Spring comes at you fast, assuming it comes at all. We interrupt your irregularly scheduled April snowfall for a reminder that it’s game week in Ann Arbor, where the forecast Saturday calls for an 80 percent chance of showers and a 75 percent chance of Shea Patterson.
“I believe kids should be able to transfer and play immediately, in any circumstance, as long as they’re in good academic standing,” Big Ten Network football analyst Gerry DiNardo told Land of 10 when asked about the Michigan quarterback and Ole Miss transfer. “I’m hoping he becomes eligible … I’m pulling for him. I hope he’s eligible.”
We know the wheels are turning, at least, which is progress. We know from Patterson’s lawyer that the NCAA has asked for more information, and that pondering beats silence any damn day of the week.
We know Wilton Speight has been spotted kicking the tires in Westwood, which you could read any number of ways.
We know Jim Harbaugh wants a hug.
We know the offensive line is getting back to basics under Ed Warinner.
We know Donovan Peoples-Jones is making baby steps forward again. And the right baby steps, which is even better.
We know we’d run through five brick walls for Don Brown. No. Six.
Mind you, as spring football for Year 4 of the Harbaugh Era hits the back nine, what we don’t know is who’s calling the offensive plays. Still.
“Well, I think it’s [another] mystery novel, where there are certain characters,” DiNardo said. “And then, the following year, it’s another mystery with different characters.
“How did they call plays last year? Does anyone really know? I mean, seriously — I don’t know. Jedd Fisch said something a couple years ago that they all call the plays. And then he left.
“But I haven’t heard anyone say how they called the plays last year. I think it’s fair to say that [with] play calling and offensive play strategy, Jim Harbaugh came into Michigan with a reputation of [being] an offensive guy. It looks a lot like Stanford and the 49ers, so we have to assume his fingers are all over it.”
Beyond that, kids, assume at your peril. Last fall saw three Michigan offensive staff bios — Pep Hamilton (passing game), Greg Frey (run game), Tim Drevno (offense) — that featured “coordinator” in their job title. The play calling was presumed to be a collaborative effort, only the whole shebang came off more like Damnocracy than the Traveling Wilburys, and the less said of 8-5, the better. (Although while we’re on the subject, if Amazon wants a follow-up to All or Nothing, a reality series in which Ted Nugent joins the Michigan staff and tasked with running the offense would be viral gold.)
‘I haven’t heard anyone say how they called the plays last year. I think it’s fair to say that [with] play calling and offensive play strategy, Jim Harbaugh came into Michigan with a reputation of [being] an offensive guy. It looks a lot like Stanford and the 49ers, so we have to assume his fingers are all over it.’
— Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo on the Michigan offense
Now only one offensive assistant (Hamilton) is designated as a coordinator. Except the two newest additions to the offensive staff — Warinner and Jim McElwain — have been successful to serviceable FBS offensive play-callers in their previous coaching lives, leaving one to assume — again — that was at least one of the reasons they were added to the cast, even though their current titles don’t dictate that kind of input.
“I think Jim McElwain is probably a really good coach — I’ve never competed against him, I don’t know him,” DiNardo said. “He did a heck of a job at Colorado State. He won the [SEC] East at Florida two out of three years — that’s pretty good. I don’t know. I guess he’ll do OK.
“He’s the wide receivers coach; wide receivers coaches, they don’t usually call games. I could be wrong; this could be like the cutting edge. But wide receivers coaches traditionally don’t call plays unless they’re the wide receivers coach/offensive coordinator. [Warinner being] the offensive line coach, they very rarely call plays. Jim [McElwain] is the wide receivers coach. It’s Pep Hamilton who’s the pass-game coordinator. So he must call the pass plays. So we’ve got that down.”
As for the rest, well …
“[Drevno had] been there a long time,” DiNardo said of the longtime Harbaugh coaching confidant, who left the program for USC over the winter.
“Honestly, I was surprised. Again, we don’t know what’s going on at Michigan, if he called plays. And I’ve been a coach, and I’ve been the coach that called plays. And I don’t think there’s any job tougher than calling plays on Saturday afternoons or Saturday mornings. Whether you’re the head coach or whoever called the plays, however you’re structured, [they have] to understand that of the 100,000 in the stands, 95,000 are offensive coordinators; 5 percent are defensive coordinators. Everybody can call plays … not only can they call them, they can call them better than the game-caller.
“The game-caller is under more pressure on game day than the coach, without a doubt. I’ve done both of them separately, and I’ve done them together and it’s the most pressure there is in college football. So it’s hard.
“But Drevno had been with him a long time. I think the Michigan fans think he was [the guy]. Now everyone holds the cards in front of their mouths. It could be the nuclear codes, nobody really knows … it seems like everybody has to cover their mouths, [as if] somebody’s watching.”
We know this thing is either about to get simpler, or a hell of a lot more collaborative.
And, by that, we mean … complicated.
“I’ve been to practice, [Harbaugh’s] obviously been involved with the offense,” DiNardo said. “How they’ve done it in the past, it’s like a hodge-podge, and I’m guessing. It’s hard to know what Michigan’s doing … they really don’t want to share things.
“Urban [Meyer] came out and said, ‘Ryan Day’s calling the plays.’ With Paul Chryst, it’s Joe Rudolph, although Paul’s involved. With Iowa, it’s Brian [Ferentz]. With Illinois, it’s going to be the new guy, Rod Smith. With Rutgers, it was Jerry Kill.
“It’s only a mystery in Ann Arbor. Which is OK — they have every right to keep it as a mystery. I’m not complaining, I’m just stating what the facts are.”