ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Nebraska set up what seemed like a perfectly timed play, allowing Michigan’s hard-charging defense to rush up the field just before completing a screen pass.
There was one problem: Devin Bush Jr.
The star linebacker for the 14th-ranked Wolverines put his smarts, speed and strength on display in a matter of seconds . Bush recognized the screen coming. He sprinted to his right past two linemen and slammed his left shoulder into Cornhuskers running back Maurice Washington, driving him into the turf.
Unlike most fathers of college football players, who are usually fans in the stands, Devin Bush Sr. saw the play unfold from one of the best spots in the Big House.
The former Florida State and NFL defensive back is one of Jim Harbaugh’s defensive analysts, a position that puts him in the presence of his son every day.
The father and son don’t take the setup for granted, counting it as a blessing.
“It’s rare,” Bush Jr. said. “A lot of people don’t get that luxury. And, a lot of people don’t even have dads to have that luxury.”
Devin Bush Sr., who helped the Seminoles win the national championship in 1993, could afford to put his dreams of coaching at the highest levels on hold after his playing career ended in 2002. Atlanta drafted him in the first round in 1995 and he started in 71 of 116 games over eight seasons with the Falcons, St. Louis and Cleveland. He helped the Rams win a Super Bowl.
“When I got done playing, I didn’t want anything to do with football,” he said. “I had opportunities to coach when I was younger, but I didn’t want to move my family around a lot. I sacrificed my goals at the time for my children.”
The family-first father began coaching his son and namesake in tackle football when he was 6 and has always been on the sideline when he played the sport.
When his son was 12, playing with 14-year-old boys was part of the plan to keep him humble and hungry to improve. They teamed up to help Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, Florida, win a state championship in 2015 with father serving as head coach and son as the team’s star.
“We’ve been on a team since he was born,” he said.
And when Devin Bush Jr. was the last of his children to go to college, his father saw an opportunity to join him on Harbaugh’s staff in 2016 after his defensive coordinator, D.J. Durkin, left to lead Maryland.
“I called (Harbaugh) and said, ‘If you have any opening, and I don’t care how big or small it is, I would love to coach at the next level,’” he recalled. “He said, ‘That’s a great idea. Let’s make it happen.’”
As a defensive analyst, Bush said his roles include breaking down film and working on scouting reports.
“To be on the same team with my son, it’s like a dream come true,” he said.
Harbaugh loves it, too, because he knows what it is like. Harbaugh spends time on a regular basis with his father, Jack, and son, Jay. Jack Harbaugh, a former college coach, is one of his son’s senior advisors and Jay coaches the running backs and special teams.
“My dad was a coach and Devin’s dad a coach and I get sentimental about that,” Harbaugh said Monday. “I think that’s really cool when dads and their sons can be together and share something as big as this.”
Even though the Bushes spends hours and hours around each week at Michigan’s football facilities, the son said he enjoys spending time away from it with his father at his apartment.
Bush was an All-Big Ten linebacker and a finalist for the Butkus Award. The 5-foot-11, 232-pound junior leads the team with 32 tackles and 2 ½ sacks and ranks second with five tackles for losses.
SMU coach Sonny Dykes, who previously led California and Louisiana Tech, said Bush is as good as any linebacker he has ever seen.
“That kid is a really, really special football player,” Dyke said after Michigan beat the Mustangs earlier this month. “He can really run. He plays physical.”
Even before Bush lined up to play Nebraska last Saturday, when he had a team-high nine tackles, including 2 ½ for losses and a sack, offensive coordinator Troy Walters knew how much of a challenge he would present.
“Man, he’s got everything,” Walters said. “Fast, physical, explosive, smart. He knows exactly, based on formations, what you’re going to run. He plays with relentless effort so he’s always around the ball.”