rd down offensively in 2008 had a lot more to do with Michigan's scoring defensive statistics in the 3rd quarter, and every quarter for that matter. I don't care how Barwisized the defense was or was not.

Tack on a complete and utter failure to just cover receivers and prevent the big play.

Just a theory. I might be wrong.


January 22nd, 2009 at 2:03 PM ^

Why do you question that we might have talent on defense?

D-line: 3-star Van Bergen, 4-star Martin, 5-star Campbell, 5-star Graham

LB: 4-star Mouton, 3-star Ezeh, 4-star Fitzgerald

DB: 4-star Cissoko, 5-star Warren, 4-star Williams, 4-star Brown

That's an average of 4.1 stars. There's talent. It's just young, inexperienced, or...well...underperforming in Brown's case.


January 22nd, 2009 at 2:11 PM ^

position-switches. People tend to forget that part a lot. Ezeh was a 3 (or 2) star FULLBACK, and he really was a fullback who redshirted his freshman year to try and make the switch. Mouton was a 4-star SAFETY, and he really was a safety, who probably started way too early as well.

Also, some 4-star, and 5-star guys for that matter, are just completely and utterly overrated. Even the college scouts who recruit them completely miss the mark (Prescott Burgess, for example). As you correctly asserted, Stevie Brown would be one of these.


January 23rd, 2009 at 5:52 AM ^

It's not that these stars should stand alone. It's that, whether a guy stays at strong safety or moves to OLB (two pretty similar positions), he has talent. If you're moving a guy from cornerback to left tackle, you can throw those ratings out of the window. But if he's moving from DE to DT or CB to S, it's not like the scouting reports are suddenly worthless.


January 22nd, 2009 at 2:07 PM ^

I'm not really sure if I'd consider it a comfort to know that Mack Brown is impressed with someone's coaching ability, but at least we know that this guy has the CAPABILITY of achieving success. And thanks for reiterating that even though his 'success was only achieved with great players and talent blah blah blah' that yes, he will have talent at Michigan, so - so what?


January 22nd, 2009 at 2:20 PM ^

We can Speculate all we want. Truth is that we won't know until Michigans unit takes the field.....and then a year after when Stevie Brown no longer wears the Michigan uniform.


January 22nd, 2009 at 2:43 PM ^

Tim Jamison had this to say at the Senior Bowl:

""We had a new coaching staff for my senior year. The old staff taught us to shoot out our hips first and use our hands and our step was second. Our new coaching staff taught us to step first,'' Jamison said."

Anemic offense notwithstanding, my biggest beef about the 2008 debacle of a season was lack of executing fundamental skills on defense. Read between the lines of Jamison's quote, and you could easily add on..."and they didn't know what the fuck they were doing."

Here's hoping that GR does, and can get the staff to agree.


January 22nd, 2009 at 3:55 PM ^

Read between the lines of Jamison's quote, and you could easily add on..."and they didn't know what the fuck they were doing."

Do we really know that? I ask that as a real question, not a rhetorical one. I can't remember enough to say if the old staff was right of if the new one was (or if there is no right or wrong).


January 22nd, 2009 at 6:17 PM ^

The article I got this from indicated that all at the Senior Bowl were impressed with Jamison's physical ability, but that his fundamentals were not as strong as other players. Here's the link:…

And Kowalski indicates that this was largely due to the change in coaching philosophy. Not that we should take Kowalski's word as gospel, mind you. :)

My 2 cents worth is just that. Clearly the defense was better in 2007 than in 2008. I was just kinda putting 2 and 2 together when I read this article and TJ's quote.



January 22nd, 2009 at 4:29 PM ^


before gr was hired we had a little rift over whether or not this process was bungled from the start. i belive you said i didnt know what was going on behind the scenes, and that i was "ignorant" about the situation but that if gr was hired you wouldnt be too pleased.

so are you going to man up and stick by your word? or are you going to follow along with what has become a shockin trend on this site, that if rr hired this guy it must be the right decision...

chitownblue (not verified)

January 23rd, 2009 at 10:16 AM ^

Did you read the giant diary I wrote about how I think Robinson is a bad hire?

I'll say it again - I find him utterly mediocre. If we recruit talent, and teach better fundamentals than we had last year, I still think we can win. That's not an endorsement of Robinson - any coach in the conversation can win if they have good players.

Blue Balls

January 22nd, 2009 at 8:00 PM ^

that He better than I, knows what's best for Michigan Football. Being able to make the right choice and not always the popular choice is in part what defines a true leader. As a Michigan Fan, I was not happy with this hire but in Coach Rod I trust!