“They can both do better.”

It’s a phrase that’s used — typically as gossip — to suggest that each person in a relationship lowered its standards for each other. It bucks the notion that one person is the reacher and the other is the settler. Rarely does it seem applicable because in most situations, there’s a winner and a loser.

When I saw Chris Low’s report that Jim McElwain was set to become Michigan’s new receivers coach, I had one atypical immediate thought.

“They can both do better.”

For both sides, the move reeked of desperation.

The idea that McElwain could go from being the head coach of one of the top-10 jobs in college football — and two-time defending SEC East champs — to a position coach in a matter of a few short months seemed inconceivable. On the flip side, the idea that a storied program like Michigan was so desperate for any offensive help that it would try and catch lightning in a bottle with McElwain and his failed offensive principles seemed equally inconceivable.

But that’s where we’re at. Whether it makes sense or not, it’s happening. It’s just crazy to think of what it took for both of those paths to cross at this point.

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like a lifetime ago that McElwain and Jim Harbaugh were just a couple of head coaches shaking hands after a defensive struggle of a season opener. Both would ultimately fall short of the high expectations they came into Dallas with.

Harbaugh’s offense scored 16.7 points per game against teams with winning records while McElwain’s offense averaged 15 points against non-Vanderbilt teams before he was fired. Michigan and Florida finished 2017 with a total offense ranking of No. 105 and No. 109, respectively. Non-offensive touchdowns were like a gift from God.

That explains why nobody wanted McElwain to run their offense as a coordinator. Well, and the fact that the No. 109 total offense ranking was actually his best in three seasons at Florida.

Let’s call it like it is.

McElwain’s mess was different than Hugh Freeze’s. He might’ve been far too lax as a disciplinarian, but getting fired for lying about death threats didn’t make McElwain some untouchable commodity in the coaching world. His off-field conduct, while unacceptable, wasn’t the reason he couldn’t at least get an FBS coordinator job. It was his disastrous offenses. You can’t have that much talent and be that bad at a place like Florida without accumulating a powerful stench.

It’s probably pretty hard to get a job as an assistant when you have to spend the interview justifying why you had such little production to show for 3 years of work. Maybe McElwain didn’t even pursue many coordinator jobs and decided that being a position coach with some other offensive responsibilities would be the best way to rebuild his damaged reputation.

Either way, the facts remain. McElwain’s midseason firing meant that he had a head start on finding his next job. It took him until a week and a half after National Signing Day to make that happen. I don’t think that was a coincidence.

Some of that could’ve been on Michigan. It wouldn’t be surprising if, given the circumstances surrounding his termination, the Wolverines elected to let things blow over a bit before re-introducing McElwain in the recruiting world. There’s no harm in letting McElwain try and prove it on the field before he starts selling to the next recruiting cycle.

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, he sold Michigan. McElwain sold the Wolverines on the belief that he can still thrive as an assistant like he did at Alabama, where he was the offensive coordinator for two National Championships (with Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and basically an NFL offense at his disposal).

Maybe that’s what Michigan is banking on. After all, Michigan had to see something. You know, something besides the zero offensive touchdowns they saw Florida’s offense score with eight months to game plan for the season opener…or the seven points they scored when they had a month to game plan for the Citrus Bowl.

It’s interesting because one could argue that those two games were the high moments of Harbaugh’s time in Ann Arbor so far, at least on the field. Without Michigan clobbering McElwain’s squad on neutral fields twice, the Wolverines don’t have many more quality wins to speak of.

The hope now, ironically enough, is that McElwain can be part of a season full of quality wins. He’ll be one of the guys trying to find the secret ingredient to beating Ohio State. This move is evidence that Harbaugh is still searching for whatever edge he can get after his plan to knock off the Buckeyes didn’t work the first three years. Maybe he learned that he needs more help than he once thought.

And maybe McElwain learned a thing or two after the way things fell apart in Gainesville. Perhaps he learned that you shouldn’t turn down advice from people like Steve Spurrier, who knew a thing or two about offense. We could see a new, humbled McElwain emerge in Ann Arbor.

Who knows? After the year that was, I gave up predicting McElwain’s future.

Even if I had a crystal ball five months ago, there’s no chance I would’ve believed where he’d end up.