Mike Macdonald, considered by John Harbaugh to be one of the rising young stars of the coaching profession, has been named the Ravens’ defensive coordinator after spending the past year working in the same post at the University of Michigan.
The Ravens announced Macdonald’s hire the evening of Jan. 27.
Macdonald, 34, replaces Don “Wink” Martindale, who was let go Jan. 21 after 10 years with the team, the past four as defensive coordinator.
The Ravens (8-9) in 2021 endured just the second losing season in Harbaugh’s 14-year tenure and ended the season with six straight losses. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
The Ravens have a longstanding tradition of hiring from within for their defensive coordinator job, and while Macdonald was not part of the current staff, he has deep ties in the organization.
Macdonald coached with the Ravens from 2014-2020, starting as an intern and working his way up to linebackers coach, a post he held from 2018-2020. He was then hired by Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, to serve as defensive coordinator at Michigan, and the Wolverines’ defense thrived in one season under his direction.
“Mike is one of us — a Raven through and through,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. “During his initial seven seasons with us, it was evident that his leadership, intelligence and passion would earn him the opportunity to be a defensive coordinator in the NFL.
“Mike has continuously proven himself, including when he led one of the country’s best defenses at Michigan last year. He is a proven play-caller who knows our system well. He also fully understands the standard of playing defense in Baltimore.”
The Ravens looked at internal candidates as well, reportedly interviewing defensive line coach Anthony Weaver and secondary coach Chris Hewitt. They also interviewed Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen, who, like Macdonald, spent time on Harbaugh’s staff with the Ravens.
The Ravens also cast a wider net, going outside the organization to talk to Dallas Cowboys secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr., New Orleans Saints secondary coach Kris Richard and Tampa Bay linebackers coach Mike Caldwell, according to various reports.
Ultimately, though, they settled on Macdonald, a 2010 graduate of Georgia who served as a graduate assistant coach there from 2011-2013 and who is regarded by Harbaugh as one of the bright young minds in the profession.
Macdonald first interviewed for the job when Martindale was promoted in 2018. Two years later, Martindale interviewed for the New York Giants head coaching job and Macdonald was viewed as his likely successor.
In his one year at Michigan, Macondald’s unit thrived as the Wolverines reached the College Football Playoff semifinal and won their first Big Ten title since 2004.
Michigan finished No. 8 in the country in scoring defense, allowing 17.4 points a game, and edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson (14 sacks) blossomed into a Heisman Trophy finalist and potential No. 1 overall draft pick.
No one needs to tell Macdonald about the Ravens’ Hall of Fame pedigree on defense, but it looked nothing like that in 2021 and could be facing a major rebuild going forward.
The Ravens were crippled by injuries this season, particularly in the secondary. Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters (ACL) missed the entire season, safety DeShon Elliott (torn pectoral/biceps) missed half the season and Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey (torn pectoral) missed the final give games. Starting defensive end Derek Wolfe (hip) and inside linebacker L.J. Fort (knee) missed the entire season as well.
The Ravens, who had been a top-10 overall defense in Martindale’s first three seasons as defensive coordinator — including No. 1 in 2018 — slipped to No. 25 overall, their lowest ranking since 1997. The Ravens ranked No. 1 overall against the run but No. 32 against the pass, and they allowed 4,742 passing yards, the most in franchise history. Opponents gained 5.98 yards per play, the highest total in the league.
The Ravens were victimized by miscommunication and coverage breakdowns in the secondary, subpar tackling and a lack of turnovers. They finished with 15 takeaways, the second-fewest in team history.
Those issues are sure to be closely examined by Macdonald and his defensive staff, but personnel questions abound at every level of the defense.
The Ravens could lose their entire starting defensive line, as Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell are pending free agents (Campbell is considering retirement after 14 seasons) and Wolfe’s status after recent hip surgery is unclear.
Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser suffered a torn Achilles in the season finale, and veteran linebackers Pernell McPhee, Justin Houston and Josh Bynes are all pending free agents.
In the secondary, Peters and Humphrey will be coming off major injuries, while Elliott and Anthony Averett are set to be free agents and veteran Jimmy Smith might retire.
The Ravens are expected to invest heavily in their defense in the draft this year, and one of the players linked to the Ravens with the No. 14 overall pick is Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo, who totaled 12 sacks this past season in Macdonald’s system.