Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh recaps Peach Bowl after the 41-15 loss to Florida on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in Atlanta.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
Welcome to the football offseason.
For Jim Harbaugh and company, it’ll be another long one.
So let’s get right to the mailbag.
Q: Is Jim Harbaugh going to hire an offensive coordinator? — everyone
A: This has been the consensus question via email and Twitter all week long. Has been for months, frankly. So I figured I’d just round them up into one.
Harbaugh said immediately after the bowl game that he doesn’t anticipate any staff changes moving forward. But that doesn’t guarantee anything. Harbaugh has had 10 assistant coaches leave this program through four years. Two (D.J. Durkin and Jim McElwain) have left for head coach positions. The rest have left for other assistant jobs. That’s a lot of turnover.
No turnover beyond McElwain this year would be completely against type for a Harbaugh staff at Michigan. Change is constant everywhere. But it’s been rapid here.
But back to the question: Will Harbaugh hire or promote someone to offensive coordinator. He could. But that’s really not the question most are asking. Most want to know if Harbaugh will name an offensive coordinator and let that person install and run an offense on their own. Basically giving them the same type of freedom he’s given Don Brown with the defense.
I’ll believe that when I see it.
Again, that would go so far against everything we know about Harbaugh’s coaching history: To simply give the keys to his entire offense over to someone else and basically step aside while sweeping philosophical changes are made seems like the most un-Harbaugh thing ever. At least on the surface. He’s been the architect and chief operator of every offense he’s built. Ever. He spent two years as an assistant coach in the NFL in his late 30s before bucking the usual coaching ladder to be a head coach at San Diego. He’s never looked back. He’s never done anything someone else’s way. He’s relied on his staff, sure. But his staff runs what he wants. It’s the way it’s always been.
The biggest issues right now are the unwillingness to let athletes be athletes and the tempo. Michigan’s offense crawls far too often. Harbaugh’s play-calling system, involving multiple voices, takes too long and everything drags.
I’d be surprised to see him stand down as Michigan’s offensive chief. And while it’s not out of character for Harbaugh to do something that surprises everyone, I think the bigger question should be: Will Harbaugh himself change his overall approach to offensive football?
if he’s not willing to do that, then who he hires in a hypothetical scenario is, in my opinion, irrelevant.
Q: What do you think the chances are that Harbaugh opens up the offense next year? With 3 stud outside receivers and some good looking athletes coming in at slot seems like an easy decision. Especially with the running back situation. — @bisett14
A: Pretty good segue here.
It does seem like a no-brainer. And, frankly, it could wind up being the thing that defines his tenure here. Michigan has Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black scheduled to return next season with a senior Shea Patterson. If this offense isn’t built around those four, it’s malpractice.
Because we can argue about which philosophy is best and whether or not Harbaugh’s current system can work in the modern game (it can, but you’d better have the best athlete at every position on the field) all we want. But no one’s ever going to argue against building an offense that centers around your best players. And make no mistake, the way it looks today, Collins, Peoples-Jones, Patterson and Black are Michigan’s most talented football players entering 2019.
Michigan’s approach of grinding a team down with the run game while taking measured chances through the air works if your offensive line is physically and athletically better than every opponent you play, your running back stable is deep and your defense never cracks. Michigan can pull this off nine or 10 times a year and be fine. But the difference between good and great is being able to play at any speed.
In 2019, Michigan’s best players will be on the perimeter. Which means Michigan’s offense will need to put more emphasis on creating 1-on-1 situations in space than time of possession.
You can do both, depending on the situation. But one needs to outweigh the other. If Michigan doesn’t capitalize on this talent at wide receiver right now, the odds of signing another receiver with that type of potential will be long at best.
Will this happen? Harbaugh’s adjusted before. He adjusted last offseason and, eventually, tweaked how the Wolverines ran offense in 2018. It wasn’t enough, but it was something. Somewhere between a baby step and a leap.
He’ll need the leap this time around.
Q: Level of concern on the (Isaiah) Livers injury? — @fjnovak1
A: Beilein said Friday he doesn’t believe it’ll be a long-term situation in that there was no serious damage revealed through tests. Same time, back spasms can linger and return at a moment’s notice. So it’s not irrelevant.
The key will be for him to take his time with this and not rush it back. If he’s in pain, there’s no reason to play, over-compensate and then hurt something else as a result.
He’s an extremely important cog in this whole team as he allows Michigan to fluctuate from big and small at a moment’s notice. He’s capable of playing multiple spots on the floor and when he’s out, that means heavy, heavy minutes for Charles Matthews and Ignas Brazdeikis.
Double foul trouble there would be a bad situation if Livers can’t play.
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter nickbaumgardner.