[Bryan Fuller]

Exit Pep Hamilton, Enter Ben McDaniels Comment Count

Brian February 5th, 2019 at 4:14 PM

The Pep Hamilton will-he or won't-he ended the same way Tim Drevno's tenure did: a hard landing after an attempted soft one.

The Michigan Insider has learned that Pep Hamilton is leaving Michigan pursue other opportunities. The program confirmed that former offensive analyst Ben McDaniels will now take over coaching the quarterbacks in Ann Arbor.

Since Michigan gave Hamilton a boggling four year, 4.25 million dollar contract two years ago the "hard landing" in question is more like a Scrooge McDuck vault dive, but perhaps Hamilton's pride is injured since nobody in football wanted him at that price any more. That's the ticket.


Per Webb, Ben McDaniels is now set to be the QB coach, which is a cleaner fit for his skillset since he is a former QB himself and has had a QB title at five different stops during his winding coaching career. Josh Gattis will presumably be the WR coach.

Hamilton became a lightning rod for criticism over the past year despite Michigan's passing efficiency shooting upward as the Speight/O'Korn/Peters era gave way to Shea Patterson. Rarely in the history of football has a guy with a top 10 S&P+ passing offense been so squarely in the crosshairs.

A lot of that has to do with how Michigan achieved those numbers: with an absurdly slow (123rd nationally) run-focused offense that barely connected the disparate parts. Michigan's burgeoning, effective arc zone read game was never paired with any play action off that look except for the very occasional RPO, of which there were exactly three. Patterson's wheelhouse was frequently ignored in favor of slow-developing multi-read plays that he didn't have the patience—or sometimes the protection—for.

Constant rumors that Michigan was going to pitch the whole offense more towards the strengths of their players gave way to post-mortems in which insiders asserted that the plan was not followed on gameday as Hamilton reverted to the Stanford sludge-ball that is his lizard brain default. How much of that is real and how much of it is finding a scapegoat is unknowable. Several aspects of the offense seem more Harbaugh than Pep.

What's certain: Michigan has gotten a ton younger, although this move is less of a youth movement than you might expect. Hamilton is 44; McDaniels is 38. More important is the fact that Pep's departure clears the decks for Josh Gattis to have full control, give or take Warriner suggestions and Harbaugh interventions. With a loaded WR corps and a senior QB, the direction seems clear: replicate the Moorhead-era Deep State approach that PSU took with Gattis at WR coach.

The spring game is now very interesting.


Surveillance Doe

February 5th, 2019 at 4:39 PM ^

Kind of peculiar from a sports-fan perspective. Two years in a row, the die-hards in the fan base basically insisted on parting ways with a particular coach. In both instances, it ended up not being an easy thing for Harbaugh to do, but he made both happen regardless. It's kind of the opposite of what has been happening in East Lansing. 

Maison Bleue

February 5th, 2019 at 4:21 PM ^

I wonder, does Gattis get the official OC title?

EDIT: I guess I shouldn’t have been living under that rock for the last month, as people have informed me below that he already carries that title.


February 5th, 2019 at 4:23 PM ^

I will absolutely travel to Michigan for the spring game now! 

This offense should look a lot different but will Harbaugh keep it vanilla (spring game) as he does not like to have anything on film for the opposition?


February 5th, 2019 at 4:35 PM ^

Looking forward to a day when we stop talking about Harbaugh a some mysterious wizard who has a secret cache of spells, potions and football plays that he doesn't expose to the enemy.

There is no such cache.

He's a regular guy who also happens to be a very good football coach.


February 5th, 2019 at 4:27 PM ^

The real key will be if we can block effectively.  You can only run the things you can consistently block for.

I continue to believe the reason our offense has sputtered since 2011 is because we graduated Molk followed by the rest of that line, and didn't rebuild.

Warriner, work your magic!


February 5th, 2019 at 4:45 PM ^

While your point is certainly valid, the offense design and QB play added great insult to injury. Gattis will install an RPO system that has a very hot pass read at the snap-then the run option-then a medium crossing and deep shot option. This puts the defensive front 6-7 in proverbial hell...and much easier to block. This is actually not that difficult for the QB to execute as the reads in general will be more clearly defined. Here, Mahomes is the Exhibit A magician.


February 5th, 2019 at 5:57 PM ^

OL play has certainly been an issue for this team, but plenty of teams with bad OLs have had better offenses than Michigan.  Look at OSU this year or PSU last year, both had OLs with about equal S&P+ OL ratings to 2018 Michigan but they were top 5 offenses.  It may be too much to ask for that overnight as both had QBs with at least a year in the system and OCs in their second year.

In the end I think it comes down more to Patterson than the OL.  To make the RPO and short passing game work he has to be able to make quick reads.  He was good with pulling the ball on read options but we don't have much of a sample size on quick passing reads.  The ability to keep the back 7 honest with short passes will go a long way towards relieving pressure on the OL and allow more guys to get open deep.


February 5th, 2019 at 6:08 PM ^

Well, you can chalk that up to not recruting tackles...instead, over and over we got interior OL, despite many screaming about it here... was a slow moving train wreck that many saw...then was compounded with Newsome getting hurt, then Drevno missing on guys like Isaih Brown, only to then fill the scholarship with yet another guard....


February 5th, 2019 at 8:22 PM ^

Our passing game required some of the most consistently good blocking possible. Slow ass passing plays in the most obvious situations are HARD on an OL. whatever they replace it with is going to be easier for the OL to block. 

A decent modern OC has an embarrassment of riches all over the field.   


February 5th, 2019 at 4:31 PM ^

Wish Hamilton luck . He really did seem like a scapegoat for a number of issues, but he also didn't add much on the recruiting trail and so I can see the move being a general "he's not a great fit" than specifically about the passing game.

Excited to see how the team looks throwing the ball next year, as the conference really does look wide open 


February 5th, 2019 at 4:59 PM ^

Basically agree. I think a lot of Harbaugh’s issues got pinned on Pep because it was easy. 

But whether unfair or not, Pep was getting paid a lot of money and it’s not clear he merited that pay. 

FWIW he added almost nothing in recruiting but I suspect what he did offer was replaced by Gattis the moment Gattis was announced. 

Space Coyote

February 5th, 2019 at 5:09 PM ^

I tend to think all scapegoats are a bit overstated, and I don't think Hamilton is any different.

From my point of view, the reason Michigan ran a ton of long developing downfield plays is because Patterson isn't great at reading defenses, and the slow developing plays help make read keys more clear (it was a similar strategy Borges used with Denard and Gardner); those route structures, in my opinion, also fit the WR strengths for the most part. It's not that those types of plays were the primary concepts Michigan used, it's that Michigan didn't have enough single man reads to allow the ball to get out quicker.

They were limited in RPOs that can serve for this (the three Brian lists were downfield RPOs, they did run a few more with screens attached, but they failed to ever get creative with the structure), they were limited in some simple fade/back-shoulder type structures that allow Patterson to read a single defender as the rest of the coverage gets pushed off by window dressing. Those are the things that Gattis is supposedly strong in, if his background is any indication. 

Hamilton's primary problem as a playcaller, in my opinion, is that he wanted too much control of every situation. That generally pushed the offense back into tendencies, body blows, and route combinations, rather than letting guys make plays. At the college level, you can tend to give players a little more leeway, because technique of defensive players isn't yet good enough to mostly eliminate the 1v1 stuff. So you can rely more on just letting guys get the ball in space, or throwing a jump ball, etc. That's what I would look for from Gattis.


February 5th, 2019 at 5:37 PM ^

Regarding reads, for Harbaugh’s rep as a QB guy, I wonder if his style of QB coaching and the reads he wants his players to make isn’t making things tough on the players. Everyone has struggled here to some extent, and some of that seems related to processing what they see. 

I don’t know enough to know what that would be, except that one of the big challenges for every guy seems to be understanding and executing the offense. For some guys, like Peters, it appears to have been a real handicap early. 


February 5th, 2019 at 6:15 PM ^

Yeah, I'm a little curious how good they can be with Patterson. Good arm, great spirit and leadership, but he ain't Peyton Manning back there.

Maybe this will actually be easier than what Harbaugh/Pep were trying to do. I don't know enough about the game. But if it involves more reading of defenses Patterson is going to look like a lost little puppy.


February 6th, 2019 at 6:49 AM ^

Pep was a scapegoat in the sense that I seriously doubt all the ill-advised plays were his ideas.  But let's be clear on one thing here.  However good or bad one might think Pep is, he isn't what Harbaugh needed.  It felt like a genuinely bad fit.

I'm not sure how much of the slow-developing pass plays and run-run-ass* sequences are on Pep, but I think after so many years of scouting and watching Harbaugh, I can say he has two bad tendencies.  First, he prefers a run-heavy offense, fine, even when he has better options, not so fine.  Second, when the players don't execute well he tends to crawl into a shell instead of getting them to play through a rut.  As such the team will score 56 points on one day because things were going smoothly, then score 10 because Harbaugh started calling plays not to lose way too early.  However, Harbaugh has also shown an inclination to respect others' opinions, especially when backed with conviction and results.

You know who I'm hinting at.  For the record, I don't feel that Fisch is the greatestest OC to walk the Earth any more than I think Pep is everything that's wrong with the '18 offense, but he was a good fit for Harbaugh -- the kind of guy who'll fight Harbaugh when he's sure of what he's looking at.  It worked well, and to his credit, Harbaugh doesn't hate a guy who'll prove him wrong.  Pep's problem is either his tendencies are too much like Harbaugh's, or he's too much of a system guy to overrule the boss.

A fresh face might help, but I don't think Gattis' capabilities will matter as much as his guts.  Harbaugh's stubbornness is a problem, but it's not an insurmountable problem.  He needs an OC who'll go nose-to-nose with him, so here's hoping Gattis is able & willing to do that.

*saw the typo, left it in there


February 6th, 2019 at 8:35 AM ^

Immensely respect your opinion Space and as another commenter mentioned you should post / comment more. The blog would be better for it.

I don't disagree with your take about Patterson's ability to read defenses, but I'd argue he's probably never really had to. Didn't he run an RPO heavy offense at Ole Miss? One that I thought he was pretty good at. 

I agree with you that Gattis contribution is probably going to be more along the 1 man reads (RPO like) that proliferate in college, but seem much less emphasized in Michigan's current offense.