Robinson was a disaster at Syracuse, there's no question about it. His record was 10-37 in four years, and the Orange finished no higher than seventh in the eight-team Big East during that time.
His track record as a D-coordinator, though, is a bit more impressive, with a chunk of that time spent in the NFL. Robinson ran the defense for the New York Jets for a year before serving as D-coordinator for the Broncos' teams that won two Super Bowls (in 1997-98) during his six-year tenure, then moving onto the Kansas City Chiefs for three years. After being fired by the Chiefs following a 38-31 playoff loss to Indianapolis in which the defense failed to force a punt (to be fair, it was the second week in a row the Colts managed that feat), Robinson went to Texas as D-coordinator for one year before taking the job as Syracuse head coach.
Let's look at the numbers (scoring defense, total defense):
- 1994 (N.Y. Jets) -- 14th, 22nd
- 1995 (Denver) -- 17th, 15th
- 1996 (Denver) -- 7th, 4th
- 1997 (Denver) -- 6th, 5th
- 1998 (Denver) -- 6th, 11th
- 1999 (Denver) -- 11th, 7th
- 2000 (Denver) -- 23rd, 24th
- 2001 (Kansas City) -- 23rd, 23rd
- 2002 (Kansas City) -- 28th, 32nd
- 2003 (Kansas City) -- 20th, 29th
- 2004 (Texas) -- 18th, 23rd
I'm putting little to no stock into his defensive numbers at Syracuse for one very basic reason: He wasn't the defensive coordinator. In his career as a D-coordinator, Robinson has ranged from average with the Jets to bad with the Chiefs to good with the Broncos and Texas.
I like the fact that in his one year at Texas, the Longhorns finished 18th nationally in scoring defense and 23rd in total defense. To me, Texas is by far a closer comparison to Michigan than anything else on his resume.
I also like that he's spent the last five years in the college game, meaning he's been recruiting and getting a feel for the shift toward spread offenses -- he even went against Rich Rodriguez's offenses at West Virginia during that time, so they obviously know each other. Yes, his recruiting at Syracuse was poor, but I think most people would agree that Michigan is a much bigger draw than Syracuse -- again, Texas is a more relevant comparison.
I think that what people sometimes forget is that being a good coordinator often has little or no bearing on being a good head coach, and vice versa. I won't bother naming the countless men who have failed as head coaches but are/were widely hailed as good coordinators, but Robinson certainly seems to be in that group.
I realize that the numbers aren't spectacular, I just believe that if you can win two Super Bowls, finish in the top seven defenses in the NFL three times and continue to be hired by coaches like Mike Shanahan, Dick Vermeil, Mack Brown and Rich Rodriguez, you're doing something right (although I'll defer to Three and Out for a more detailed analysis of Robinson's schemes).
Would he have been my first choice? No. Obviously, the last couple years can't be completely thrown out -- with Rodriguez being essentially the offensive coordinator as well as the head coach, he needs someone who can manage the defense AND recruit players for his system with minimal input, and I don't think Robinson is a sure thing in that regard.
But you also have to take into consideration the the alternative options. The names that were being thrown around by fans -- Rex Ryan, Mike Trgovac, Jim Herrmann, etc. -- were either depressing (Herrmann) or just completely unrealistic. While Michigan is still considered one of the better places to coach in college football, nobody with long-term success in the NFL or at another elite school is going to leave to be D-coordinator at Michigan, especially given the current state of the situation.
Rodriguez tried an up-and-coming D-coordinator (Scott Shafer) last year, and things didn't go well. He couldn't take that chance again, so he went out and found a guy with a solid -- not great, but solid -- track record as a coordinator.
I'm not expecting miracles, but I'm also fairly certain that a guy with as much experience as Robinson will be able to keep Michigan away from some of the disasters we've seen the last two seasons (48 points to Purdue, 42 to Ohio State, 34 to Appalachian State, 32 in the first half to Oregon, etc.).
I guess what I'm saying is that while I certainly don't think Robinson is a "home run" hire, I like this move a little more than most Michigan fans probably will.