The sting from Michigan football’s final two losses is obvious. And now, those wounds have been immortalized.
“Coach (Jim) Harbaugh gave us some shirts the other day with ‘co-Big (Ten) East Champs’ on the front and all the scores of the games we lost on the back,” said junior tight end Sean McKeon. “I took that shirt and hung it up in the tight ends’ room with the scores. Just a reminder of how the season ended and we don’t want to do that again obviously.
“… A reminder of what we’re grinding for, what we’re working for: Beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten.”
A 62-39 beating in Columbus, of course, shattered both of those goals, and further ignited a call for offensive change.
On Jan. 10, that change arrived in the hiring of 35-year-old Josh Gattis as the new offensive coordinator. Gattis, spent the past season as the wide receivers’ coach at Alabama, and the previous four seasons before that in the Big Ten with Penn State.
The Wolverines have been without an offensive coordinator for two seasons, with play-calling duties spread between Harbaugh, offensive line coach Ed Warinner and former assistant coach Pep Hamilton this past year.
Now, Gattis has a new identity in mind for Michigan.
“When people ask who we are from an offensive standpoint, we’re a pro spread and that’s what I like to tell people,” Gattis said on Friday night, his first public availability since joining the team. “We run from spread mechanics, we’re no-huddle. We don’t huddle ever. But we still have a pro-style emphasis.
Gattis’ most visible change thus far has been a mantra — “Speed in Space” — that has transformed itself into a viral Twitter hashtag. The saying was an early insight regarding the up-tempo, spread offense he has been installing throughout spring practice.
On Friday, Gattis finally expounded upon its meaning.
“One of the things with ‘Speed in Space’ is we’re still gonna have a mindset that we’re an attacking offense, and that we’re in a physical offense,” Gattis said. “We’re just not gonna go out there and dink-and-dunk the ball around, throwing bubble screens and all. No, we’re aggressive.”
Gattis noted that he doesn’t want to completely reinvent the wheel with the Wolverines’ offense, keeping the successes from last year while adding new packages. McKeon, though, said he has “gotta start at square one,” citing the preparation as different than anything he’s done in his past three seasons.
“I don’t know if it was needed or anything,” said junior guard Ben Bredeson. “I feel like you always want to run your offense what’s best for your team. I feel like we’ve got a team that can accomplish this.”
Besides the new hashtags and installations, Gattis has already altered practice dynamics.
“He’s really intense, really intense guy,” McKeon said. “He’s not afraid to get up in your face and scream at you if you mess something up. He’s really holding the offense to a high standard to be successful.”
Added new quarterbacks’ coach Ben McDaniels: “Intense, great energy. … I think (the players) share his urgency to be great.”
While Gattis has seemingly been a culture shock to an offense needing life, his impact and strategy is largely experimental. Gattis has never called plays for a whole game, only offering input in different coordinator roles he has had. He has never coached anywhere but along on the sidelines in his career.
“I’ll be in the booth,” Gattis said. “It’ll be different for me, I’ve never been in the booth. I’ve got a lot of rage on the sidelines I’m trying to control. Now you put me in clear box and try to keep that rage.”
Without a doubt, the Wolverines’ offense will be different in 2019. Whether that’s good or bad will be seen in five months.