Michigan football: Early look at Wolverines' 2022 coaching staff
If one thing is for sure at Michigan, it’s that there will be at least one new coach, analyst or assistant added to the mix on an annual basis.
That’s how Jim Harbaugh operates at Michigan; he’ll stick with a common core but add pieces along the way. Some additions turn out to be wildly successful, while others crash and burn after a couple of years.
That’s the nature of the game, right?
Coming off an 11-1 regular season and a Big Ten title, the Wolverines look to be starting a little something with their two primary coordinators: The combination of Josh Gattis (OC) and Mike Macdonald (DC) paid dividends this past season, resulting in UM’s first win over Ohio State since 2011 and its first outright league championship since 2003.
The 2021 Wolverines finished No. 3 overall after falling to Georgia, the eventual national champion, in the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Eve. They were, without a doubt, one of the greatest Wolverines teams in program history.
There’s a lot to look at as Michigan heads into 2022. Right now, it’s time to examine the coaching staff, which, by the looks of things, might be Harbaugh’s best combination since he arrived in Ann Arbor in 2015. We’ll highlight the key players and go over some notes in regard to the rest of the staff members.
HC – Jim Harbaugh
He’s not going anywhere … well, not if Michigan does the right thing and pays the man what he’s worth. If Mel Tucker can get a mega-deal from Michigan State, and James Franklin can score a motherload from Penn State, then Harbaugh should have no trouble negotiating a deal to make him the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten and top-5 nationally.
Harbaugh is 61-24 (41-27 B1G) and just won national coach of the year honors, receiving both Associated Press and Eddie Robinson recognition.
It all starts at the top, and Harbaugh is one of the best football coaches in the world, regardless of level. Michigan will go as far as Harbaugh’s passion allows — and for those who’ve covered him over the years, it’s clear that his passion doesn’t die. He’s all-in for Michigan.
Michigan better make sure it’s all-in for him, though. That’s all been covered … but it’s still worth mentioning. Pay the man, Michigan!
DC – Mike Macdonald
Finishing No. 20 overall might not seem like a huge accomplishment for a defense that had routinely finished in the top 10 under DCs Don Brown and Greg Mattison. But there are more than numbers to this game, and Michigan’s defense appeared to have made huge strides in 2021, no longer getting burned by huge passing plays — namely crossing routes — and no longer falling flat against Ohio State (UM won 42-27).
Macdonald, the former linebackers coach with the Baltimore Ravens — who are coached by Jim’s brother John — has been an immediate difference-maker.
Entering his second year, it’s safe to assume that Macdonald is feeling pretty good about the direction of his tenure in Ann Arbor. Despite a couple of hiccups, Michigan has had strong defensive coordinators under Harbaugh: Mattison was there to start, then Brown. Macdonald seems no different. The only question will be one of sustainability and longevity.
Staffers will change, but it’d be a good idea for Michigan to keep Macdonald firmly in Ann Arbor for the next handful of seasons.
D-Line – Mike Elston
Formerly the DL coach at Notre Dame, Elston, a former standout Michigan LB, brings a wealth of knowledge, technique and recruiting savvy. As of the most recent 247Sports rankings, Elston was ranked the No. 60 overall recruiter for the 2022 cycle, nabbing 6 commits for the Irish.
Elston replaces Shaun Nua, who left UM for USC following the conclusion of the postseason. From 2010-2021, Elston routinely set the tone for ND recruiting while also mentoring linebackers. He was an assistant head coach under Brian Kelly from 2018-2021, so he certainly knows how to take charge of operations and guide players.
An excellent hire, Elston shouldn’t be viewed as just another staff change — he’s an upgrade who has incredible Midwest ties due to coaching at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Eastern Michigan.
DBs – Steve Clinkscale
So, technically, he’s also the defensive passing game coordinator … but at the end of the day, he’s the DBs coach. Michigan’s secondary was an issue in 2020, one year prior to Clinkscale joining the program. This past season, the Wolverines finished No. 23 in passing defense, giving up roughly 204 yards per game. Compare that to approximately 255 yards per game in 2020, and that’s a huge improvement, decreasing opponents’ passing output by about 20 percent.
Safeties – Ron Bellamy
Formerly the coach at West Bloomfield, one of the best programs in Michigan, Bellamy joined Michigan this past season and quickly helped turn around a secondary that was out of whack in 2020. This past season, Daxton Hill was recognized as one of the best safeties in the country — not that he wasn’t on track to get there, but having Bellamy likely made a difference.
LBs – George Helow
Originally hired to work with safeties, Helow ended up with the linebackers during 2021, his first year in Ann Arbor. Linebacker has been a strong position for UM since, well, always. Another year or two will be the tell-all in regard to Helow’s effectiveness coaching the position in Ann Arbor.
OC – Josh Gattis
Gattis must have heard the calls to open his playbook. The Speed in Space thing had lost its luster. Michigan fans were waiting for 2 years to see something really happen. In 2021, Gattis’ reputation for excitement came to life, resulting in one of the best Harbaugh-era offenses at Michigan.
Give him credit, he endured a lot of criticism to get to this point. This past season, he won the Art Broyles Award — so who’s laughing now? — which is given to the top assistant in the nation.
Whether it was using Donovan Edwards’ arm on a trick play vs. Iowa in the B1G title game, or running reverses or flea-flickers, Gattis’ playbook was on full display in 2021, leading many to believe that the best is yet to come.
OL/OC – Sherrone Moore
Formerly the TEs coach, Moore has expanded his influence on the program in a positive way since joining the Wolverines in 2018. This past season, Michigan’s O-line won the Joe Moore Award, given to the top O-line in the nation. Moore deserves a lot of credit for that, as the Wolverines have had a handful of coaches involved with O-line over the years, yet they never seemed to reach their full potential like they did this past fall with Moore.
QBs – Matt Weiss
Another former member of the Baltimore Ravens’ staff, Weiss enters his second year directing Michigan QBs. Let’s just say that this year was the way a coach would love to debut: Cade McNamara was one of the most efficient, poised and steadiest QBs in the nation. Don’t base him off the Orange Bowl; he’s much more than that.
Weiss also has JJ McCarthy, the assumed heir to the throne. Michigan fans have been going crazy for JJ. Weiss has a chance to mold one of the greats at UM.
For the most part, QB play at Michigan has been steady under Harbaugh. There were bumps in the road, but Harbaugh has had some pretty solid starters over the years, with McNamara coming in as the best — and that’s much to do with Weiss’ involvement.
RBs – Mike Hart
The former Wolverines legend struck gold in 2021. Teams would be fortunate to have one back like Blake Corum or Hassan Haskins, let alone both at the same time. Haskins scored a UM single-season 20 rushing TDs and Corum busted out a handful of runs that were mirror-images of how Hart used to make defenses look foolish and slow.
Hart is, without a doubt, a key component. Michigan always will be a run-first team, regardless of what anyone says or what narratives get floated by media in regard to changing ways, etc. No. Michigan will always run the ball hard. With Hart, Michigan has the perfect running backs coach, one who understands the program and has validated himself as a premier position coach in the NCAA. He’s been mentioned for head coaching jobs, most recently Temple, but Hart might end up spending a significant number of years at his alma mater — especially if Harbaugh sticks around for several more years.
Special teams/TEs – Jay Harbaugh
Jay Harbaugh has shaken off the nepotism crap and proven he’s an excellent coach, regardless of to whom he’s related. When he joined Michigan, there was a lot of chatter that he was there because of his father. Many weren’t confident that such a young coach could handle so much at a major program.
They were wrong.
Jay Harbaugh is legit.
In all likelihood, he will be mentioned for entry-level head coaching jobs in the near future; it just seems like a matter of time. He’s an excellent recruiter and has coached nearly every position at some point in his career.