With Jim McElwain on board, the Michigan staff now has at least four cats with head coaching or play-calling experience at the major-college level on the offensive side of the ball. That is no coincidence, given that Jim Harbaugh likes a lot of voices contributing to the decision-making on game day. But given how much regression has bitten the Wolverines on the scoring front and in the passing game since November 2016, is that necessarily a good thing?
Former Michigan and NFL running back Chris Howard and Land of 10 writer-columnist Sean Keeler favor a simpler approach. Although not necessarily the same one …
Q: WHO SHOULD CALL THE PLAYS FOR THE MICHIGAN OFFENSE IN 2018?
SEAN KEELER: LET JIM McELWAIN CALL THE PLAYS ALONE
As best we can figure, the step-by-step process for a Michigan offensive play call, on a good day, runs a little something like this:
- Greg Frey or Tim Drevno make a suggestion — or two — for a run play.
- Pep Hamilton or Tim Drevno make a suggestion — or two — for a pass play.
- Michael Phelps DMs Jim Harbaugh to suggest a play he scribbled on a napkin.
- If the opponent is from the Big Ten West, the third quarterback consults The Seven-Pointed Star.
- If the opponent is from the Big Ten East, said quarterback consults the I Ching.
- If it’s a nonconference game, the said quarterback consults Dr. Oz.
- All suggestions are transcribed onto neon pink Post-it notes.
- The Post-it notes are neatly folded and placed into a replica of the striped cap the Wolverines wore in their 1879 team photo.
- Harbaugh picks the suggestion he likes and relays that to the quarterback. Or …
- Harbaugh relays both suggestions to the quarterback and lets him decide at the line based on what he sees in front of him.
OK, fine, fine, fine, so we made up steps 3-8. But Nos. 1, 2, 9 and 10 are very much a close estimation of the actual process from farm to table.
Which, come to think of it, might explain why the meat’s starting to taste a little funny.
That’s a lot of cooks. Hell, it’s a lot of plays. Harbaugh prefers the crowd-sourcing method, a process that’s organic, collaborative and gives him as many menu choices as possible as expediently as possible.
And yet imagine how much quicker, more streamlined, things would look if there were one consulting voice instead of three.
Or six. Or however many dudes get a crack at the microphone.
Better yet, imagine if Harbaugh could hand the wheel to someone else. Someone who’s done this big-game deal before, on the biggest stages. Someone who’s shown he can handle the ego of a boss with a — shall we say — controlling mentality without unnecessarily bruising it.
Jim McElwain took orders from Nick Saban for four autumns. You think he can’t handle the best — and worst — that Harbaugh can dish out?
Michigan’s newest wide receivers coach is coming off a Florida run that devolved into a hot mess, and quickly, granted. But while pushing the buttons for Alabama’s offenses from 2008-11 as Saban’s offensive coordinator, the Crimson Tide …
- Averaged 30.1 points per game in 2008, McElwain’s first year as offensive coordinator, making it the first Alabama team to average at least 30 per tilt since 1983.
- Averaged at least 30 points per contest for four straight seasons, something the program hadn’t done since 1970-73.
- Won two national titles.
From 2008-11, McElwain’s Tide offenses averaged 2.88 points per possession (PPP). That’s more than a point per possession better than the 1.81 PPP Michigan’s offense averaged under Harbaugh and DrevPep in 2017, and almost a half-point better per possession than what the Wolverines have averaged (2.43 PPP) over the last three seasons. Given that teams typically get 11 to 14 offensive possessions per game, those are the kind of points that add up.
Revisionist history has been less kind to McElwain, given that the man inherited a game of quarterback roulette from Will Muschamp in Gainesville and never seemed to right that particular ship. The Gators averaged 23.2 points in 2015, Jimmy Mac’s first season as coach, then 23.9 in Year 2, then 22.1 last fall when the wheels came off.
Yet at Colorado State, McElwain transformed an offense that had averaged 16.5 and 21.4 points per contest the two years prior to his arrival into a fun-and-gun machine that put up 36.2 points and 470.8 yards per game in 2013, and 33.9 points and 480.9 yards a game in 2014.
The truth is probably in the middle there, somewhere.
— Landon Watnick (@LandonWatnick) December 2, 2014
From what I can tell of McElwain his strategy is to get the best players he can, keep things simple, and get the ball in their hands.
— Ian Boyd (@Ian_A_Boyd) December 2, 2014
Keeping it simple. Finding playmakers. The Big Ten East is hard enough, unforgiving enough, as it is. If 2017 proved anything, it’s that more cooks don’t add up to more on the scoreboard. And that this broth has been spoiled enough already.