Report: Billy Donlon To Northwestern

Submitted by Ace on June 25th, 2017 at 1:49 PM

Number of coaches in this picture still at Michigan: zero. [Bryan Fuller]

Michigan will now have to replace two assistant basketball coaches this offseason. Scout's Brian Snow reports that Billy Donlon, the de facto defensive coordinator, is departing Ann Arbor after one season with the Wolverines to be an assistant at Northwestern, where he has several long-running connections:

According to's Brian Snow, assistant Billy Donlon has accepted the position of assistant coach at Big Ten foe Northwestern.

"For me, I think it comes down to, from what I've heard, is that Billy has obviously known Chris Collins for a long time," Snow told The Michigan Insider. "Both grew up in the Chicago area and I don't necessarily know how far back their friendship goes, but they've known each other for a long time. They're very comfortable with each other, [Donlon] is comfortable with Chris, he's comfortable with the area so it's kind of a homecoming for him. He's looking for someone who he has a longstanding relationship with."

Donlon has deep ties to the Chicago area, Wildcats head coach Chris Collins and the Northwestern program. Donlon's father, Billy Donlon Sr., was a longtime assistant for the Wildcats from 1987-94.

Losing Donlon is a serious hit to a team that has some major question marks on defense after DJ Wilson entered the draft early. While Donlon's impact didn't immediately show up in the stats last year, it became apparent as the season wore on and the defense improved dramatically. The most obvious stylistic shift was in Michigan's ability to prevent three-point attempts. They ranked ninth nationally in 3PA/FGA after never finishing higher than 109th under John Beilein, and even that was a bit of an outlier.

We'll see what names emerge as replacement candidates; things have been quiet on that front even after Jeff Meyer took an assistant job under LaVall Jordan at Butler, and now there's another seat to fill. Here's hoping some of Donlon's teaching sticks regardless, as Michigan's best chance of being a decent defensive team next year is to continue creating a three-point gap.



June 25th, 2017 at 2:11 PM ^

Yes he failed, he was fired for a reason. He never made an NCAA and was known as a horrible recruiter and bad offensive coach. Great defensive guy but his best role is serving as a pseudo d coordinator.


June 25th, 2017 at 2:18 PM ^

And many believe that Wright St was completely out of its mind for letting him go. And NCAA tourney appearances as a sole evaluator of a mid major coach is ridiculous. Give me consistent regular season success over the occasional lottery winning that are single elimination conference tournaments.


June 25th, 2017 at 4:05 PM ^

Conlon was sorta the opposite of a failed coach at Wright St, considering he won 20+ games 3 of his last 4 seasons.  The Horizon is a tough league, so no shame in that.

He's a tough loss for this program; hopefully Michigan figures out a suitable replacement.


June 25th, 2017 at 2:03 PM ^

Collins is a likely candidate to replace K at Duke and that day is probably closer than Beilein leaving UM. Establishing relationships in Evanston gives Donlon the inside track at a job at NW where expectations are lower and he has deep ties. Jordan is a more likely Beilein replacement si long as he keeps the Butler trajectory. I wonder if anyone from Bo Ryan's tree is available to come coach some D here, or who is on the list of replacements.


June 25th, 2017 at 3:23 PM ^

Good point.  This potentially sets him up better for a B1G job sooner than being at Michigan since the job is probably Jordan's to lose, plus there's a much higher likelihood we would (should, perhaps) seek a bigger name, home run hire to replace Beilein since we have the money to do it.  NW can't do that.

On the other hand, if he's already a defensive guy and Collins is mostly a defensive guy, is there a better offensive coach to continue to learn from than Beilein to fill out your resume?

Still, given his person ties to the area and to Collins, this isn't a surprise.  Disappointing though.  The defense had become a huge strength in the last 10-15 games last year - and was playing the best a Michigan defense has ever played under Beilein. I imagine Beilein will seek a similar replacement to be a d coordinator, so hopefully can get a good one.


June 25th, 2017 at 4:21 PM ^

Not sure what your basing your supposition that Coach K is closer to retirement than Beilein.  Even then, Donlon getting the Northwestern job is one degree more remote than if he had stayed at Michigan. But then again, I'm the one commenting on raw speculation.

Whole Milk

June 26th, 2017 at 10:51 AM ^

Also, assuming that Collins is set to take over for Coach K may be a stretch. They certainly have plenty of former assistants who have a claim at the job. In addition to Collins, there is Woj, Capel, Dawkins, even Amaker or Breen might be interested or wanted. 


June 26th, 2017 at 3:21 PM ^

but he's almost 60 so hard to believe it'd be him. It also doesn't necessarily have to come from the Duke tree, but if it does, Collins amazingly seems to have the best track record of those you listed (maybe Woj is close?).  Certainly not a no-brainer replacement from those connected to the program.


June 25th, 2017 at 2:01 PM ^

a clearer way to returning as an HC somewhere through Chi, I get the move from his standpoint. But--absolutely right--hard to see this, occuring late in the off-season as it has--as anything but a hit. Beilein has come up roses with assistants to now. . . would love to know all the little accompanying storylines. 

Franz Schubert

June 25th, 2017 at 5:43 PM ^

Izzo's current and former players love him. It's not being too critical of Beilein to acknowledge he is not a magnetic personality and possibly difficult to deal with. You will never see a sure fire lottery pick come back to school as Bridges did under Beilein. This is not intended to be critical, just saying we should accept Beilein for his strengths and weaknesses as he obviously has both.


June 26th, 2017 at 5:07 AM ^

I'm not sure about "difficult to deal with" but in an interview with Beilein after the airplane skidding off the tarmac accident, he talked about how it really changed his perception on a few things and what is most important in life, and he seemed to admit he was a bit of a control freak, and/or perhaps more cerebral than emotional/relational with his players.

With that self-realizationand he consciously changed his pre-game locker room speech at the Big10 tournament - rather than going through the usual X's and O's and strategy and scouting strengths and weaknesses, he just looked around the room, saw the mood and energy was high and talked about the emotional/motivational side instead.


June 25th, 2017 at 2:06 PM ^

Takes one step back for every step forward?

Even with Donlans connections to NW this seems like a knock on the program. We should not be losing assistants to Northwestern no matter the circumstances.


June 25th, 2017 at 4:56 PM ^

I don't think 93grad was necessarily questioning why Donlon and Meyer left. Instead was just pointing out that now we've got some fairly large holes with Wilson, Meyer, and Donlon departures.

Edit: Or maybe he is. But the one step forward + one step back part rings true to me.


June 25th, 2017 at 4:12 PM ^

It was late, but this isn't a huge shock considering the relationships Collins had with him.  Coaches leave to go to other programs, and maybe Donlon saw that Beilein isn't leaving soon and maybe Collins will be poached, so the path to a HC job looks beter at NW than at Michigan.  Or he just likes the guy.  Who knows.  It sucks to lose him, but I don't think it's an indictment of the Michigan program.

Mr. Yost

June 25th, 2017 at 4:19 PM ^

...and we have the nerve to laugh at the NFL and their arrogance on losing Harbaugh or Mattison staying here to be a DL coach when he could be a DC on more than half the teams in the league.

Northwestern is a tournament team with an up-and-coming head coach, it's in a major city that he loves...similar to you know, Ann Arbor to Harbaugh and Mattison. Also where he'd already been AND has know, similar to Ann Arbor with Harbaugh and Mattison.

Some of you all need to chill with all the "this should never happen" nonsense. He was here for one fucking year, he has no real ties to Michigan whatsoever.

Get out of your feelings and take a step into reality for 2 seconds.


June 25th, 2017 at 4:39 PM ^

NW has one tournament appearance in its history. ONE. They won't be playing in their own arena for a year or more. They've never recruited well. They are essentially a mid major operating in a super tough conference. The two programs aren't comparable.

Obviously Donlon left for reasons besides the relative quality of the programs.

Mr. Yost

June 25th, 2017 at 4:47 PM ^

I never said he left because of the quality of the program...I said it was a program on the rise. (Edit: Actually I said it's a tournament team with an up-and-coming head coach...which it was, meaning it's not like they were 5-25 last year. And Collins is - especially if you believe the comments about him being the front-running to replace Coach K, that's pretty much the definition of up-and-coming). Two totally different things...but you know that. You're a smart person.

Regardless, your comment is wildly arrogant to think that Michigan can't lose an assistant basketball coach with ties to Northwestern, the city of Chicago, AND the current head coach!

Like I said, it's the same thing as the NFL who didn't consider those same things with Mattison or Harbaugh.

The NFL can pay those guys more if they wanted, in Mattison's case they can give him a promotion to DC. Yet they're both still in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

If Harbaugh didn't play at Michigan, grow up in Michigan, go to Michigan, have a father who coached at Michigan, and love Ann Arbor...I'm not sure he'd be here. If Mattison didn't coach at Michigan, have family in the area, love the city, etc...I'm not sure he'd be here either.

But those ties are keeping those fine coaches in the maize and blue and we're perfectly okay with that...aren't we? So why are crying about losing Donlon to Northwestern when he has some of the same reasons to go there?

It's being a hypocrite.