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The 15 most important assistant coaching hires of 2022 -- No. 8: Jesse Minter, Michigan

Jim Harbaugh found a winning formula in 2021. Can it be duplicated with different players and different coaches?

Who: Jesse Minter, Michigan

Title: Defensive coordinator

Previous stop: Vanderbilt defensive coordinator/safeties coach (2021)

Why he's important: The Harbaugh-to-Harbaugh Connection worked so well in 2021, they're running it back in 2022.

Jim hired away from John in 2021, plucking linebackers coach Mike Macdonald from the Ravens to run his defense, in a move that worked fantastically for all three parties. Michigan improved from 95th to eighth in scoring defense, experienced a long-awaited Ohio State/Big Ten Championship/College Football Playoff breakthrough, and Macdonald returned to Baltimore as defensive coordinator. 

Macdonald and Minter spent four years under John in Baltimore. Though Minter is four years older, Macdonald was the senior of the two; Minter joined the staff as a defensive assistant in 2017 after four years as defensive coordinator at Georgia State, when Macdonald was the DBs coach. Minter moved to assistant defensive backs coach in 2019, then took over the secondary in 2020, working in concert with the linebackers coach Macdonald. 

Both left for the college ranks in 2021. Macdonald played a major role in Michigan's best season since the 1997 national championship. Minter was part of a 2-10 season at Vanderbilt.

The defense Minter inherits will not be the one Macdonald left behind. 

Gone is Aidan Hutchinson, the best defender in college football in 2021, as are leading tackler Josh Ross, All-Big Ten safety Daxton Hill, Second Team All-American outside linebacker David Ojabo, and more. In all, Michigan's defense returns 43 percent of the production from the outstanding 2021 season, 124th nationally. 

"I think there’s enough guys that have played that have experience," Minter said this spring. "I think there’s, at every level, there’s guys that have played some snaps, and so it’s figuring out who the best players are. I think our system is flexible enough to take advantage of the playmakers."

It wouldn't be accurate to say Michigan is copying and pasting the defensive playbook over from Macdonald to Minter. More like, Macdonald simply left the document open for Minter to continue, blinking cursor and all.

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS: No. 15 Tim DeRutyer (Texas Tech); No. 14 Rob Sale (Florida); No. 13 Joe Gillespie (TCU); No. 12: Brennan Marion (Texas); No. 11: Derek Mason (Oklahoma State); No. 10: Eric Kiesau (Auburn); No. 9: Mike Denbrock (LSU).

"I think one of my goals with the players was for those guys that feel like it was year two, probably one of the reasons I’m here. And so I think there’s a lot of continuity in the system," Minter said. "You want the guys to feel comfortable. So I think anytime you go from one to two, whether it’s whether Mike was still here, or I’m here. You know, there are steps you can take. There’s tweaks that you make, but definitely, definitely year two of the system."

We know the who, the how and the why of Michigan's Minter hire, but the most interesting question is the what. As in, what happens next, and what does that say about the future of college football's winningest program?

Was 2021 the culmination of the right players, the right coaches, and the right time -- a confluence of factors that will be difficult, if not downright impossible, for Jim Harbaugh to repeat? Is 2021 Michigan destined to join 2015 Michigan State, 2016 Washington and 2019 LSU on the list of college football's one-hit wonders? Or was 2021 the proof that Harbaugh found the right potion to neutralize Ohio State's inherent advantages?

No one expects Michigan to pull off a decande-and-a-half run of dominance over Ohio State like the scarlet-and-gray did to the maize-and-blue. But... can this series be competitive? Can Michigan appear in Indianapolis on the first Saturday in December more than once a decade? Can Harbaugh answer Ryan Day's inevitable counter-punches with counters of his own?

If Minter can build upon the foundation Macdonald left behind, or if he can't, we'll have our answer.