This is the latest in a series examining the 15 most important assistant coaching hires of the 2018 season. Previous installments:
No. 15: Rod Smith, Illinois
No. 14: Matt Canada, Maryland
No. 13: Harlon Barnett, Florida State
No. 12: Jerry Azzinaro, UCLA
No. 11: Bob Shoop, Mississippi State
No. 10: Clark Lea, Notre Dame
No. 9: Bush Hamdan, Washington
No. 8: Herb Hand, Texas
No. 7: Tyson Helton, Tennessee
No. 6: Kendal Briles/Randy Clements, Houston
Who: Ed Warinner, Michigan
Title: Offensive line coach
Previous stop: Minnesota run game coordinator/offensive line coach (2017)
Why he’s important: Ed Warinner has held three jobs over the past eight seasons, and his teams have faced Michigan in each of them. He spent 2010-11 as Notre Dame’s offensive line coach and 2017 in the same capacity at Minnesota. Michigan went 3-0 against Warinner in those seasons.
In the five seasons in between, Warinner was the offensive line or tight ends coach and co- or sole offensive coordinator at Ohio State. In those five games between Warinner’s former team and his current team, Ohio State won each and every time.
Ed Warinner is partly responsible for putting Michigan in the predicament it currently lives in, and now it’s his job to bring the maize and blue out of it.
Michigan hasn’t so much as finished in the top 30 nationally in yards per carry since 2011; they were 61st in 2017. They’ve finished inside the top 30 in sacks allowed once since 2011; they were 111th in 2017. They’ve finished inside the top 30 in TFLs allowed once since 2011; they were 101st in 2017.
In short, it’s been a long time since this program was good, let alone dominant, along the offensive line, and the Wolverines were downright bad in 2017.
Now let’s zoom out and put this picture in the frame. We’re entering Year 4 of the Harbaugh era. The Rodriguez and Hoke eras were what they were, but Harbaugh was supposed to come home and fix this thing. And three years in Michigan has yet to, as any Michigan and/or Harbaugh hater will remind you in your Twitter mentions, finish higher than third in the Big Ten East. The Wolverines were tantalizingly close in 2016, but came that short… thanks to a 4th-and-1 conversion by Warinner’s offense in double overtime.
But, still, Michigan has yet to return to the promised land under their khakied messiah. No one’s going to lead marches on the Big House if Michigan finishes 2018 outside the elite, but a lot of internalized angst will metastasize into a downright existential crisis. Harbaugh himself provides a window into that reality in this brief exchange below:
Michigan got good news when Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson earned a waiver to play immediately this fall, but the former 5-star quarterback’s talent won’t mean much the Wolverines can’t block for him.
Just like Herb Hand at Texas, this is a lot to put on the shoulders of a first-year assistant coach. Such is life when you’re the o-line coach at this level. The offensive line is the foundation on which the rest of the house sits: the hopes and dreams of everyone in the house depend its ability to keep from collapsing.
“Really been pleased with the offensive line,” Harbaugh said this spring. “Run-blocking is improving, probably one of the best things we’re doing right now. As of late, the pass protection has really been improving. Very excited about that.”
“Coach Warinner came in, and he’s helped us out a lot,” guard Cesar Ruiz added. “He’s a great coach. Coach Warinner is the man. We’re becoming a really strong unit. We don’t really feel pressure because every practice we’re getting better and better. We know what we have to do.”
The rebuild is Warinner’s speciality. His first season at Ohio State saw a jump from 43rd to 20th in yards per carry; that was also the year his peers named Warinner FootballScoop’s Offensive Line of the Year. He won the award again two years later — the only two-time winner in the award’s 11-year history — as Ohio State flattened opponents en route to a national title.
Harbaugh needed a new foundation heading into Year 4 of his Ann Arbor homecoming, and in Warinner he has an accomplished general contractor.