The Post Where We Admit That Michigan Has In Fact Hired Jim McElwain Comment Count

Brian February 16th, 2018 at 1:47 PM

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good offensin' [Chris Cook]

So Michigan just hired Jim McElwain to coach football in some capacity. That capacity is apparently offensive coordinator and WR coach. This doesn't make much sense to me. McElwain becomes Michigan's fourth offensive coordinator, more or less, along with Harbaugh, Drevno, and Hamilton. He may be second amongst equals, for whatever that's worth.

McElwain was a notoriously bad recruiter at Florida, failing to crack the top ten once during his tenure and finishing no better than fifth in the SEC, and that was with a steady stream of Questionable Dudes that came highly rated but had seen various other teams back off. Those questionable dudes saw their super powers combine into a credit card scam that got a tenth of the team suspended last year. If you were to go back and re-rank recruiting classes by removing confirmed knuckleheads, Florida would plummet towards the nether reaches of the SEC.

Meanwhile, McElwain had a public meltdown about an internet joke, twice, made an unsupported assertion he had received death threats that almost got him fired for cause, and marketed his own barbecue sauce in the midst of a disastrous, tenure-ending football season.

Whatever offensive aptitudes he seemed to demonstrate at Alabama and Colorado State evaporated in a haze of ineptitude in Florida. Spencer Hall:

Statistically, Jim McElwain turned 2017 Florida into 2017 Rutgers. There is no evidence McElwain or the offensive staff can develop a quarterback or build an offensive line or tell a wideout how to run a route. There’s actually less and less evidence the offense is even designed competently. The big highlight—maybe the only real morbid but funny highlight, really—of watching Gary Danielson this season call a long string of SEC blowouts has been him literally correcting play design for Florida on the screen. He does this when not openly laughing at false starts and procedural penalties. It’s a full to-do list when watching Florida football, and just getting through half of it should earn him an Emmy.

Yours truly surveying the devastation after the opener:

Watch Florida left tackle Martez Ivey start yelling at the left guard on the Furbush touchdown before the play is even over:

You! Come over here! I know you're in the middle of a football play, but look upon the destruction your incompetence has wrought! Feel in your very bones the touchdown you have given up and shall never recover from! Eat at Arby's!

Also here is Florida's quarterback getting hammered on a rollout that Michigan rushed three on.

That's some dystopian business right there, and we should slow our roll a little given the evident dysfunction of the opponent. How much? I don't know.

McElwain doing well at Alabama proves little; having a decent offense at Colorado State because five-star Dee Hart needed a landing spot and rushed for 6.6 YPC doesn't prove a whole lot more. What success Florida did have under McElwain was an artifact of a trash SEC East and a defense he inherited from Will Muschamp.

On the positive side, McElwain does have a lengthy tenure as a collegiate WR coach stretching from 1987 to 2005, with the odd QB or special teams duty thrown in. And he probably has some great stories about John L Smith, who he coached under for five years at Louisville and Michigan State.

The best thing about this hire is that it doesn't really matter since it's Harbaugh's offense anyway. While McElwain comes in with a very Greg Robinson track record—aging successes and recent debacles paired with press interactions that make him seem slightly insane—he's not going to be put in charge of half the team and subsequently told to run something he's completely unfamiliar with. But neither is he likely to move the needle in recruiting or help organize the team. He'll seem like a brilliant WR coach because Michigan's WRs are about to get a lot better by virtue of not being freshmen, in the same way Ron English was a god until he wasn't.

Maybe once released from the prison of being a head coach he's actually a good offensive coordinator—but Michigan doesn't need tactical help. They need someone who can throw a ball straight and an offensive line that doesn't get that guy and his backup murdered. They do need a skill position coach and McElwain sort of fits there. He seems more like a duplicate of a duplicate, and he is very hard to take seriously after his year of baffling press conferences and Keystone Kops coaching.

He's a tenth assistant, and therefore more of a missed opportunity than a burgeoning disaster. And since every other thing with a track record immediately defies it when it arrives to do Michigan football things (except Don Brown, God bless Don Brown), maybe he'll be brilliant.



February 16th, 2018 at 1:56 PM ^

this team is stacked with talent coming back, find a left tackle get patterson eligible and the rest is offensive play calling, there is so much talent all over, the only teams with more talent next year are probably osu, bama, uga,...? clemson? usc? lsu? NO excuses next year, its all on the coaches to deliver. 


February 16th, 2018 at 2:23 PM ^

It's not just the play calling, or the LT, or the QB. The OL could not block a stunt or a pickup a blitz to save their life. The WR's could not get open consistently and when they did would drop the ball. The RB's missed repeatedly holes in the run game and couldn't pass protect in the throw game. All three QB's looked like shit. When three QB's look like shit, maybe it's the coaching and not the players. It's the fundamentals of the offense, and I'm not surprised they are lacking considering the coaches on that side of the ball. Contrast that with the coaches on defense where Greg Mattison is a lifelong DL coach, Don Brown is a lifelong DC/LB coach, Mike Zordich is a former NFL DB and lifelong DB coach, and Al Washington (former DL and LB/DL coach) and Chris Partridge are the two best recruiters on staff. It's no wonder the defense has been great every year under Harbaugh. You actually have position coaches where on offense you have a collection of offensive coordinators with a collection of ideas on how to do things and what you get is an offense that collectively doesn't have an identity and struggles to do even the simplest things right.

Space Coyote

February 16th, 2018 at 2:47 PM ^

And not limited to a single position or problem.

However, your coaching concern is quite misleading.

Mattison, a lifelong DL coach, was also a DC for a lot of years. If it can work on the defensive side, why can't it apply on the offensive side?

Pep Hamilton has essentially been a QB coach all but one year dating back to 1997. He was a successful OC at Stanford for two years, but he's always been responsible for QBs as well.

Tim Drevno has been involved in OL coaching every year since 1999. He was a run-game coordinator for a single year at USC before coming to Michigan, but he has much more OL coaching experience and has always had that additional title to his name.

McElwain was a WR coach for nearly two decades before becoming an OC/QB coach (which work a lot with WRs) and then a HC. He had a long track record of success with WRs, which is why he got promoted.

So that basically leaves the younger Harbaugh that doesn't fit what your saying, assuming he isn't a good recruiter.

So you can't blame the lack of fundamentals on the offensive side on coaching experience. The coaches are experienced. Whether they need their roles altered, whether than aren't effective at position coaching, whether the players aren't getting it for some other reason, is yet to be seen, but needs to be fixed for the team to improve. But to call the offense just a collection of coordinators in a strictly negative fashion is completely misleading.

I'm not sure it's really all that confusing as folks are making it sound. McElwain is taking over the primary play calling position and helping with the WRs. Drevno will focus on the OL, which will give them a big benefit for coaching on the sidelines both in games and in practice when he isn't watching the whole side of the ball, and Pep will have QBs. They will all gameplan together, just as almost all teams do. All will have some level of input, as basically all teams do, often from feedback from their players. But McElwain will call plays.

And I'm not sure why you wouldn't want that feedback loop. If an OL coach releazes his guys can't block IZ vs a 3-tech with a LB stacked over him, don't you think that's info that should go up to the OC: "don't call Tight Zone to the field because we can't handle their base Over on normal downs".

If the QB coach is seeing his guy hesitate and talks to him on the sideline and he seems uncomfortable with his read on a certain play. Or, if a QB coach sees that a guy really has a rhythm on a certain drop or look, don't you want the OC to have that feedback? They should have input.


February 16th, 2018 at 4:46 PM ^

Seems relevant here, where all positives will be attributed to Harbaugh and the negatives to McElwain. I think people look back in hidsight and attribute all positives from the Michigan offense in 2015 and 16 to Harbaugh and Jedd Fisch and all negatives to Drevno. Perhaps it is reasonable to think that he's not cut out to be an OC, but the track record is there as an OL coach. 


February 16th, 2018 at 4:43 PM ^

Jay Harbaugh is a great case of priorities. 

That guy used to be on twitter non-stop pushing the Michigan brand. Since he got married I dont think I have seen him on my timeline once. Ya its just twitter but Jay didnt have a solid coaching background so he was supposed to be the "enthusiastic recruiter" and it seemed effective. 

Now if he isnt flying around recruiting & dedicating more time to the brand than other coaches what exactly is he being paid from daddy for?

The Pope

February 16th, 2018 at 3:45 PM ^

I think Drevno and Hamilton are good coaches who were put in the wrong roles (the wierd shared coordinator thing).  It sounds like they are now in roles where they have had success in the past, and are likely to have success this year.  Not sure exactly how the collaboration will work, but this seems like better defined roles for each guy.  


February 16th, 2018 at 5:24 PM ^

to each of our OL coach, our QB coach, and our WR coach/oc plus $7 million to our offensive-minded HC and we're desperately scouring the Ivy League commit PWO circuit and C-USA transfers to try to stay afloat on that side of the ball.

Meanwhile Don Brown's over there clobberating people regardless of turnover on his staff that's probably being paid a quarter of what we're spending on offense.


February 16th, 2018 at 3:21 PM ^

right behind Michigan at #105. Our honest to god solution for improving our offense is to bring in the HC from one of the few schools performing worse offensively? What?

That's literally the exact opposite to the approach Harbaugh took with the Don Brown hire.

The Pope

February 16th, 2018 at 3:50 PM ^

McElwain has a good record as an OC.  We are not hiring him as a head coach, but rather are putting him in a position where he has been successful.

Just because he sucked as a head coach, doesn't mean he can't help our offense.


Edit:  Actually just read MGoLow's comment below...he does a good job of making the point I was trying to make.



February 16th, 2018 at 5:15 PM ^

is being way too hard on McElwain. He's a much better coach then this is giving him credit for. He did an outstanding job at CSU and Dee Hart had very little to do with it. Hart was not even the feature back on that team and split reps and still had an outstanding year, and he was only there for one year, much because of the job McElwain did coaching that team.

McElwain was an outstanding OC at both Alabama and Fresno State and has done some good work as a WR coach over the years.  Our WR's are not going to take a huge step just because they are no longer Freshman, Sure it helps, but they need to be coached up and I think McElwain will help them make the big step.

Sure last year was a disaster for him, but not sure I would say one poor year wipes away many years of good coaching.

To land a guy with his resume to be an assistant coach is a very good find for Harbaugh. Are there better coaches out there then him?? Probably, but if there are it's not a lot and it's not likely they are going to jump to be an assistant coach here.

Let's give it a season to see how it works out before we start stringing him up.


February 16th, 2018 at 2:09 PM ^

I tend to agree with these takes. While M's offense will look better next year based on aging and subtracting O'korn alone (and, like, it couldn't get any worse?), I don't think McElwain can hurt. As has been said, JH has playcalling veto power anyway. Remember how Jedd Fisch was run out of town in Jax and then was awesome here? Sometimes coaches are better when they have less on their plate and can focus more on their specialty. Also didn't we hire Roundtree as a WR grad assistant? That should also help with the WRs.


February 16th, 2018 at 3:03 PM ^

Hello: Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson

but I do recall feeling a sense of doom when he was hired. I think his main plus was that he had good defenses at Denver, but everything else was disastrous and he was coming right out of being laughed out of Syracuse (which is unfortunately similar to McElwain).

I could argue either way. You could argue that McElwain built Bama's offense into what it is today and did it without the star power they've had recently, but you could also argue that it was because of Saban's recruiting and the offense actually got even better once McElwain left. The fact that Nussmeier's name is in there with two top 10 offenses tells me that a number of guys could look real good with Saban's roster

Year Off S&P Rk OC
2007 70 Applewhite
2008 25 McElwain
2009 14 McElwain
2010 2 McElwain
2011 20 McElwain
2012 7 Nussmeier
2013 9 Nussmeier
2014 7 Kiffin
2015 24 Kiffin
2016 5 Kiffin
2017 23 Daboll

Seems cloudy. I'll say what makes me feel better about it is, is that Harbaugh is the true OC. Now that has it's own issues, but we're not giving McElwain the keys to the car like he's the Don Brown of the offense. OTOH. now I feel like we have Harbaugh and 3 mediocre OCs. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Mr Miggle

February 16th, 2018 at 5:08 PM ^

then says we have 4 OCs, I'm not taking that as gospel and using it as a basis for more complaints.

I'll wait and see, but to me, McElwain being named OC means he's taking that job from Drevno. Isn't that what we want? A new OC, Drevno more focused on the OL and Pep's role diminished. I add the last part because McElwain doesn't need as much input from a passing game coordinator as Drevno would. 

McElwain is an experienced and successful OC. That's the one obvious thing this coaching staff has lacked. He's used to coaching a style that fits our current roster and what Harbaugh prefers. He's also primarily a WR coach, something else we've needed. He has his faults, but that's why he's available. I haven't heard much in the way of slam dunk candidates we could get instead.

All this negativity flies completely in the face of the other personnel moves Harbaugh has made this off season. He's directly addressed several issues we've been complaining about.

He brought in Al Washington, an excellent recruiter with connections in Ohio, his new territory.

He kept Partridge and gave him more responsibilties, including with recruiting.

He hired Sherrone Moore to coach TES, a young coach considered a very good recruiter who will focus on Michigan.

He got Ed Warriner as an analyst. Clearly he's in line to take over for Drevno.


February 16th, 2018 at 5:30 PM ^

I keep getting really confused everytime that Brian says the 4 OC thing, bc the reports I saw the night McElwaine was hired all said that McElwaine was OC/WR, Drevno was Assoc HC/OL coach and Pep was just QB coach. That seems pretty cut and dry that JM is the OC (with JH's input).

So either, everything I read was wrong, Brian, they guy who makes a living seeing UM news didnt see those, or Brian wants to complain about something bc he doesnt like the hire and has been apathetic for a while now. 



February 16th, 2018 at 7:32 PM ^

I'm most interested in where the coaches will be on game day. I think this means McElwain is up in the box.

This allows Pep to go to the sideline and handle the most important player on the field in person -- this could be a huge improvement while having next to no drawback, since we didn't have a QB or WR coach on the sideline this year.

I think this should also help the OL, by freeing Drevno up entirely.

Should be interesting.


February 16th, 2018 at 1:53 PM ^

negative nelly, Michigan needs a new offensive coordinator/ passing game coordinator and to tell you truth im glad to see someone other than pep hamilton calling those shots because his passing concepts were absolutely horrible 


February 16th, 2018 at 2:48 PM ^

Brian's pessimism is noted, but a program doesn't hire a guy on merit (and it has to be merit, as Harbaugh has no history with this guy), with the applicant accepting the offer, unless both stand to gain.  So consider what would make this a win-win.

Michigan has young talented WRs and needs WR coach.  McElwain has experience coaching WRs.  Why wouldn't he coach the WRs?  What's he going to do, recruit?  He's probably a 1-2 year rental while he tries to distance himself from the mess he made of Florida, and in the meantime he has a great group of receivers from which to rebuild his tarnished reputation, as a position coach.  If I'm interviewing McElwain for the WR coaching job, I'd absolutely want to know if he'd be interested in such an arrangement.

As for OC since others are making a deal of it re: Drevno, Pep and now McElwain, I really don't know why everyone's so confused.  All we've been told indicate the OC label is both ornamental and not.  Harbaugh has VERY consistently maintained from Day One that multiple coaches call plays and he sorts out the mess.  So I presume "OC" means you are one of the coaches called upon to think up and suggest plays because Harbaugh's offenses are always hungry for new wrinkles.  While it remains Harbaugh's offense, designing and calling plays are OC work, so in return you get to put "Michigan Offensive Coordinator" on your resume.  The title isn't entirely a farce, but it's nowhere near the responsibility or autonomy of most OCs.