It might be summer, but your Michigan football questions haven’t stopped.
The team hit the weight room this week for summer conditioning, which continues through the end of July. Meanwhile, Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the Michigan coaching staff begins the camp circuit on Friday.
All of this marks the sprint toward the start of fall camp and season opener, about three months away. I’m sure for some of you, it can’t come soon enough.
As always, if you have a Michigan football-related question you’d like to submit for consideration, you can ask on Twitter or email me with “Ask Aaron” in the subject line.
Q: I haven’t seen an announcement, so why hasn’t Michigan chosen an offensive coordinator yet? Will it be Jim McElwain? Is Jim Harbaugh going to do it himself? OC by committee … will that work? (Russ H., via email)
A: Before answering this question, Russ, I actually went back to the listing of football coaches on MGoBlue.com to make sure nothing had changed. And as I suspected, no title has been officially added. The reason behind it, though, remains a mystery. I recall asking Harbaugh back in March, at the start of spring practice, whether he had named one and his response made it sound like one was coming. “I haven’t decided yet,” Harbaugh said at the time. It’s been more than two months now and no one has been publicly given the title. Perhaps no one will be.
Remember: Jim McElwain, who spent the last six seasons as a head coach, has plenty of play-calling experience. He did it at Alabama, and had success. But he’s only working on a one-year contract at the moment. And besides, it was McElwain himself who told reporters in April that Pep Hamilton — in his second seasons as assistant head coach and passing-game coordinator — “was running” the offense. That would indicate to me that Hamilton will remain the play caller when it involves the quarterback throwing the football.
Whether McElwain or offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who has play-calling experience himself, factor into all of this remains to be seen. Because at the end of the day, as we saw last season with Hamilton and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno both collaborating on the play-calling process, the name is only in title only. This is Jim Harbaugh’s offense — he’s seeking ideas from others and then picking what he wants to do.
Q: Harbaugh’s first class of recruits will be juniors this year — many of them have NFL talent and could be interested in leaving early. Obviously Rashan Gary is at the top of the list; which others do you think will be good enough to leave before their senior year? (Troy, via email)
A: Rashan Gary is a no-brainer, but there are two other names I’m looking at, Troy, including one who’s popped up in way-too-early 2019 NFL mock drafts. The first is Devin Bush, the all-Big Ten linebacker from Florida who’s impressed ever since he stepped foot onto this campus. Not only did he lead the Michigan defense in tackles in 2017, totaling 102, but he added five sacks and nine pass deflections. He might be a little undersized at 5-foot-11 and 222 pounds, but Bush makes up for it with his straight-line speed and tackling ability. Even if he’s able to duplicate those numbers again in 2018, he’ll have a good chance to go Day 1, if not Day 2 next April.
The second name I could see leaving early is cornerback Lavert Hill. He helped Michigan become the nation’s No. 1 pass defense, earned second-team all-Big Ten honors and has the ability to be an NFL-caliber defensive back. Last season, he totaled 25 tackles and had two interceptions, with Pro Football Focus ranking him as the second-best Big Ten cornerback when it came to opponent’s passer rating against him. He has good speed and natural instincts on the ball, and if he can stay healthy could be another Day 2 pick.
Q: Many that scrutinized Harbaugh for last season will praise him this season if it is a successful season. I’m ashamed of some fans that seem spoiled, arrogant and backstabbing. Instant gratification these days is ruining our entire we-can-do-this attitude. Bo even had a 6-6 season about his fifth year in the program. I just greatly appreciated Harbaugh coming to Michigan and I am willing to be patient. My question is has the Michigan fan base become bandwagon fans like most of the nation has? (John B., via email)
A: Went back and looked — Bo’s one and only 6-6 season came in 1984, his 16th season as head coach at Michigan. He never won fewer than 8 games in a season at Michigan prior to that. But with all of that said, times were certainly different back then. Coaches weren’t paid nearly the money they are today, and quite frankly, they were solely focused on the football side. Nowadays, the head coach acts more like a CEO of a major organization: public appearances all the time, an expanded recruiting cycle, plus there’s the pressure of keeping donations to the football program coming in.
So, as you might imagine, the pressure is on for football coaches to win and win right away. Especially those paid the big bucks like Harbaugh is. So I get it when Michigan coaches say they’re done with the off-the-field theatrics and want something more than a third-place finish in the Big Ten East. It’s been a long time now since Michigan has won a conference championship or competed for a national title. Those are all fair expectations given Harbaugh’s track record and Michigan’s rich winning history.
But it’s also important to put things into perspective, too. Harbaugh came in and put back-to-back 10-win seasons together. The team in 2016 was a score away from playing for the Big Ten title and possible entry to the College Football Playoff. Sure, the breaks didn’t go their way in 2017, but really, they weren’t supposed to. The team was young and dealt plenty of bad deals on the offensive side of the ball. But that was last year. Everyone’s a year older now, a year more experienced, and the time to show growth and development should come. It’s time for Michigan to win a big game or two and compete head-to-head with Ohio State.
When it comes to fandom, I’m not sure I’d classify a majority of the Michigan fanbase as bandwagon. Michigan Stadium still sells out for every home game. The legion still watches in droves on TV. Sure, some folks might tune in and out with wins and losses, but I also get it, too. The diehards want to win now and win all the time. Remember, though, only one team can do that. And right now, it’s Alabama. Now, that is not to say it will continue to be that way, but the road to the top isn’t easy. If it was, every program would do it. The key is whether you think you’ve found the right guy at the top. And if not, who can you hire that is better? I find it difficult to believe anyone could honestly find a better alternative. Because of that, patience will be required.
Q: Recruiting question: Are we in it at all for Devontae Dobbs? (@Hassler247)
A: Missed this question last week, Brian, but the five-star offensive tackle from Belleville announced last Friday his top 8 teams, with Michigan off the list. Michigan State and Ohio State remain the top two contenders for Dobbs, according to 247Sports, and I’d presume Michigan took a hit when Tim Drevno left the staff in March. Drevno was the one primarily responsible for recruiting Dobbs, just like Rice grad transfer Calvin Anderson. Staff changes can hurt – and Drevno’s departure sure didn’t help matters when it came to current recruiting.