Jim Harbaugh, Michigan ‘rejuvenated’ after first spring practice

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh evaluated his staff, his players, and, most notably, himself in the offseason. An 8-5 season will do that, make a head coach reexamine why his team drifted.

The offseason has been one of many changes, particularly on the staff.

Harbaugh believes they have already made a difference and used the word “rejuvenated” Friday night after the team’s first spring practice to describe his players and himself. But the evaluation started with him and how he could make improvements.

“(I) assessed the program, myself as a coach and the entire program, and there were a lot of great things in our program and felt like taking those great things and keeping them and then anything that was mediocre, wanted to change it and make it great,” Harbaugh said Friday night after the first spring practice.

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“That’s been a lot of work. Been a process. Maybe that’s what’s rejuvenated me. I feel great about all aspects of the program right now and probably the best analogy I can think of, you plow the fields and expose what’s good and what’s not good and then you go about fixing it.”

The Wolverines, Harbaugh said, arrived for the first day of practice with purpose and confidence. He said that was the case throughout winter conditioning, as the team began working with new strength coach Ben Herbert.

“It’s a rejuvenated team,” Harbaugh said. “I like the way they’ve trained over the last two and a half months and getting back on the field was great today. Attitude, confidence, there’s a bounce in their step. It’s been good over the last weeks, months, and great to get back started on the field.”

The staff, particularly on the offensive side, has had some substantial change.

Tim Drevno, the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach the last three seasons is gone and now coaching running backs at USC. Safeties coach Brian Smith left to be defensive coordinator at Rice, and offensive line/tackles coach Greg Frey moved on to his alma mater, Florida State. Strength coach Kevin Tolbert also is gone.

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Harbaugh hired Ed Warinner initially as senior offensive analyst but he has since been elevated to offensive line coach. Warinner has been credited for producing some great Ohio State offensive lines before heading to Minnesota for one season last year. Former Florida coach Jim McElwain is the receivers coach and Pep Hamilton returns as pass-game coordinator. Sherrone Moore, formerly of Central Michigan, will coach tight ends, and Al Washington was added to the defensive staff.

“Great guys, great coaches, very competent, very good at their jobs,” Harbaugh said of the new hires.

McElwain surprised Harbaugh during the first practice.

“Great intellect but also a lot of fire,” Harbaugh said. “It was great to see his enthusiasm. He gets after it. There’s some paint peeling out there. He gets into it. Didn’t know that side of him. Tremendous enthusiasm. You could tell like all of us coaches, we were chomping at the bit, we were ready to go, but I thought he was outstanding.”

Warinner might have the biggest job on the staff, structuring an offensive line that has been an issue the last few years. He must replace starting center Patrick Kugler and left tackle Mason Cole.

“We’ve had tremendous collaboration on the offensive side with the staff,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been a huge focus for our team. Been doing it for weeks and months now and really like the way it’s come together, the contribution we’re getting. We’re getting contribution from so many great coaches on the offensive side, they’re working great together. Really been good that way.”

Harbaugh hasn’t named an offensive coordinator yet and said it will be a “collaborative process”.

“I haven’t decided. It really comes down to who the play caller is going to be and how we call plays,” he said. “That’s really probably what you’re asking. I haven’t decided that yet. It’s always going to be a collaborative process on the offensive side of the ball. And the defensive side of the ball and the special teams.

“I’m just very excited about the staff. I feel like everything is humming from a staff, coaching staff and also our players. There’s a confidence about ‘em. I said rejuvenated, and that’s what it feels like.”


Twitter: @chengelis