Michigan’s offense improved in 2018 across the board, but ending the season at 10-3 is not good enough for head coach Jim Harbaugh. The standards are high at Michigan, aspirations of annual berths to the Big Ten Championship Game and College Football Playoff are the standard in which the team has set during the Harbaugh era.
With a disappointing end to the season for Michigan, a spark was needed in the form of a new face that could bring improvement to the program.
Enter Alabama co-offensive coordinator, 35 year old Josh Gattis, who will be Michigan’s OC for the foreseeable future. Gattis will be given the keys to the Ferrari. The question now is, will Gattis test the limits of this muscle car, or will he play it safe and drive five miles under the speed limit? Expect the former, not the latter.
Gattis is saying it’ll be a total new offense for Michigan, and that the type of offense Michigan runs will be predicated on the overall skill-set of the players Michigan has:
“The best teams that I’ve been around are all player-led teams. They’re player-driven. This is going to be a fun, exciting brand. The fingerprint you saw at the University of Alabama and what we were able to do incorporating some of the RPO’s and some of the spread system, you’re going to see a lot of that show up here at the University of Michigan, but it’s going to be about the buy-in of our guys. It’s going to be a total new offense.”
Gattis went on to say that he’s going to “make sure” to put Michigan’s “best skill players in the best position to be successful.” That sounds good, but what does that mean? It really can only mean one thing, doing what’s best for those skill players. The prime example on offense would be Michigan’s receiving corp, which has speedsters such as Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, and Tarik Black. Let them boys run wild and have a shot at some deep balls.
“If we’ve got multiple wide receivers, we’re going to find a way, as most people have heard me, to get our speed in space,” Gattis said.
But what if Michigan’s tight ends step up and show that they’re versatile threats as well? “If we’ve got tight ends that step up, and those guys can create mismatches in the run game and also in the pass game, we’re going to be playing in 12 personnel,” Gattis said. And that is an acceptable mindset to have.
When Michigan begins Spring practices, the first day or three should be old school in nature. And by old school I mean not overloading the players with terminology, the first practices should be used for the players to show Gattis what they’re capable of physically and athletically. The tight ends need to show they’re capable blockers and assets in the passing game. The offensive line needs to show they can handle pass blocking well enough to warrant throwing the ball from more spread sets next season. The quarterbacks, although Shea Patterson is the starter, should have a healthy competition and work so hard it would appear there’s a QB controversy. The wideouts have to show they can indeed strut their stuff and exhibit that speed in space.
How the players perform in practice should determine the overall scheme for Michigan in 2019. “We’re going to have the ability to do everything. We’re not going to just be single-minded and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do; we’re going to force our players to do one thing,’ Gattis said.
If you’re buying what Gattis is saying he’s not being single-minded, he’s being quite open minded. Gattis wasn’t brought to Michigan to just implement schematics that are already in place, he wasn’t just hired to hold a clipboard and have zero input. Gattis has a major say, he is now the No. 1 voice in Jim Harbaugh’s ear, there’s a potential for a dynamic duo. For all the flack Jim Harbaugh receives for a ground and pound approach, he’s also been considered to be an innovative and groundbreaking coach willing to adapt to the personnel he has (i.e. all the pistol and read option with Colin Kaepernick).
Jim Harbaugh is a guy who when coaching the San Francisco 49ers brought in a high school coach to teach the staff about the fly sweep. Harbaugh is always willing to learn, wherever and however, from whomever he can.
Millions of species have perished because they didn’t adapt to the environment around them well enough to survive, therefore the quote “adapt or die” is a Darwinian certainty in this cruel game of life... and football.
“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” - Charles Darwin
There’s adaptation going on in Ann Arbor, there’s evolution, and Mr. Darwin would approve. Gattis is dropping all the hints necessary to realize he’s open to doing whatever it takes to make sure the offense is in the best position to win each and every Saturday. Gattis seems idealistic, fiery, and ready to commence a full fledged meritocracy.
The Michigan players are going to decide what kind of offense Harbaugh and Gattis run, they have a major say. So for all the receivers who have said #SpeedInSpace, or retweeted a post with that hashtag, go earn it. And for the tight end unit who believes they are plenty capable of being on the field aplenty, prove it. And even Shea Patterson, you want to let it rip and be able to throw more deep balls? Make sure they’re on the money. Michigan has an open minded offensive coordinator that wants to see what his players are made of.
I’m not sure how things will shake out, I’m not sure if the Harbaugh-Gattis relationship will work out in the end or not. There’s no way of knowing until games start being played, even they would attest to that no matter how good or confident they feel. The bottom line is Michigan offense is likely better off with Gattis in the picture, because with his arrival the words adaptation and evolution might be words to associate with the Michigan offenses of the future.