As the Michigan football team practiced outdoors in single-digit windchills this week, snow and ice still on the ground, Chris Partridge didn’t hear a single complaint.
But the safeties and special teams coach couldn’t help but notice that he hadn’t quite dressed for the weather.
“I don’t understand (when coaches wear shorts),” he said. “I don’t want to freeze. I want to have clothes on when I’m coaching.”
In bad weather, Partridge has to worry more than most other coaches — not just because of his apparel choices, but because special teams plays like kicks and punts are affected more by the weather than others. Rain, snow and cold all make kicks harder due to reduced aerodynamics, and wet conditions make returns more difficult without fumbling.
The Wolverines’ coaches have always embraced whatever weather may come and hope their players follow their lead. This is Michigan, after all. And Saturday — when the Wolverines suit up against Michigan State with a forecasted high temperature of 31 degrees — it won’t be their first brush with bad weather.
Michigan took the field before a tilt with Notre Dame on Oct. 26, wearing blue warm-up jackets. Some coupled that with white gloves or long socks to shield from the rain and mid-40s temperatures.
For that game, the Wolverines were more pumped up than usual. “That’s our best warmup we’ve ever seen,” Partridge said.
In the end, Michigan game-planned perfectly for the conditions, sticking to an aggressive rushing attack until the rain slowed and ultimately running all over the Fighting Irish.
But this week, the team will face a different sort of weather challenge in the bitter cold. While Ann Arbor isn’t exactly known for balmy weather in November, most games are at least in the 40s. You’d have to go back six years, to a game against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in 2013, to find a game that kicked off with temperatures below freezing.
To make matters worse, Monday blanketed Ann Arbor in nearly a foot of snow — and not all of it is expected to melt before Saturday. So, to be ready for anything come the weekend, the Wolverines have been switching off between indoor and outdoor practice.
“Coach (Jim Harbaugh) does a really good job of going in and out and being outside,” Partridge said. “It was great yesterday, I don’t think it sucks. I mean, we’re in Michigan, we’re not gonna say, ‘Oh, it’s gonna be warm,’ we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna deal with it, and I think that’s important for the players, too.
“It’s like, ‘OK, well, it’s cold out, so we’re gonna stay inside the whole time?’ No. You play in Michigan. This is what it is. So you go out there and enjoy it. I didn’t hear one complaint.”
According to quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels, cold temperatures, and even snow, don’t affect game plans as much as rain. Wet weather causes the ball to become slippery, which can cause problems in the passing game and with ball security, so safe running plays — like what the Wolverines ran against Notre Dame — are the best bet. As part of pregame preparation, the coaches check the forecasts, cross their fingers that they’re accurate, then adjust on the fly if needed.
There’s no snow in the forecast Saturday, at least not for now. But cold weather can still change the feel of the ball, so it’s important to get reps in for all kinds of conditions.
“My experience is, cold is cold, so it’s gotta get pretty darn cold to factor in, in my opinion,” McDaniels said. “Some guys wear gloves, some don’t, that’s a topic of discussion for quarterbacks. But my experience coaching guys and some playing experience, once you get running around, you’re pretty comfortable and you get used to being in the environment and those frigid, frigid temperatures might affect, at some point, your ability to hold a ball. The feel of the ball is different as it gets colder, but we should be in great shape for this weekend.”
McDaniels was careful to note that cold weather didn’t necessarily mean ball security was harder, just that the texture of the ball could be different and quarterbacks need to adjust. Senior quarterback Shea Patterson is one signal-caller who does wear gloves in low temperatures. He’s done it ever since he was a little kid when the thermometer dropped below 30.
Harbaugh is a perfect poster child for Michigan’s weather mentality. Look at him, and it might as well be 70 degrees and sunny. When Harbaugh and the other coaches adopt that attitude, the players follow suit. If the Wolverines have their way, they’ll play like they don’t even notice the temperature.
“That’s really Jim’s personality, right?” Partridge said. “He can walk outside and everyone else is like, ‘Damn, it’s pouring out,’ and he’ll be coaching his butt off, not even noticing it’s raining.
“You’re like, ‘Does this guy even know it’s raining and freezing?’ But the team gains that personality. The coaches, that’s who they become.”