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Wink Martindale talks strategy, first months at U-M: ‘All these kids up here are unbelievable’

Chris Balasby:Chris Balas06/11/24

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Michigan defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is the architect of the defense Mike Macdonald and Jesse Minter employed to win three Big Ten titles and a national championship, and now he’s in Ann Arbor to continue its success. He’s still getting used to the routine, but he’s excited about the possibilities for this year’s team.  

“It’s been a lot of fun, but the hardest adjustment for me has been being in the NFL for the last 20 years, you have your routine of 20 years,” Martindale said on the GM Shuffle podcast. “Going back into college, you think you know, but it’s completely different. Spring ball is just like another season. 

“Jesse told me when I was coming up here, ‘hey — at Michigan, every day is Tuesday.’ At first I was like, what are you talking about? He said, ‘It’s football 24/7.’ If you’re a football freak, you love it. And these kids up here are unbelievable. We were gone recruiting the whole month o may, you’re leaving the office and there’s a group of 10 to 12 guys down there at the Glick [practice facility] working out, working on 1-on-1s, working on technique. 

“It’s pretty cool, and it’s really good for the heart of the football purist, to go out and see the work these guys put in. It’ a lot of fun.”

As for changing things up on defense — the system is the system, he noted. Each man will have his tweaks, but the base is the same. 

“It’s very flexible. It’s very player friendly,” Martindale said. “When you get into the sub stuff, I say it’s position-less defense that has a lot of flexibility. Once you understand the concepts, it’s easy to learn the defense. But it’s also different personalities calling the defense.

“I think at the college level, there’s a lot of more simulated pressures that you see when you’re watching tape that work just as effectively as sending them all. I think it’s going to be wait and see once we get through fall camp and everything else. But let’s make no mistake about it — I’m probably more aggressive than both those guys, sometimes probably to a fault.”

Watching from afar was fun, he said. Martindale told us this spring he used to tune in to Michigan games to see how his proteges were doing.

“Jesse did a fantastic job,” Martindale said. “They changed up some terminology, because this is the first year we can do the coach to player communication. They changed up some of the names to shorter, one-word names, which is smart. It helps when teams want to go fast and play, you can just say one word. But the players, the veterans, who have come back, they know the system. It’s been really enjoyable, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

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