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Jim Harbaugh: Josh Gattis will ‘run the whole offense’ at Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Josh Gattis

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has handed the keys of what he referred to as the offensive “bus” to Josh Gattis, and now the young offensive coordinator is ready to roll.

Gattis, 35, hired last week from Alabama, where he was co-offensive coordinator last season, will call the shots for Michigan’s offense this fall.  He appeared on “The Harbaugh’s Podcast: Attack Each Day with an Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind,” which was posted on Tuesday.

Harbaugh and Gattis spoke publicly for the first time about his hire during the podcast.

Harbaugh was asked by host Ira Weintraub how the offense will work this fall with Gattis in the fold.

“Started to think about that. Just the analogy of getting the right people on the bus,” Harbaugh said on the podcast. “We had some coaches depart and looked at that as an opportunity for our football team to grow and make ourselves better.

“I’ve really watched Josh long enough to know and we talked and have the same philosophy, really, offensively, which I like. I like the idea of him running it. We have some very fine offensive coaches here, no question about that. They feel like, ‘Yeah, let’s go. This is the direction we’re going, so let’s go and make it great and make it work.’”

Michigan did not have a designated offensive coordinator last season. Pep Hamilton was the pass-game coordinator and Harbaugh early last season said Hamilton was calling the majority of plays.

Gattis has captured the attention of Michigan fans with his Twitter hashtag “#SpeedinSpace. Gattis, who played safety in college, has distinguished himself as a receivers coach who has developed NFL talent.

“We want to be an explosive offense,” Gattis said, when asked his philosophy. “Obviously, we’re not going to get away from some of the base foundation we truly believe in starting with the run game and being able to impose a physical presence. That’s where it’s going to start for us. 

Donovan Peoples-Jones

“But it’s also about getting our skill players involved and having answers to what teams want to be able to defensively. We want to be able to dictate the game not only from a tempo and style-of-play standpoint but dictate how teams view us and what we can attack them with. When you look at that whole style of play, are there times we’re going to be multiple? Yes. We’re going to have the ability to be multiple. We’re going to make sure it’s going to be personnel-driven. We’re going to get our playmakers the ball, get our speed out in space and allow our skill players to be skill players and let them be active.”

Michigan will be deep at receiver in 2019 with top returnees Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black.

But Gattis said the offensive line, which showed improvement in 2018 in Ed Warinner’s first season as position coach, will be the position group from which everything starts offensively.

“Have a physical presence. We’re going to set the tone each and every week with our guys up front,” Gattis said. “Everything is going to build on that. This isn’t going to be about Josh Gattis. This isn’t going to be about a new Michigan offense. This is going to be player-driven. We’re going to come together. This is about us accomplishing our goals.”

Harbaugh said he has followed Gattis’ career since he was at Western Michigan in 2011 coaching receivers for Bill Cubit. He then was hired by James Franklin to Vanderbilt and Penn State, and he developed NFL receivers at both stops before heading to Alabama this past season. He was co-offensive coordinator for the Tide, the national champion runner-up.

Jim Harbaugh

“I had great respect for Josh for a long time,” Harbaugh said. “Found out through the grapevine that Josh was considering leaving Alabama and going to Maryland (where Alabama co-offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is now head coach). We reached out and asked if he’d have any interest in Michigan. I called at 10 o’clock in the morning and by 3:30 he was coming to Michigan with a signed memorandum of understanding (contract).”

Gattis said last Tuesday, the day after Alabama lost to Clemson, was filled with inquiries from other programs.

“Last week was an emotional week,” Gattis said on the podcast. “It feels like we played the national championship game two years ago – that was last Monday. Coming off the national championship game I had opportunities. A lot of teams were calling to gauge interest. It caught me off-guard because I wasn’t looking to make a one-year stop anywhere. Opportunities started presenting themselves and I had some tough choices to make. Professionally and personally, one of my goals was to be an offensive coordinator. That’s been a lifelong dream of my mine.

“When coach Harbaugh called it kind of caught me off-guard. The funny thing about it, I had just left a meeting with (Alabama coach) Nick Saban getting my butt chewed out for about 20 minutes telling him I was leaving, and he was trying to get me to stay. It did not go over well. If there was a Band-Aid for that bruise it was that phone call (from Harbaugh). It was exciting to hear his voice.”

Winter conditioning began Monday, and Harbaugh said he and Gattis began meeting over the weekend.

“Really excited,” Harbaugh said of hiring Gattis. “A resume, a track record of success when you look at Josh as a coach. The development of players really jumps out at you right away wherever he coaches.

“All in all, just a football ability. Josh is well-regarded across the country in the world of football at all levels. So that was getting the right person on the bus, somebody I felt could coordinate our offense and run the whole offense. Very excited about that. We got better.”