Michigan OC Josh Gattis: Jim Harbaugh now totally hands-off with offense

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — When Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said he was handing over the keys to the offense to 35-year-old Josh Gattis, maybe some wondered if he was holding one key for himself just to make certain he maintains a strong influence.

Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, left.

But Gattis, who arrived here earlier this year after spending last season as co-offensive coordinator at Alabama, said Friday he has been in the driver’s seat and there has been no backseat driving by anyone.

Not even Harbaugh, who has “not been involved at all,” according to Gattis.

That means Gattis has been free to install his hurry-up, no-huddle offense that he dubbed “speed in space” in his first Tweet after taking the job at Michigan.

This offense is a considerable departure from what Harbaugh had run his first four seasons at Michigan.

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“Coach Harbaugh has been amazing to me, just the support he’s given our offense,” Gattis said. “He hasn’t been involved at all. He hasn’t stepped in, and I think that’s one of the greatest attributes of a great head coach. And let me say this, a lot of people have put a lot of questions and comments out there in this spring — this is a sign of what great head coaches do. They’re willing to change. I don’t think Coach Harbaugh has ever been labeled one way as a head coach. His offenses at Stanford were different than the offenses he had at San Francisco. You look at what he was able to do when he had Colin Kaepernick and how he changed and evolved the NFL with the quarterback read game stuff.

“He hasn’t been labeled as one way as a head coach. And this is another example, obviously switching things over offensively. There were some spread elements in the offense in the past, but he has given us full authority. This is our offense. This is not my offense. This is our offense. I want every kid to feel like this is their offense. This is not about Josh Gattis and what I’m running. This is not about the offense changing from the year past. Is it different? Yes, it’s completely different than what’s been run in the past. I’ve brought this offense in and I’ve allowed everybody to have a piece of it. But he does not get involved with the offense, and he’s really given me the freedom, he’s given me the authority the way we see is necessary and put our kids in position to be successful. That’s truly a great attribute of his as being the head coach and being the CEO of the program. He felt like he’s doing what’s best to put our kids in position to win.”

Having the opportunity to coordinate an offense is all Gattis asked for, and the experience this spring lived up to all he imagined.

 “I never realized until you’re in that seat how much it controls your brain,” said Gattis, who also coaches receivers. “There’s oftentimes I would go home and I’m texting my own self so I don’t forget my own thoughts. At midnight or 1 o’clock in the morning, I can’t wait to watch the film the next morning. Every day to me has been like living on cloud nine. It’s been a dream. All the work and the preparation it’s taken to get to this point and now to be able to run my own offense and be in charge from that standpoint, my brain doesn’t stop thinking about the next play or we need to run this, we need to run that. It’s been exciting to be able to go out and see the kids able to have success.”

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Gattis has never called plays and said earlier this spring he will work from the press box. While nothing will prepare him like actually calling a real game, he got some experience during spring practices.

“It’s been great how many periods we call in practice,” he said. “I called the whole spring game without a script, and that’s how I do practices. We don’t need a script, I’ve got the plays in my head. This is my offense. I know what I want to call. I know what I want to accomplish.

“We do a number of different periods in practice we call it, which is really good. Situations whether it’s two-minute backed up, red zone short-yardage — we just call it on the field and run plays. It’s really neat because the players also understand as a play-caller what I like to call in those situations. We’ll often watch those plays together on offense so I can explain to them what I was thinking, so they can think like me. The more they have a thought process like me, it allows them to be comfortable, and it allows them to be successful.”

Admittedly the first handful of practices took some getting used to for the offensive players, but Gattis said he seen the overall growth.

About 90 percent of the offense has been installed and some things he held back. And to be clear, he didn’t have all the skill players available because of injuries, like receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins and running backs Christian Turner and freshman Zach Charbonnet.

“There’s things we’ll major in that we didn’t quite get a chance to major in this spring just because of the different things that we go against in practice (from the defense),” Gattis said. “I feel really good about where we are from a foundation standpoint. Our kids have done an unbelievable job executing our offense.”


Twitter: @chengelis