Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno discusses Citrus Bowl opponent Florida.
Orlando, Fla. — Tim Drevno insists there really is no secret to Jim Harbaugh’s success, which just might solve that other mystery. The one about how he has managed to coexist with Michigan’s intense, unpredictable and hard-driving coach for more than a decade now, far longer than anyone else.
“He’s the best to work for — there’s nobody better,” said Drevno, Michigan’s offensive coordinator who is in his fourth stop with Harbaugh in this unique coaching odyssey, from San Diego to Stanford to the 49ers and finally here at the coach’s alma mater.
In 11 years, they’ve compiled a 113-41 record, good for a remarkable .734 winning percentage. And with Drevno focusing mostly on the offensive line and tight ends during that time — at Michigan he’s tasked primarily with coaching the line and coordinating the run game — they’ve established a reputation for producing physical, punishing offenses.
Also for keeping their players on their toes, ready for anything — and everything.
“They have a similar personality,” senior guard Kyle Kalis said, “where you don’t really know what’s going on.”
Yet if some find that off-putting, that’s also by design. Getting comfortable in the chaos wasn’t just the headline for a magazine profile on Harbaugh last year. It’s part of the culture he has tried to instill wherever he has had the power to do so.
And for Drevno, the 46-year-old Southern California native who first met Harbaugh when he took over the program at San Diego in 2004, retaining Drevno as his offensive coordinator, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Just the way every day he makes you better,” said Drevno, who rejoined Harbaugh’s staff after what amounted to a year’s sabbatical as USC’s offensive coordinator in 2014. “I just love his competitive fire. We’re looking at things, and he’s like, ‘There’s a better way of doing it. Let’s go research it. Let’s go find a better way.’ We’re always thinking outside the box.”
They even sound the same
Drevno always has been that way, it seems. As a 17-year-old, when he was an all-league lineman at South Torrance, Calif., he wanted a convertible. So he took his old Pontiac LeMans “down to the wood shop and cut the top off to have fun.”
“My mom was fine with it,” Drevno said, “but when I went away to college that car finally disappeared from the front of the house. It got towed away to the junkyard.”
Now he’s Harbaugh’s chief mechanic. And while the endless grind — “We’re always competing ... at everything,” receiver Jehu Chesson says — might rub some the wrong way, along with all those vacant stares and moments of uneasy silence, Drevno hasn’t simply learned to live with it.
“I love it,” he said. “I embrace it.”
“He doesn’t burn guys out at all,” he adds of his boss, though he also acknowledges, “I can’t speak for other coaches out there.”
He does, however, occasionally speak like Harbaugh. (“Definitely,” Kalis laughs.) And he did without even realizing it Wednesday following a Citrus Bowl news conference previewing Friday’s game against Florida.
“There’s a lot of different ways that other people skin the cat, but I love the way that Jim does it,” Drevno said.
Harbaugh has used that old Mark Twain phrase more than once this season. And when quizzed about it, Drevno offered up a few more, including, “That’s the way the pickle squirts” — a line Harbaugh used on national signing day in February.
“We probably got it from each other,” Drevno said.
What they also share, though, is a trust and a history.
Harbaugh calls Drevno a “fantastic coach” and Drevno says “we have a very strong loyalty to each other.” He appreciates the family atmosphere Harbaugh treasures — “You’re important to him, and your family is important to him,” Drevno said — along with the daily challenges from the meeting room to the practice field.
Sure, they’ve had their share of battles over the years, “but that happens,” Drevno said. “That’s natural and healthy.”
And while the good-cop, bad-cop routine is a coaching staple, “They can definitely both be bad cops at the same time,” Kalis said. “I mean, I’ve seen that.”
He’s also sees Harbaugh and Drevno as “a dynamic duo,” a tandem that has produced several NFL standouts and some dominant rushing attacks over the last decade.
“Those two together are a hilarious combo, but also a great coaching combination,” Kalis said. “They feed off each other, they bounce ideas off each other, and they do a really good job together.”
Given his history with Harbaugh, Drevno sees part of his job as that of an interpreter.
“But I think any good assistant, you’re always helping each other out,” he said. “’Hey, Coach wants it this way. Let’s make sure that we have it this way.’ It’s trusting one another and presenting it and making sure the message gets across the room to everybody that, ‘This is how Coach wants it.’ It makes his job easier. Because ultimately it’s about him being successful and us being successful and we’re all in this together.”
Some a bit longer than others, is all.