ANN ARBOR, Mich. — On the final day of his two-year contract at Michigan, Tyrone Wheatley pinch-hit for Jim Harbaugh.
He traveled to Alabama to visit Nico Collins, a 4-star wide receiver who is split between Georgia and Michigan for his college choice. Harbaugh was scheduled to make the trip, but handed the responsibility to Wheatley following the birth of Harbaugh’s son, John, on Wednesday.
If reports are correct, it was one of Wheatley’s final responsibilities as an assistant coach at Michigan.
Sporting News reported Saturday night that Wheatley will join the Jacksonville Jaguars as a running backs coach — the same capacity he held at Michigan for two years. The news of Wheatley’s possible departure comes a day after Western Michigan announced Tim Lester as its head coach; Wheatley had also interviewed for the opening at Western Michigan earlier in the week.
— Alex Marvez (@alexmarvez) January 15, 2017
Scout.com, however, refuted the report.
I'm told report on @CoachWheat6 to Jags is premature. Jags have shown interest. So too have other Power 5s. ALL options still being mulled
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) January 15, 2017
Wheatley’s two-year, $700,000 contract at Michigan expired Jan. 12 (Thursday), and he’s one of four assistants on Michigan’s staff whose contract expires this month. (Anticipate at least one departure or a handful of contract renewals.)
Wheatley made a living in the NFL for 10 years as a running back with the New York Giants and the Oakland Raiders, then as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Bills and Doug Marrone, who was named Jacksonville’s new coach this past week.
Jacksonville is in the midst of a staff overhaul. Earlier Saturday, the Jaguars announced the hires of Perry Fewell as secondary coach and Pat Flaherty as offensive line coach. On Friday, the Jaguars announced the hiring of Joe DeCamillis as special teams coach. More changes could come in Jacksonville under Tom Coughlin, the team’s new executive vice president of football operations, though Kelly Skipper is still listed on the Jaguars’ website as the running backs coach, a position he’s held since summer 2015.
When Wheatley was hired to join Harbaugh’s staff in January 2015, he had a sizeable task ahead of him: to revamp a running backs group that hadn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2011 in Fitzgerald Toussaint (1,041 yards), who now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Michigan is still in search of that 1,000-yard rusher, but its ground game became more productive under Wheatley. In 2015, Michigan ran for 2,057 yards and 27 touchdowns. A year later, Michigan was second in the Big Ten Conference in rushing yards per game (212.92) and had four running backs combine for 2,302 yards and 25 touchdowns, led by De’Veon Smith (181 carries for 846 yards, 10 touchdowns).
Just as important, Wheatley was regarded as a savvy recruiter, helping Michigan land the No. 6 class last year and lining up the No. 4 class so far this season by 247Sports.
With about 2 1/2 weeks left before National Signing Day on Feb. 1, who could take the wheel of Michigan’s recruiting vehicle And when will Harbaugh — one of the more charismatic college football coaches and an excellent recruiter himself — return to the recruiting trail following the birth of his son?
Further, will a departure by Wheatley sway any of Michigan’s incoming recruiting class? Recruiting, after all, is made successful through relationships, and Wheatley was good at that. And now Wheatley, Harbaugh’s right-hand recruiter, could be gone.
Possibly, in a final goodbye, Wheatley posted this on Twitter on Saturday afternoon:
These streets hold my deepest days
This hood taught me golden ways
Made me, truly this is what made me, not a thing's gonna break me! pic.twitter.com/vMp29slTFT
— Tyrone Wheatley (@CoachWheat6) January 14, 2017