Not that I was tired of answering readers’ mailbag questions, but I forgot to post a request for mail and decided to send myself questions. Hope that’s not the same as talking to yourself, because that would be concerning – to me, at least.
This week used to be the calm before the storm, ahead of National Signing Day. But my how things have changed. With the early signing period in December, the February recruiting holiday feels long gone. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk Michigan football, so bear with me while I talk to myself.
► Question: So Angelique, who is the most important coaching hire Jim Harbaugh has made this offseason? -- @chengelis
►Answer: Great question, Angelique. Last year, as the spring went on and then the season, I think most would say Ed Warinner was the key add to that staff as offensive line coach. Hard to argue that. Warinner quickly brought a new way of thinking, and the linemen immediately embraced it and began walking taller with their chests puffed out long before the season even started.
I know you want me to say Josh Gattis is the most significant new hire, and I would say Josh Gattis, but everyone would say that, and it’s time to think out of the box here. Of course Gattis, as the offensive coordinator, is an enormous hire, and Harbaugh has said all the right things about handing over the keys to the offense and letting Gattis run the show, but time will tell on that.
So Gattis aside, defensive assistant Anthony Campanile is an intriguing hire. He’s young (36), has had coaching experience at Rutgers, his alma mater, and Boston College, and six years of high school coaching in New Jersey. Have to say it: These days, in terms of recruiting, younger is better. Not to say older coaches should be dismissed in this area, of course not, but talk to most coaches who have been doing this for a long time, and they will all tell you recruiting is a grind.
As for his coaching ability, Campanile has been described to me as old-school in his approach and that suggests a tough, commanding style and he demands discipline and no excuses. He’s young and is going to want to prove himself in recruiting and coaching. So he’s my pick.
► Question: Which player will be most missed from last season? -- @chengelis
►Answer: This is a tough one and I’m torn between Devin Bush and Chase Winovich. Both were tremendous leaders, fiery, lead-by-example guys and productive on the field. It will be difficult for the Wolverines to replace both of them.
Bush stood out in so many ways. He had speed and his aggressive play set the tone in so many games. He will not be easily replaced. Winovich brought juice to the team, on the field and off. Some people may not have liked the whole “Revenge Tour” business, but it was a nice reminder that this is college football and something like that may be a little corny, but a theme like that is what the college game can embrace. He was a terrific spokesman for the team and when fully healthy he was a dynamo on the field. While there are some proven defensive ends returning, no one will replace his fire.
► Question: Which freshman recruit are you looking forward to seeing? -- @achengelis
► Answer: That one is easy – Zach Charbonnet. Yes, Chris Evans is back and will be the veteran and leader in the running backs room, and everyone has been impressed with the limited playing time of Christian Turner. But Charbonnet is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, and could bring an added dimension to the running game that has been missing. He was the Los Angeles Times running back of the year last season, and that’s high praise considering the talent he faced on a weekly basis. He had 1,770 yards and 13 touchdowns and averaged an impressive 8.2 yards a carry.
Not dismissing what Karan Higdon added to the running attack the last two years and certainly not dismissing what any of the previous backs produced since all-time leading rusher Mike Hart played for the Wolverines, but let’s be clear, that was now a while ago. Hart’s last season was 2007, and Michigan has been searching for a running back – no, Denard Robinson doesn’t count – who can be consistently productive. I have the feeling Charbonnet is going to make a run at being that missing piece.
► Question: With the Super Bowl coming up and Tom Brady making yet another appearance with the Patriots, what was it like covering Brady way back when at Michigan? -- @chengelis
► Answer: This is what I remember about Tom Brady: I always called him a “fourth-quarter quarterback” and a “gamer.” I remember that because I said those things a lot. I once had a one-on-one interview with him and this is what I recall: He was wearing a hat from Paiute Golf Resort in Las Vegas and I also had played there so we talked a lot about golf. I do remember how intense he seemed during the interview in the old recruiting lounge at Schembechler Hall. I called one of his sisters when I was writing a story about him, and she told me about all the times she wanted to turn around in Michigan Stadium and snap at people who were criticizing her brother. It was a tight-knit family, that was very clear.
Brady was intense, he was gracious with his time and, no doubt, supremely competitive. But could anyone back then predicted this career he has had? They’re lying if they said they did.