Sunday, June 7, 2009

UCLA's Defense Under Defensive Line Coach Greg Robinson

The Michigan football team is now on it's 4th defensive coordinator in the last five years. Past Michigan football defensive coordinators include:

Jim Herrmann 1996-2005

Ron English 2006-2007

Scott Schafer 2008

Greg Robinson 2009

I posted a while ago a summary of Greg Robinson's historical exploits in college and the NFL.

Here's Greg Robinson's summary resume:

1975-1976 Pacific - Assistant Coach

1977-1979 Cal State Fullerton - Assistant Coach

1980-1981 North Carolina State - Assistant Coach

1982-1988 UCLA - Assistant Coach, Defensive Line Coach

1989 UCLA - Offensive Coordinator

1990-1993 New York Jets - Defensive Line Coach

1994 New York Jets - Defensive Coordinator

1995-2000 Denver Broncos - Defensive Coordinator

2001-2003 Kansas City Chiefs - Defensive Coordinator

2004 Texas - Defensive Coordinator

2005-2008 Syracuse - Head Coach

2009-? Michigan - Defensive Coordinator

What have intriged me most were Robinson's achievements at the college level. Probably the most relevant and representative to observe would be the period between 1982 and 1988 when Greg Robinson served as assistant coach and defensive line coach at UCLA under one of the Bruins' most decorated head football coaches, Terry Donahue.

In 1981, UCLA was coming off a 7-3-1 record in the regular season which included an excruciating 1 point loss to cross-town rival USC 21-22, and a rather embarrassing showing at the Bluebonnett Bowl in Houston, Texas versus an 8-3-0 Michigan team. The Bruins lost to the Wolverines decisively 14-33. UCLA's other key losses that year were to Iowa 7-20 in Iowa City (eventual Big Ten champion), a 3-point loss to John Elway's Stanford team, and a frustrating tie to Washington State 17-17.

Interestingly, UCLA's 1981 defense was led by a former Michigan assistant coach under Bo Schembechler named Jed Hughes . Season football statistics for this period are sparse for most college teams, and UCLA is no exception. But we do know that under Hughes in 1981, the Bruins gave up only 197 points over 12 games (16.4 points per game). Pretty damn good results against decent-to-very good competition. Hughes had some fantastic players at his disposal over his career at UCLA, including such characters as defensive backs Kenny Easley and Johnnie Lynn, and All-American Bruin linebacker Jerry Robinson, among many others.

Bob Field was the defensive coordinator under Terry Donahue for 16 years and later became UCLA's athletic director. Greg Robinson worked for Field between 1982-1988.
1982 was Greg Robinson's first season at UCLA after holding a defensive assistant position for Monte Kiffin at North Carolina State. At NC State, Kiffin's Wolfpack teams finished 6-5 in 1980 and 4-7 in 1981.

In 1982 Terry Donahue's Bruins were starting to really attract national attention for it's explosive passing attack. This was mainly due to UCLA's incredibly strong start that year of 7-0-1, with only a tie to Arizona to blemish it's record. In 1982 Bob Field and Greg Robinson inherited a pretty good situation on defense in that several starters returned from the '81 team, including defensive tackle Irv Eatman, defensive lineman Karl Morgan, linebacker Neal Dellocono, and defensive backs Eugene Leoni, Lupe Sanchez and freak-of-nature safety Don Rogers.

A 1982 Sports Illustrated article was certainly attracted to the storyline of Donahue's pass-happy Bruin offense that year, with star quarterback Tom Ramsey at the helm. But even the UCLA defense was starting to get some notoriety as well in 1982:
"Unnoticed while the aerial offense has gotten publicity is the fact that the Bruin defense has been more solid, if less specatular than it was last year. Then UCLA played a slashing, go-to-the-gap defense that too often made the Bruins vulnerable to the run. Against Michigan in the Bluebonnett Bowl, UCLA gave up 320 yards rushing in a 33-14 defeat. But when defensive coordinator Jed Hughes left to join Bud Grant's staff (Minnesota Vikings), the new coordinators Tom Hayes and Bob Field, installed a read-and-react mode for the line. "I like it", said Irv Eatman, an honorable mention All-American tackle last season. "I think it's given us more flexibility, a better way of adjusting to different schemes." "I don't like it as much," says noseguard Karl Morgan. "Now I have to stay in there and take guys on. I felt my speed gave me the edge the old way." No one is complaining about the way Morgan is playing.....Donahue considers Morgan the heart of his defense."

UCLA Defense Points Allowed 1981-1989

UCLARecordPoints AllowedGamesPts/GameDL CoachDC
19817-4-11971216.4 Jed Hughes
198210-1-12311219.3Greg RobinsonBob Field
19837-4-12651222.1Greg RobinsonBob Field
19849-3-02481220.7Greg RobinsonBob Field
19859-2-12141217.8Greg RobinsonBob Field
19868-3-12221218.5Greg RobinsonBob Field
198710-21951216.3Greg RobinsonBob Field
198810-21901215.8Greg RobinsonBob Field

The 1982 Field-Robinson defense was clearly not as good as Hughes's 1981 unit. However, the Bruins finished the season 10-1-1, defeated a highly-touted Michigan and Wisconsin team on the road, and lost only one game to Washington by 3 points. UCLA won the PAC-10 title and the Rose Bowl versus Michigan 24-14. The defensive units of these coaches got better with time to the point where the 1988 Bruin defense that went 10-2-0 on the year gave up a measly 15.8 points per game.

Terry Donahue, Bob Field and Greg Robinson presided over some of the most successful football seasons in UCLA history. Most Bruin fans fondly remember this era for the great quarterbacks, wide-open West Coast offense, stingy defense, PAC-10 titles and incredible streak of bowl wins. Under Bob Field and Greg Robinson as the defensive coaches, the Bruins were 70-21-5 over 96 games, giving up 18.4 points per game on average, and most importantly, winning 73% of the time.

In 2009 Michigan football fans are hoping that some of Greg Robinson's success and experience during this legendary golden era (27 years ago) might rub off on the 2009 Wolverine defensive unit, which last year gave up an unprecedented 367 yards and 29 points per game over 12 games.


MaizenBrew said...

great stuff Markus. Shoot me an email when you get a chance.

Don said...

I don't think UCLA's points-per-game numbers under Robinson can be taken as an indicator themselves that his defenses were all that great; those numbers are not dissimilar to a number of the years under Jim Herrmann. Maybe a look at the quality of the competition both teams played yields a deeper sense of how good they were.

Another thing I'm curious about is how often UCLA was able to maintain leads late in the game when the opponents were making a final attempt to come from behind. One of the horribly frustrating things about Michigan under Carr/Herrmann was how often we gacked up the game in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. So often all we needed to seal a victory was to stop somebody on 3rd-and-13, only to give up time after time 14-yd completions for drive-sustaining first downs.