Life Without Fisch?
Jedd Fisch, the tennis player, the 39-year old, and the former Jersey boy, was never coming to Michigan to settle down. In fact, he's never spent more than three seasons at any position. Fisch has worked for five NFL teams, four college football teams, an Arena Football team, and a developmental research school.
He went to school at Florida just to get in the door with Steve Spurrier, which he finally managed in 1999. Fisch has since coached wide receivers under Mike Shanahan, quarterbacks under Pete Carroll, and offenses under Jim Harbaugh. He's been a coaching vagabond, soaking up philosophies from people who have been at the highest peaks of the profession. Fisch came to Michigan despite no connections to Ann Arbor, because he wanted to work with Harbaugh. And soon, probably next season, he's going to be looking for that next opportunity.
Al Golden got fired this past weekend, and Fisch happened to land on one list of candidates to replace the former Miami head coach. This happened because Fisch coached at the school and is a bright young offensive mind. Of course, "candidates" is not really a good term at such an early stage in a coaching search, since the athletic department might not even have a solid list yet. Maybe "usual suspects" is a better term, because it's really just a list of people with connections to the area, or who fit what the program wants, and then an assumption of mutual interest from there. In reality, we know much less.
But since we can reasonably assume that Fisch will leave the confines of Ann Arbor sooner or later, we figured it'd be fitting to do a similar exercise for Michigan's wide receivers coach, passing game coordinator, and quarterbacks coach. It makes sense to start our search under the confines of 'wide receiver coaches,' since Jim Harbaugh has the reins on the quarterbacks and Tim Drevno coordinates the offense. And, as Grandma Wallace used to say, you do have to start somewhere. But as we'll cover below, looking primarily at receivers coaches might be a little faulty.
Still, we'll unravel this as we go. First, here are some names.
Joker Phillips (Wiki)
Phillips has a long, steeped history in college ball and has spent a lot of his time within a stone's throw of both the Midwest and the Southeast. Most of his career has taken place at Kentucky, but he also has stops at Cincinnati, Minnesota, Notre Dame, South Carolina, and Florida. This year, he made the leap to the NFL and is coaching the wideouts for the Cleveland Browns. He's brought a college feel with him to the pros.
"These guys are all smart. They all work. They all compete," he said about his receivers at Cleveland. "I always recruited guys in college that had a look in their eye, a bounce in their step. And all of our guys have that. .... This is a relationship-driven business. The better your relationship, the harder you can coach a guy."
Phillips could be available and interested, as Cleveland's head coach Mike Pettine might be fired by season's end. Not only that, Phillips has experience as a passing game coordinator, recruiting coordinator, offensive coordinator, and head coach. Harbaugh likes ambitious assistants, and Phillips, who went 13-24 as Kentucky's head coach from 2010-12, could see Michigan as a stepping stone to wherever he wants to go next.
Bobby Engram (Wiki)
Engram was a star receiver for Penn State in the mid-'90s, winning the first ever Biletnikoff Award. He was an offensive assistant coach at San Francisco in 2011, and has worked his way up to be the wide receivers coach for Baltimore and Jim's brother since 2014. He's impressed in that role.
Kamar Aiken is a journeyman who'd never found a home. Steve Smith was cast out and left for dead. And now newly acquired rookie Breshad Perriman was thought of as a physically gifted but technically underdeveloped wide receiver. Marlon Brown was an undrafted afterthought and though he's enjoyed success as a rookie, his quickness and route running were improved in his second year.
Engram (along with Kubiak, and now Trestman) has been able to make the best out of otherwise average talent. ... Engram will start getting more attention .... as more than a wide receiver coach.
Michigan could woo him with a couple extra titles similar to what Jedd Fisch currently has. He would also come recommended by John Harbaugh. Engram is just 42.
Billy Gonzales (Bio)
Gonzales, who now coaches at Mississippi State, originally rose up the ranks with Urban Meyer - first at Bowling Green, then Utah, and then Florida for five years. But his relationship with Urban Meyer is pretty interesting.
He was one of Meyer's loyal foot soldiers for a long time, but don't expect any friendly pregame handshakes between old friends. When Gonzales left Florida for LSU, he apparently burned a bridge along the way. The story circulating through Florida's football program is that Gonzales informed Meyer he was leaving for a rival program with a sticky note. That's right, one of those annoying little pieces of yellow paper.
No face-to-face talk. No one-last-beer toast at The Grog House. None of that. According to the source, Gonzales left his keys and cell phone on a desk along with this message: "I'm going to LSU."
Gonzales was upset with the promotion of Steve Addazio, who has since gone on to Boston College.
Billy is one of the brightest assistants in the country, and MSU's receivers have thrived under his guidance. An opening at Michigan would also offer the 44-year old increased exposure and a chance to mold an existing offense with some facets of the spread. Harbaugh would also be getting someone with a lot of experience recruiting in the south.
Tee Martin (Wiki)
Martin is currently employed by the USC Trojans, but that's one of his less interesting characteristics. In 2015, he was named one of the nation's Top 10 recruiters by both Sporting News and Sports Illustrated. He was also the Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year by Rivals.com. In 2014, he was named the Scout.com Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year.
Before he got established as a position coach, Martin was a coach for the Elite 11 Quarterback Camps (2007-08), Nike football training camps (2007-08) and the Nike Combine Tour (2008). He has mentored and evaluated more than 1,000 quarterbacks. He also created the "Dual Threat" Quarterback Camp and Academy in Atlanta in 2008.
Before that, Martin was Tennessee's back-up quarterback when Peyton Manning roamed the streets of Knoxville, then took the reins and led UT to a national title in 1998. He's even married to an R&B singer. Basically, if Jim Harbaugh is the most interesting coach in college football, Tee Martin is probably the runner-up. And that quality translates well to the recruiting circuit.
Derek Dooley (Wiki)
Dooley is best remembered as the former head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, but he has an interesting resume outside of that largely catastrophic three-year stop. Dooley rose to prominence under Nick Saban, was the athletic director and simultaneously the head coach at Louisiana Tech for a while, and now works as the wide receivers coach for the Dallas Cowboys. He has 12 years of college coaching experience in the south, which includes time with the running backs, tight ends, receivers, and as a recruiting coordinator.
DelVaughn Alexander (Wiki)
Alexander was Jim Harbaugh's running backs coach at San Diego for two years, then went on to Wisconsin from 2007-11 and Arizona State since. Alexander has a consistent track record of good wide receiver play, and a unique blend of Big Ten and Pac-12 experience.
Jay Norvell (Wiki)
Jay Norvell is one of the better receivers coaches in the game. He has experience as an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Nebraska, and UCLA, and is now working at Texas. Originally from Wisconsin, he played for Iowa under Hayden Fry. He also has extensive NFL experience as both a coach and a player. Norvell could open some doors to Texas.
Other possibilities: John Morton, who's a Michigan native, coached San Francisco's wide receivers for four years under Jim Harbaugh and then ended up working for the New Orleans Saints. He was a serious candidate to end up at Michigan last year, but for some reason did not.
There's also Aaron Moorehead, a young guy and Texas A&M's current wide receiver coach. He worked under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford for one year and then was retained by David Shaw. Josh Gattis was recently named the Big Ten's Recruiter of the Year, and has a number of roles for Penn State. Offensive coordinator Kevin Johns has coached Indiana's wide receivers since 2011, and its quarterbacks since 2012. He's been named the best receivers coach in the Big Ten.
Going in another direction, Michigan has a very rich tradition of elite wide receivers, but candidates like Braylon Edwards, David Terrell, and Marquise Walker come with red flags and have not gone into coaching. Mario Manningham was a good player, but might not have quite the right tools to jump into coaching. Erik Campbell is an interesting name, a person with experience under Lloyd Carr and a former teammate of Jim Harbaugh. He currently works at Michigan as an offensive assistant.
But of course, it wouldn't be Harbaugh-related if curve balls weren't a consideration. In fact, since wide receivers are one of the easiest positions to coach (coaches at other positions will often move to the wideouts to make room for other coaches), Michigan's next wide receivers coach could be someone like Ty Wheatley or John Baxter. Baxter has six years experience, in fact, coaching receivers at Fresno State. Harbaugh could shake up the staff's positions to add talent at a totally different spot.
If he goes that route, Harbaugh would probably be looking for someone who could either boost recruiting or add another dimension to Michigan's offense. D.J. Durkin's defense has been lights out, and you can bet that a competitor like Harbaugh would use an opening on his staff to try to get the offensive side to similarly dominant levels. And while the names above do tend to fit into a 'wide receivers coach' designation, they're also fairly ambitious hires, guys who would boost Michigan's offense or at least its recruiting in a big way.
Hitting the Links Has Key Words
Fun fact: Ohio State's 2017 recruiting class already has 10 commits, and three of those are four-star DBs.
Smith has terrific height at 6'6" and 208 pounds. He is still growing into his body but looks reasonably athletic. Then again, you don't have to be a burner when you're 6'6".
The offensive live has been my big talking point for Northwestern, and the quality in their play has coincided with Northwestern struggling in the box score. Over the first five games, Justin Jackson was averaging 127 yards a game, but that has changed radically in their games against Michigan, Iowa, and Nebraska: Jackson has 95 rushing yards, total, in those contests.
It also hasn't helped that Thorson has missed some throws he was hitting earlier in the year. Pat Fitzgerald has put a lot on Thorson's shoulders, and it's a long season. The off-season will be good for him.
State has had more injuries in their secondary than along the offensive line. Both Nebraska and Ohio State will provide a stiff challenge.
This is a lost season for Nebraska. There are too many injuries, the secondary needs a lot more practice, and other positions are too thin. The Huskers sit at 3-5 now, with games remaining against Purdue, Michigan State, Rutgers, and Iowa.
And while Rutgers might look like a beatable opponent, with a 3-4 record themselves, the Scarlet Knights are also tied for second in the conference in yards per attempt, and their speedy defense matches up well with Nebraska. The Huskers realistically could end the season 4-8.
This has been going on for a while, most notably when two back-up quarterbacks transferred out and then Nate Sudfeld got injured last year. However, there is indeed hope for this team: depth, my key word when it comes to Indiana, is improving. That will provide some replacement shocks for Kevin Wilson's slightly banged up Ferrari.
Also, fear not, Penn State. Miami can also take a sack against a two-man rush: