UMich football Why Brian Jean-Mary returned after coaching Tennessee

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Brian Jean-Mary has a second chance. Not that he needed one overall, but given how his Michigan football tenure went, he’s getting to prove that his one year in Ann Arbor was something of a fluke.

Just before spring ball was set to start in 2021, Jean-Mary bolted for Tennessee, where he spent the past three seasons. Though the Vols appear to be a program on the rise, Jean-Mary felt like he was missing something. Michigan, of course, rebounded spectacularly having won three straight Big Ten championships while winning the national championship last year.

The prodigal coach paid attention from afar, so when he got the call to come back, it made too much sense.

“Even when I left, I told the guys I felt like the 2020 season was an incomplete part of my coaching career just because of COVID and the way things went,” Jean-Mary said. “Even though leaving and going to another program, still felt a little bit of an attachment to the University of Michigan and was an admirer from afar. Watching the success that they had, there was not a happier person than myself and my family.

“When the opportunity came up when Coach Moore called me, felt like it was too good of an opportunity to pass up just because — like I said, there’s a lot of attachment, a lot of good things that happened here, even though the year didn’t go as we wanted in 2020. Felt like it was where I needed to be.”

New head coach Sherrone Moore and Jean-Mary had overlap at Louisville for two years from 2010-11. Moore was just a grad assistant while Jean-Mary was the assistant head coach and oversaw linebackers for the Cardinals.

For Jean-Mary, it wasn’t just about returning to Michigan, where he spent another year with Moore, but it was about working under someone he believes in.

“I’ll say this: there’s no bigger fan than Coach Moore than myself. I’ve known him for years and was so happy when he got this opportunity,” Jean-Mary said. “Was cheering him on and we would always still communicate even when I wasn’t here. I think he’s a dynamite — not just coach, but a dynamite person. He’s got a chance to be a great football coach.

“Even in the time when we were apart, when I left and went to the other place, we kept in touch and I knew what kind of future he had. I knew he was gonna be a head coach and I always said anything I can do to support him, whether it was on the same staff or I was somewhere else, he will always be a guy I wanted to make sure I stayed close to because — like I said, I admire him and think he’s made of the right stuff to be a very, very successful head coach.

“Besides Michigan being the program that it was, it was the opportunity to get back. Love the community. Both of my daughters are going to come back with us and my wife. We had a small sample size and everything that this community, being in this state, had to represent was always a pull also. It wasn’t as tough of a sell as maybe you would think.”

Now that he’s back, what’s different about the program?

Of course, Jean-Mary experienced the worst year in Michigan football history, which was followed by arguably the best three-year stretch for the Wolverines.

All of the talk about the changed culture wasn’t just that — Jean-Mary sees it now that he’s back in the building.

“I will start with the culture like we talked about. It’s one of those things when the players come in, you talk about a successful program and a new coach or new players come in, it’s the culture that’s there that they have to adjust to learn that culture or do they come in and put a new spin on the culture to try to change it for the better,” Jean-Mary said. “I think Michigan is at a place right now with the culture and the way these kids are wired, these new kids and new coaches, we have to learn the Michigan way. No matter where you’ve come from or what kind of success that you’ve had because it’s proven.

“Love the fact that the players kind of know when they enter the building what the expectations are. They’re all striving for the same goals and, like I said, they reached the mountaintop, but you can still see the hunger that they have to keep up the success that they have. I think the culture here, and I’ll say it, I think it’s the best in college football. Not being, obviously, at every program. Like I said, I’m a college football junkie when I’m not worrying about the teams that I’ve had the opportunity to coach on, I watch college football. Obviously, in recruiting, you hear things about different places and I think the Michigan brand and the Michigan culture is the best in college football.”

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