- Austin Bigoney/The Crimson White
By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 8, 2014
As the offensive coordinator at Alabama last season, Doug Nussmeier, the Michigan football team’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, was the subject of an online petition calling for his job.
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The petition “To fire offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier” received two signatures.
But Nussmeier, 43, has plenty of similarities to Michigan’s outgoing offensive coordinator, Al Borges, who was fired Wednesday. Both favor the pro-style, downhill running game to set up play-action and vertical routes. Both coach the offense and the quarterbacks.
What Nussmeier had at Alabama, and Borges didn’t at Michigan, was an offense good enough to quell dissent from a fan base that demanded better production.
In Nussmeier, Michigan gains a coach who runs the pro-style offense preferred by Michigan coach Brady Hoke, a skilled recruiter and a proven quarterback mentor. His early success will hinge upon the question that flummoxed Borges and Hoke for all of 2012: how to succeed despite a young and error-prone offensive line.
The early reviews are positive. Before the Sugar Bowl, according to Alabama’s student newspaper The Crimson White, Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops praised Nussmeier and his offense.
“It’s old school. It’s NFL-style football,” Stoops said. “And they come at you in a variety of different sets, shifts, motions. They window dress things very well. It’s very well organized. It’s very well orchestrated.”
Alabama offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio told the Crimson White that everybody loved the offensive coordinator.
“You don’t see a lot of coaches like Coach Nussmeier,” Kouandjio said. “That’s why Coach Saban hired him. And he’s living up to it.”
In Nussmeier’s first year in Tuscaloosa in 2012, the offense set records for touchdowns (68), points (542), total offense (6,237) and passing touchdowns (32). In his first game with the Crimson Tide, his offense dismantled Michigan in the Cowboys Classic. Despite shutting down for much of the second half, the Crimson Tide won 41-14 and put up 431 yards of total offense, including 232 on the ground.
Under Nussmeier, the offense opened up — at least for a Nick Saban-coached team — when he implemented more vertical routes and attacked teams over the top. The offense showed more three- and four-receiver sets, usually with an H-back who could become more involved in the passing game than a traditional fullback.
The Alabama passing game grew with its quarterback, AJ McCarron. In 2011, the year before Nussmeier arrived, McCarron played a role largely described as “game manager.”
By 2013, according to Marc Torrence, sports editor at The Crimson White, McCarron “had the greatest season as a quarterback in Alabama history. You have to attribute that somewhat to Nussmeier.”
At Michigan, fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner showed potential in his first full season at the starter, but he committed costly turnovers early in the season and had a tendency to hold onto the ball for too long. Sophomore quarterback Shane Morris displayed ample ability in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, but is still inexperienced. Nussmeier should help groom both quarterbacks.
Nussmeier was a quarterback in college at Idaho and for five seasons in the NFL. He began as a quarterbacks coach, with stints at Michigan State and with the St. Louis Rams. He graduated to offensive coordinator at Fresno State, before moving to Washington and Alabama.
Quarterbacks Jake Locker, Drew Stanton, Jeff Smoker and Marc Bulger are all former pupils, all of whom played or currently play in the NFL. When Keith Price inherited the quarterback position after Locker left for the NFL, Nussmeier coached him to new records in touchdowns, completion percentage and passing efficiency. In fact, Washington improved statistically in each of Nussmeier’s three seasons there.
Nussmeier is ranked the 14th best recruiter in the nation by 247 Sports’s coaching database, and he could push to sign five-star quarterback and Alabama commit Ricky Town. Nussmeier was the lead recruiter in snagging Town, though ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren reported that the quarterback is planning to stick with Alabama after the two exchanged texts Wednesday night.
Still, the offensive line has carried Nussmeier’s offense while at Alabama. In 2012, the Crimson Tide featured one of the best offensive lines in college football history, three offensive linemen that were drafted in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft, including two picked in the first round.
Michigan’s line will require much more development. By the end of the year, Borges had tinkered with an unbalanced look, an end-around heavy offense and a screen-dependent attack to mask an interior incapable of opening holes. None of it worked.
Nussmeier has experimented little at Alabama.
“You didn’t see a lot of new wrinkles, a lot of new things here and there,” Torrence said. “It got pretty predictable at some points.”
Crimson Tide fans point to the loss to Texas A&M in 2012 as particularly frustrating. Despite heroics by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Alabama still had a chance to win the game on its last possession. Needing a touchdown on 1st-and-goal from the six-yard line, with the best offensive line in the nation, Nussmeier called three passes out of the shotgun, with just one run.
The Aggies intercepted the fourth-down pass, and Alabama lost.