Michigan mailbag: Keeping up with the changes to Harbaugh's staff

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Don Brown has a couple of key spots to fill on his defensive coaching staff.

In the moments following Michigan’s loss to Florida in the Peach Bowl, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked if he anticipated any changes on his staff heading into next season.

He replied: “No.”

In less than two weeks, Michigan’s staff already looks vastly different, and that has dominated the mailbag questions this week. The questions seemed to be evenly divided between two camps: Will Michigan hire a true offensive coordinator, and what the heck happened with defensive line coach Greg Mattison and linebackers coach Al Washington leaving for Ohio State?

So now there’s one answer — under the cloak of darkness, Michigan hired Josh Gattis, Alabama co-offensive coordinator last year, as offensive coordinator on Thursday.

Harbaugh didn’t have a true offensive coordinator last season and repeatedly said before the season it would be a “collaborative process.” Pep Hamilton was the pass-game coordinator and a few weeks into the season, Harbaugh was asked who was calling plays and he said Hamilton was calling the “majority.”

Now, it appears Gattis, who has been applauded over the years for his work with receivers, will be calling plays. Is this a good thing? He’s only 34 and hasn’t had this level of responsibility. But last season as co-offensive coordinator with Mike Locksley — now the Maryland head coach — Alabama was third nationally in scoring (45.6 points per game) and sixth in total offense (522).

But yes, it was a necessary move to bring in an offensive coordinator, as I’ve contended for the past year. It is important for so many reasons, but mainly to have a designated coach calling plays and to have that consistency.

We will learn more about Gattis' philosophy, hopefully sooner than later, but this doesn’t mean Harbaugh isn’t going to have a huge say in what Michigan runs. Of course he will. It’s just a smart move to hire a traffic cop to handle the offense.

Now to the rest of the mailbag:

Question: What’s up with coaches leaving? Why would Harbaugh let them go? — @goblue_orgohome

Answer: Scott, It wasn’t about Harbaugh letting Mattison and Washington go to Ohio State. Mattison was the defensive line coach and his contract was set to expire this week. Ohio State offered him a lot — a lot — more money to be co-defensive coordinator, and both of those things had to be beyond appealing to him.

id I think Mattison would finish his career at Michigan? Absolutely. Did I think it was strange that Mattison would take a job at Ohio State? Yes, even though I knew he already had left Michigan long ago for Notre Dame. But there was no way Harbaugh would counter and make an offer that could come close to the money Mattison will make at Ohio State.

As for Washington, hey, he’s going home. He grew up in Columbus and his father played at Ohio State. Look at it this way, Harbaugh has an opportunity, with very large input from defensive coordinator Don Brown, to bring in coaches with fresh ideas.

Question: Any good candidates yet to replace Mattison and Washington? — @TerriDorsey1

Answer: Harbaugh essentially leaves Don Brown and the defensive staff alone. He has called Brown the “defensive head coach,” so with that in mind, I would expect Brown is targeting those he’d want as assistant coaches.

Sam Webb of the Michigan Insider reported Thursday evening that Michigan is interviewing Boston College co-defensive coordinator Anthony Campanile for one of the two defensive vacancies. Names with Michigan ties have been bandied about for a few days now, like Jerry Montgomery, formerly an assistant here, and former player Roy Manning.

Brown will have to find a defensive line coach to replace Mattison, but the thing is, with the Washington departure, this isn’t a situation where you have a specific hole that needs to be plugged. There is some flexibility here because there could be some shifting using current staff.

Question: Hey Angelique, does Justin Fields get a waiver? #freejustinfields — @vicdaddy

Answer: With the movement of two Michigan coaches to Ohio State, why not take an Ohio State question from vicdaddy? I covered the Shea Patterson waiver story at Michigan, and Fields shares an important piece in the NCAA waiver process with Patterson — attorney Tom Mars. His role cannot be underestimated. No one knows this process better than Mars and no one is better prepared. I know it’s easy to boil down the argument to what has been reported, that the case is based on racial slurs, but Mars has said there’s more to it than that. I’d believe him. All of that said, yes, I think he will be immediately eligible.

Question: If the Columbus Dispatch offered you a raise, would you cover Ohio State? Asking for a friend — @DetroitPodcast

Answer: Look, money talks, doesn’t it? We’ve seen players leave organizations they’ve been with for a long time to go another team because of that big money carrot. That said, you also have to look at the relationships you’ve built where you work and weigh whether that’s more important. So I guess I’m saying, as much as Bob Wojnowski annoys me, I will stick with covering Michigan for The News.

Question: How many New Year’s Resolutions have you already broken? — @oldmancoyote

Answer: One — responding to your mailbag questions.