'Whole different culture': Wolverines rave about Don Brown's new, young assistants

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Transitions aren’t always easy, but they are typically what college football players make them.

Greg Mattison and Al Washington, Michigan’s defensive-line and linebackers coaches, respectively, moved on to coach at Ohio State earlier this year, and now the Wolverines have a younger vibe to match defensive coordinator Don Brown, who has been coaching college football since 1982, and his unrestrained enthusiasm.

Defensive coordinator Don Brown has some new, young staff members this season.

Shaun Nua, 37, is Michigan’s new defensive-line coach, and Anthony Campanile, 36, primarily handles the outside linebackers and viper, although he will have other assignments in Brown’s defense.

They had their introductory news conference with the media Wednesday night after practice, and players and coaches are all on board as spring practice, which began Sunday, continues.

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“Just a whole different type of culture,” defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said of Nua’s style. “Coach Mattison had his way of going and now coach Nua brings us a fresh, new perspective on how to play D line. Coach Matty had his principles and now coach Nua has his principles. Having both of them here during my time at Michigan, I’m real thankful that I got Matty and now coach Nua for this final season.”

Just how is Nua different?

“He’s just a younger guy. Closer in age to a lot of us,” Kemp said. “He’s bringing his own style and taste on how we should play D line. We’re all eager to learn it and we’re excited to learn under him.”

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Kemp said it’s not like they’re scrapping everything they’ve learned from Mattison, but Nua has his own spin, a fresher outlook and different coaching style.

“You get to mix and morph the two,” he said. “He’s been real helpful saying we’re not getting rid of everything we’ve previously done, especially for the 2016 guys, we’ve been here four years. He said. ‘I’m going to add on, add my style,’ and allowing us to have that freedom to have what we had previously and now we have him. It’s been an awesome blend and a good mix.”

Nua summarized his coaching philosophy like this: “High energy, good teacher and someone that can rally the guys and come together and help each other accomplish team goals.”

Teaching is what is stressed during the spring, especially as a new coach gets to know his players and vice versa. He has coached long enough to know it’s not advisable to completely start from  scratch. He watched film of every game last season to understand Brown’s philosophy and style and to get to know his personnel.

Michigan defensive tackle Carlo Kemp praised his new coaches Wednesday night.

Nua embraced what Mattison taught the linemen, but he’s not going to shy away from installing what he thinks important.

“You always want to be yourself, but these guys have a great foundation with coach Brown and even coach Matty, what he’s been doing here for many years,” Nua said Wednesday night. “You want to take all the positives and try and continue to build on top of that. Whatever I could bring to help that thing to escalate to higher level, you add on to it. These guys have been successful for a long time. I know they ended the year on not a very high note, but you can’t overlook the success they’ve had since coach Harbaugh and coach Brown have been here.”

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Campanile, like Nua, relished the opportunity to work with Brown and coach Jim Harbaugh. Campanile, who grew up in New Jersey and attended high school with fellow Michigan defensive assistant Chris Partridge, said it was easy to leave his East Coast roots — but maybe not that easy to leave the pizza, he joked — for a chance to coach at Michigan. He described himself as a “football maniac” growing up and said he and his family pretended they were playing football as the Wolverines in the backyard.

Both coaches said Brown gives them the flexibility to share opinions and coach their position groups, but he’s also hands on, which is what they want so they can absorb as much as possible from his years of coaching.

“The amazing thing about coach Brown is he has no ego,” Campanile said. “He’s really somebody who takes it all in in the room. Takes input, asks guys their opinion and questions. He’s got an awesome mentality, he’s got an awesome personality, and I think that’s why players gravitate to him, and I think that’s why guys like coaching with him. He’s really just a great dude. He’s a great human being. He’s awesome to be around because he’s intense, he’s got a ton of energy, a ton of knowledge. He is a great guy. I’ve enjoyed being around him. Everybody has input in the room.”

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Campanile said they are like-minded.

“Coach Brown is an aggressive personality,” he said. “I feel that way. I’m an aggressive personality, I coach that way, he coaches that way.”

Nua said he has followed Brown’s for several years because he has coached top defenses since his time at Boston College before arriving at Michigan.

“Don Brown’s never hands off,” Nua said. “He’s the kind of leader you want. He wants to make sure the things from the nose to the back end are correct and that’s exactly how I want it. I’ve been following him for a long time now. It’s a great honor for me to be in the same room with him and learn from him. He’s tremendous to work for.”


Twitter: @chengelis