Following the disastrous 2020 football season, head coach Jim Harbaugh knew the Michigan Wolverines needed foundational changes to turn the program around. In order to rebuild the team’s culture, Harbaugh retooled the way he coached, empowered his players and restructured his coaching staff. Unbeknownst at the time, one of the most important moves he made was moving his 35-year-old tight ends coach over to the offensive line and elevating him to co-offensive coordinator.
Sherrone Moore had been with Michigan coaching the tight ends for three seasons, but being a former offensive lineman at Oklahoma, Moore’s true strengths lay with coaching the big uglies up front. What’s more, Moore could give the offense an identity it had been missing for years — an identity that can be summed up in one word…“SMASH!” Moore’s catchphrase represented a mentality of physicality that echoed Harbaugh’s football philosophy to the letter, but was orchestrated with a modern twist.
Moore worked closely with primary offensive coordinator/play-caller Josh Gattis in 2021 and — infused with Moore’s signature physicality — helped bring Gattis famed “speed in space” philosophy into reality. Until Moore’s promotion, Gattis’ offenses had looked disjointed, inconsistent, and soft for two years. But with Moore in the fold, the offense looked reinvigorated thanks to a dominant offensive line and relentless rushing attack.
In fact, the offense worked so well with Moore’s insertion, Gattis was recognized with the Broyles Award, which honors the nation’s top assistant coach. There was no hardware for Sherrone Moore, but his offensive line was recognized as the best offensive line in the country with the Joe Moore Award.
Gattis left the staff following the 12-2 season and College Football Playoff (CFP) loss to Georgia. Gattis took the same position at Miami (FL), but after one year with the Hurricanes, Gattis was fired and is now entering his second year as offensive coordinator with Maryland. While Gattis was looking for the head-coaching fast track, Moore kept grinding at Michigan.
In 2022, the offensive reins were not simply handed to Moore following Gattis’ departure. Instead, quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss was elevated to co-offensive coordinator and the two split the responsibilities, including calling plays.
Despite the unusual offensive hierarchy, the tandem worked exceptionally well together and the offense and team as a whole improved. Once more, the offensive line was recognized as the best in the country — and included a Rimington/Outland Trophy (first in program history) winner in center Olu Oluwatimi — and the Wolverines marched out to a 13-0 record. But after another disappointing CFP showing, something needed to change.
The Wolverines famously returned several key players behind the mantras of “one more year” and “unfinished business,” but the biggest addition to this team came in the form of a subtraction. In Jan. 2023, co-coordinator Weiss was placed on leave before ultimately being fired for “computer crimes.” With Weiss out the door, no one was promoted to split the coordinating duties. This time, the offensive responsibility fell solely to Moore.
Moore kept the smash mentality intact in 2023, but also injected more balance with second-year starting quarterback J.J McCarthy. The season was marching to the familiar winning beats of the two previous years, but entering a crucial showdown with Penn State, everything changed.
Less than 24 hours before kick-off in Happy Valley, Harbaugh was suspended by the Big Ten amidst the ongoing NCAA investigation into sign-stealing. With the season on the line against a top-tier opponent, Harbaugh tapped Moore to lead the Wolverines.
Three years prior, Moore had been solely coaching the tight ends on a 2-4 Michigan team. Now, he was about to serve as head coach, offensive coordinator, play-caller and offensive line coach with Michigan’s national championship aspirations hanging in the balance in a hostile road environment. How did he handle this pressure? By smashing Penn State with 32 consecutive runs en route to a 24-15 victory.
Moore remained the acting head coach for the final two games of the regular season when Harbaugh’s suspension was upheld and neither game was without its scares for a rookie head coach. Against Maryland, McCarthy was barely able to put any weight on an injured ankle and Moore had to find a way to preserve a road victory/win No. 1,000 in program history with a one-legged passer. Facing Ohio State in the season finale, Moore dialed up a seven-minute time-killing drive to help put his defense in a position to ice the game.
Harbaugh returned for the postseason stretch, but one more unseen, monumental challenge emerged for Moore in the postseason. After cruising past Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, the Wolverines drew Alabama and head coach/defensive savant Nick Saban, with one month to prepare, in the Rose Bowl.
In that month, while most were writing the first-year solo play-caller off, he was preparing. Moore put together a masterpiece and called the game of his life against Saban.
Every play incorporated shifts or motion to keep the defense off-balance. Tendency-breakers kept the offense one step ahead and prevented Saban’s team from playing fast. And when push came to shove late, Moore and the Wolverines smashed.
In overtime, Moore drew up two run plays to reach the end zone; each indicative of who he and this team had become over the last three years. On Corum’s final run to the end zone, Alabama and Saban had officially been out-physicaled and out-coached.
In the National Championship against Washington, Moore’s offense did what they do best. Michigan became the first team in CFP history to rush for more than 300 yards in the title game, and the first to ever feature two running backs to reach 100+ yards. The Wolverines prevailed by 21 points and became the first team to win 15 games in Big Ten history.
The correlation between Moore’s ascension from tight ends coach to head coach and Michigan’s rise to becoming the national champion is no coincidence. Moore has smashed all barriers on his way to becoming the first Black head coach in program history and will look to sustain this success the same way it began: with a physicality unknown to mankind.