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Ron English: Cal defensive coordinator candidate?

Yesterday, we looked at Todd Orlando as a possible defensive coordinator hire for the Bears. Today, we look at a guy whom many Cal fans will remember from his playing days wearing the blue and gold.


Head Coach Sonny Dykes' demotion of Andy Buh from defensive coordinator to linebackers coach is arguably the single most significant offseason development for Cal. After swinging and missing on his first defensive coordinator hire, conventional wisdom says that Coach Dykes cannot afford to get this one wrong. Will Coach Dykes look to another up-and-comer, much in the mold of what we thought Buh might be? Or will Coach Dykes play the percentages and go with someone with proven success as a defensive coordinator at the college level?

If the latter, we would be remiss if we did not look at Ron English, most recently the head coach at Eastern Michigan University. English not only has experience as a coordinator and a head coach, he also has the added plus of being a Cal alumnus. English played defensive back for the Golden Bears from 1987 to 1990 when the late Bruce Snyder was Cal's head coach. English was part of Cal's 1990 Copper Bowl team, Cal's first bowl appearance since the 1979 Garden State Bowl. English earned a degree in mass communications from Cal.

He also holds a master's degree in education administration from Arizona State. English began his coaching career as an assistant coach at the high school level, then spent one year as a defensive backs coach at Mt. San Antonio junior college. After one year as a juco position coach, English became a graduate assistant at Arizona State, where Snyder had gone after the 1991 season. English spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at ASU. From 1996 through 2002, English served as a defensive backs coach at Northern Arizona, San Diego State, and Arizona State.

Following the 2002 season, English joined Lloyd Carr's staff as defensive backs coach at Michigan. After three seasons as Michigan's DB coach, Carr elevated English to defensive coordinator after longtime Wolverines defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann moved on to the NFL. Carr retired after the 2007 season and Michigan famously (or infamously) hired Rich Rodriguez as head coach. Rodriguez did not retain English as part of his staff.

English moved on to Louisville, where he served as defensive coordinator in 2008. English then got his shot as a head coach when Eastern Michigan hired him in December 2008. English served as the Eagles' head coach until he was fired during the 2013 season after a locker room rant in which he cursed and berated EMU players.

Before the 2013 started, Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel rated English one of the five worst head coaches in college football.

Notable Statistics

English's first year as Michigan's defensive coordinator was a statistical success, taking into account the entire body of work from the season. To wit:

  • Scoring defense: 4th in Big Ten, 15th in NCAA FBS (15.9 points per game allowed)
  • Total defense: 2nd in Big Ten, 10th in NCAA FBS (268.3 yards per game allowed)
  • Pass defense: 7th in Big Ten, 89th in NCAA FBS (224.9 yards per game allowed)
  • Rushing defense: 1st in Big Ten, 1st in NCAA FBS (43.4 yards per game allowed)
There are some impressive numbers there in three of four major defensive categories. And the rushing defense numbers were undoubtedly outstanding. But if Michigan showed a weakness, it was against teams adept at the passing game. The statistics bore that out. And as one Michigan football blog observed when analyzing English's rookie year as the Wolverines' defensive coordinator:

The 2006 season was Ron English's first year as Michigan's Defensive Coordinator and the honeymoon lasted for eleven (11) games as the Wolverines' defense dominated opponents while the team went undefeated. Unfortunately, however, everything came undone in the final two games of the year and the Michigan defense yielded a combined total of 74 points in the final eight quarters of play of the season (i.e., the OSU game and the Rose Bowl vs. USC). Although Michigan's defense was touted (hyped) as a top defense all season, the flaws were seriously exposed in the season's final two games. Despite all the goodwill Coach English generated from his players' performances earlier in the year, Coach English still endured a fair amount of criticism for failing to have an adequate defensive game plan in either of the season's final two games. Whereas his predecessor Jim Herrmann was criticized for bogging down the players with too many technical requirments, Coach English was rebuked for not employing sophisticated enough schemes.

In those last two games of the 2006 season, Michigan lost to Ohio State 42-39 and to USC in the Rose Bowl, 32-18. In the Rose Bowl, English's defense yielded 391 yards passing to John David Booty and allowed USC to score 29 second-half points. That performance came on the heels of giving up 503 yards of total offense to Ohio State, including over 300 yards passing to 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.

The bitter taste of the final two games of the 2006 season carried over into the opener of the 2007 season, when FCS power Appalachian State famously defeated fifth-ranked Michigan 34-32 at the Big House. A significant factor in Appalachian State's victory was its ability to throw the ball effectively out of its spread offense against the Wolverines. Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns on just 17 completions.

The 2007 season saw Michigan's defense fall off from the mostly impressive statistical numbers from English's first season as defensive coordinator. The 2007 Wolverines gave up 21.4 points per game (23rd in FBS), 140.2 rushing yards per game (29th in FBS), 231.3 passing yards per game (66th in FBS), and 371.5 yards per game in total defense (41st in FBS).

English moved on to Louisville to coordinate the Cardinals' defense in 2008. English took the reins of a defense that had ranked 91st in the FBS in scoring defense (31.4 points per game), 84th in total defense in 2007 (giving up 416.5 yards per game), 71st in rush defense (165.3 yards per game), and 87th in pass defense (251.2 yards per game). In English's lone season at Louisville, the Cardinals' defense was vastly improved against the run (129.5 yards per game, 37th in FBS) and modestly improved in total defense (70th in FBS in 2008, giving up 368.2 yards per game). On the down side, Louisville fell to 93rd in FBS in pass defense under English, though it gave up fewer yards per game (239.3) than the previous year. Louisville was about the same under English in scoring defense, yielding 29.8 points per game in 2008, good for 89th in FBS.

How much Would He Cost

English made $349,937 per year as head coach at Eastern Michigan. This is less than what Andy Buh's compensation is as defensive coordinator, and query whether English would want to take a pay cut. The salary for a coordinator at a major conference program is probably higher (in many if not most cases) than the head coach of a low-to-middling Mid-America Conference program.

It is probably not entirely fair to judge English's recruiting ability based on his run at Eastern Michigan, but for what it's worth, English did not appear to have a good track record as a recruiter while EMU's head coach. The bad publicity surrounding English's firing at EMU probably tarnished his reputation .

Other Considerations

English is a Cal graduate, which has its virtues. As an alumnus, English may bring an extra bit of passion to the job as he tries to rebuild the Cal defense. The controversy surrounding English's departure from EMU, however, might not fly very well in Berkeley.

Final Verdict

English makes sense in some respects: he has some proven success at the college level as a coordinator and he could also become the defensive backs coach, a position open as a result of Dykes' decision not to retain Randy Stewart. But at the end of the day, I think Coach Dykes will pass on English. Though English has had success as a coordinator, he has not been a coordinator since 2008.

Moreover, the weakness in English's defenses have been against the passing game. With the multi-faceted attacks that are in the Pac-12, that weakness in English's defenses at Michigan and Louisville is the proverbial elephant in the room. That hole in English's defensive coordinator resume, coupled with the controversy surrounding his departure from EMU, might be just enough for Dykes to decide that hiring him is too risky given Dykes's need for a make-or-break defensive coordinator hire.