Michigan’s special teams coordinator leaves

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s football staff has lost its second assistant coach.

John Baxter, who coordinated Michigan’s special teams for last season and earned $350,000 in the first year of a three-year contract, has rejoined the USC staff, the school announced Thursday. He worked for the Trojans from 2010-2013.

“He is one of the most respected coaches in our profession at any position,” USC coach Clay Helton said in a statement. “His units have been near the top of the collegiate special team efficiency rankings almost every year. Having worked alongside him in the past, I know coach Baxter as one of the best teachers and skill developers in football today.”

D.J. Durkin, Michigan’s defensive coordinator during the 2015 regular season, left last month to become head coach at Maryland.

Baxter, 52, was a big reason Michigan’s special teams saw improvement this past season. The Wolverines were ranked third nationally in kickoff returns.

Many of the Michigan players also praised Baxter’s “Academic Gameplan,” which he authored. Receiver Jehu Chesson spoke of it several times, saying it helped him become a better manager of time, and he had a better understanding of how to be more efficient with his academics and football.

During his previous work at USC, Baxter was associate head coach and special teams coordinator, and he coached tight ends in 2013.

So what will Harbaugh do? Defensive line coach Greg Mattison, Michigan’s defensive coordinator from 2011-14, coordinated the defense during the bowl season, and director of player personnel Chris Partridge coached linebackers. But with the addition of Don Brown as defensive coordinator, Harbaugh’s staff was at full capacity before Baxter’s departure.

Harbaugh called Partridge, formerly the head coach at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic, “a rising superstar” late last month while speaking to a small group of reporters after his radio show.

“If I had one more spot, another spot on the coaching staff, it would be Chris Partridge,” Harbaugh said last month. “I’ve really been that impressed with him as a coach.”

Harbaugh alluded to the college and NFL hiring cycles and suggested anything could happen.

“It can’t be soon enough to get Chris Partridge as a full-time coach,” Harbaugh said. “Worst-case scenario, I could see him being in multiple roles — director of player development, coach, analyst on the football side. I think he’s really talented.”

He also has impressed Harbaugh with his recruiting abilities.