Mike Macdonald is still in the infancy of his coaching career. However, he’s on the path to becoming a head coach as a defensive-minded mind, which is practically a dying breed in this era of the NFL.
One look at the top teams in the NFL will tell you that the league has headed in a completely different direction than it once was. Eight of the 12 teams who have clinched playoff spots have head coaches with offensive backgrounds. Three have defensive histories, while John Harbaugh was a special teams coordinator with some defensive back coaching experience.
Could Macdonald become one of the increasingly rare defensive head coaching hires sooner rather than later?
Who Is Mike Macdonald?
Macdonald started his coaching career as a grad assistant at Cedar Shoals High School in Georgia before being a grad assistant in Mark Richt’s coaching staff at Georgia in 2010. He became a defensive quality control coach for Georgia from 2011-2013 before finding his way to the NFL.
Coaching jobs are usually consistently unstable, but Macdonald found himself in an outstanding situation in Baltimore. Harbaugh is the third-longest tenured coach in the league behind Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin.
Macdonald must have shown great promise early because he quickly climbed the ranks. After being an intern in 2014, he became a defensive assistant in 2015 and 2016. He coached defensive backs the next year before taking over as linebackers coach from 2018-2020.
That’s when things get really interesting. The Baltimore Ravens had one of the most consistently great defenses in the NFL from 2017-2021. Injuries slashed their capabilities in Wink Martindale’s uber-aggressive style last season, and the Ravens parted ways with one of the most well-respected DCs in the NFL.
Macdonald took the DC role at Michigan in 2021 under Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines’ defense ranked fourth in college football in points-per-game allowed in Macdonald’s first season as a DC at any level.
That one season was enough for the NFL’s Harbaugh to bring Macdonald back into the office as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator for 2022.
Macdonald’s Defense in Baltimore
The Ravens’ defense has gone through some massive peaks and valleys in 2022. They rank inside the top 10 in DVOA but 17th in EPA through 17 weeks.
It’s been a tale of two halves for Baltimore’s defense. For the first eight weeks, they ranked 15th in DVOA. Since then, they rank fourth. But their issues have been easy to sift through.
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Through three quarters, no defense is better than the Ravens. Their -0.064 EPA is the best in the NFL in quarters 1-3. But in the fourth quarter and in overtime, their EPA spikes to a league-worst 0.182.
In five of the Ravens’ six losses, they’ve held leads in the fourth quarter. In three of those five, Baltimore had been up by multiple scores. Macdonald must find a way to keep his defense from falling apart when it matters most, but the overall outlook for his defense looks good in the long run for Baltimore.
Mike Macdonald’s Potential Salary as a Head Coach
The NFL isn’t necessarily forthcoming with the salaries of their coaches. However, we do know Macdonald earned $1.4 million during his one season with Michigan. He had a $1 million-per-year salary with performance escalators.
Logic would tell us that he’s making more as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator, but exactly how much is unknown. A first-time head coach with little coordinator experience with a major on the defensive side of the ball probably makes him a relatively inexpensive option as a first-time head coach.
Brandon Staley is rumored to be making somewhere between $3-5 million per season in Los Angeles. If Macdonald somehow elevates into a head coaching role, it will almost undoubtedly be worth less, given the two’s relative reputations.