Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2019 season and beyond.
No. 19: Bryan Brown, Louisville
No. 18: Phil Longo, North Carolina
No. 17: Les Koenning, Kansas
No. 16: Andy Avalos, Oregon
No. 15: Joe Cauthen, Houston
No. 14: Bodie Reeder, North Texas
No. 13: Mike MacIntyre, Ole Miss
No. 12: Andy Ludwig, Utah
No. 11: Kenny Dillingham, Auburn
No. 10: Jim Chaney, Tennessee
No. 9: Sean Gleeson, Oklahoma State
No. 8: Dan Enos, Miami
No. 7: Kendal Briles, Florida State
No. 6: Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison, Ohio State
No. 5: Steve Sarkisian, Alabama
No. 4: Joe Brady, LSU
No. 3: Graham Harrell, USC
No. 2: Alex Grinch, Oklahoma
Who: Josh Gattis, Michigan
Title: Offensive coordinator
Previous stop: Alabama co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach (2018)
Why he’s important: The goal of this series is to balance the short term and the long term. And in Josh Gattis, we’ve found a 10.0 on a 10.0 on both scales.
You’ve got a 35-year-old first-time offensive coordinator attempting a renovation of an offense at one of college football’s most, uh, established brands. Imagine a first-time director rebooting Gone With the Wind into a $300 million futuristic space opera and you’ve got an idea of the stakes here.
That’s not to say Gattis isn’t up to the challenge. He is. A former NFL safety, Gattis learned offense under James Franklin at Vanderbilt and Penn State, studied under Joe Moorhead in State College, then worked alongside Mike Locksley to put together one of the most efficient offenses in college football history, an Alabama unit that averaged 7.76 yards per play (the third most in college football over the past decade) and 45.6 points per game.
Gattis, who endured a tongue lashing from Nick Saban upon leaving Alabama and turned down an agreed-upon job at Maryland to take the Michigan gig, will use his travels to bring Michigan up to the present.
“We want to be an explosive offense,” Gattis said in January. “Obviously, we’re not going to get away from some of the base foundation we truly believe in starting with the run game and being able to impose a physical presence. That’s where it’s going to start for us.
“But it’s also about getting our skill players involved and having answers to what teams want to be able to defensively. We want to be able to dictate the game not only from a tempo and style-of-play standpoint but dictate how teams view us and what we can attack them with. When you look at that whole style of play, are there times we’re going to be multiple? Yes. We’re going to have the ability to be multiple. We’re going to make sure it’s going to be personnel-driven. We’re going to get our playmakers the ball, get our speed out in space and allow our skill players to be skill players and let them be active.”
Tempo, RPOs, all of it, Michigan is actually going to do it.
We even have photographic evidence!
Here's an RPO that went to Tarik Black for a first down. Remember, those are ID'd by the OL blocking a zone play — note Patterson's eyes, reading whether the LB/S goes run or pass. He read run. First down.
Will be a lot more of this in 2019 than there was a year ago. pic.twitter.com/uBASX0ymHi
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) April 15, 2019
“What made me want to commit (to this) was really the quarterback position. Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey, their explosive ability to throw and run,” Jim Harbaugh, who says he’s been following Gattis since he was Western Michigan’s wide receivers coach in 2011, told the Detroit Free Press last month. “They’re used to that. Shea was used to that. Found that Shea was really better in the shotgun after being with him for the first season. We went more to it as the year went on last year. Also Dylan’s ability to just get out and go. To run. Tremendous running ability.
“They’re comfortable in this and this was driven by that. … (Redshirt freshman) Joe Milton and (true freshman) Cade McNamara are suited for it as well. As are most quarterbacks who are coming out (of high school).”
Or, as Michigan offensive lineman Ben Bredeson summed up, “I think we were made for this.”
This isn’t Harbaugh trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If anything, it’s the opposite — it’s Harbaugh ditching the square peg and trying a round one instead.
This should work. Gattis will be Patterson’s sixth offensive coordinator in as many years, but Gattis’s offense is probably most aligned with Patterson’s skill set than any of the five that came before.
So, yeah, this should work. And if it does, you’ve finally got a Michigan team that can deliver on the promise Harbaugh made when he strode in from San Francisco four years ago, to return Michigan to the promised land.
In short, this has to work. As 62-39 taught us, defense can only take you so far in college football these days. Michigan has finished tied for first, third and second in total defense with Don Brown running the show — not in the Big Ten, but in the entire country. Oklahoma, Alabama and Clemson finished first, second and third nationally in offensive yards per play in 2018; Michigan was 42nd.
Michigan has to field a more dynamic offense to take the next step as a program. There’s simply no other option.
All of which begs the question: what if this doesn’t work?
This may be the point where I hazard a guess that sounds like a solid answer, but I truly have none. Jim Harbaugh is a favored son that returned home to Ann Arbor within 24 months of coaching in a Super Bowl and within 12 months of coaching in his third straight NFC Championship game. Fielding Yost isn’t walking through that door.
So… what happens if Gattis shakes up the offense and Michigan still can’t get past Ohio State? Going 0-4 against Urban Meyer is one thing, but trying and failing to surpass Ryan Day is something entirely different. We’re talking about a program that hasn’t won the Big Ten since 2004, a period in which Ohio State has won the league eight times, a period in which the bad guys are 14-1 on the last Saturday in November.
If the worm isn’t going to turn now — when Michigan has an over-qualified coach, an elite defensive coordinator, and a rejuvenated offense while Ohio State is breaking in a first-time head coach — when will it ever turn?
These are all questions three levels above the pay grade of the offensive coordinator, but the answers will be decided by how Gattis implements the new offense and the touchdowns his unit does or does not score. That’s what makes his hire the most important of the 2019 season.