Michigan Coaching Changes

Michigan Wolverines

Michigan Coaching Changes

Head coach Jim Harbaugh made a number of changes to his staff following the 2017 season. Necessity drove some changes. Others were made in response to departing assistants. None  caused as much controversy as the hiring of former University of Florida head coach Jim McElwain.


The highest-profile departure from the Michigan coaching staff was Greg Frey.  He returned to his alma mater, Florida State University. 2017 was Frey’s second stint with the Wolverines. He also coached in Ann Arbor under Rich Rodriquez. He coordinated Michigan’s run game and coached tackles and tight ends.

Frey also rerouted his two pipelines between Tampa, his hometown, and Indiana, where he coached between stints at Michigan, to Ann Arbor. Two of the Wolverines’ early enrollees hail from Florida and four-star linebacker Cameron McGrone calls the Hoosier state home. Frey’s time on Harbaugh’s staff was brief but his impact will likely be felt for some time.

Michigan also lost safeties coach Brian Smith. He is now defensive coordinator at Rice. Smith was brought on the Wolverines’ staff by defensive coordinator Don Brown. Smith played for Brown at Boston College. His departure cannot be understated. Michigan’s pass defense ranked first in the nation in both 2016 and 2017, where he played an integral role in Jabrill Pepper’s best and final season. How safeties fare in 2018 will something for Wolverines fans to monitor.


One of the three assistants Harbaugh added to the staff was Sherrone Moore. He joins the Wolverines’ coaching staff as the tight ends coach after four years at Central Michigan University. Moore started as the Chippewas’ tight ends coach and later added recruiting coordinator and associate head coach to his job title. The single recruiting class Moore shepherded to Mount Pleasant was average. However, he shined as tight ends coach. A number of his proteges are on NFL squads and the last three years saw Chippewa tight ends awarded all-MAC honors.

The second addition to the coaching staff is former University of Cincinnati defensive line coach Al Washington.  Most importantly, Washington spent a number of years at Boston College. During a few of those years he overlapped with current Michigan defensive coordinator Brown who was Boston College’s defensive coordinator. Washington now coaches the Wolverines’ linebackers. The shared history between the two certainly cannot hurt the state of the linebacker corps going forward. Michigan’s linebackers were one of the best in the country. With Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson, first and third all-Big Ten respectively, returning, Washington is well positioned to prove himself.

With Dan Enos’ departure from Michigan last month, Ed Warinner is now joining Harbaugh’s staff. Warinner spent last season under P.J. Fleck at Minnesota as the offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Before that, he coached offensive line and coordinated the offense at Ohio State for four seasons. Warinner’s exact role has yet to be determined. However, his hiring is a major win for Michigan whose offense struggled mightily last year. In his tenure with the Buckeye’s, the offense set Big Ten records for points scored twice, and rushing yards, as well as a number of school records.

Jim McElwain: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

Michigan confirmed Jim McElwain joined the coaching staff to “help coordinate the offense.” This action has set off fierce debate among Michigan circles. Those that oppose the hire point to his tenure at helm of Florida. Undeniably, the Gators struggled on offense. In his three years running the Gators, Florida ranked 112th, 116th, and 110th in yards per game. They also never finished higher than 99th in points scored. These on the field struggles, coupled with poor recruiting rankings, and numerous off the field problems during his tenure do not inspire much confidence.

Those that support McElwain, point to his time at offensive coordinator at University of Alabama. During his tenure at Alabama the Tide won two championships. McElwain also coached the likes of A.J. McCarron, Julio Jones, and Mark Ingram Jr. He also spent time as the head coach of Colorado State where he led the Rams to a 13th ranking in total offense. Only time will tell if Harbaugh made the right choice with McElwain. He would not be the first or last person who was a better coordinator than a head coach.

McElwain’s arrival left many discussing the future of offensive coordinator Tim Drevno. Michigan’s offense has struggled over during his tenure. He has been with Harbaugh since they were both on staff at University of San Diego. However, given that McElwain was announced immediately as the offensive coordinator it appears Drevno will remain on staff despite the recent struggles on offense. One has to wonder how long this loyalty is sustainable and if it will affect Harbaugh’s relationship with other members of the offensive staff and the athletic department.

The Best Way to Look Good.

The changes to the coaching staff make 2018 an interesting season for Michigan. On defense, can the new additions maintain the momentum that the program built over the past three years? On offense, the new arrivals must finally right the ship. Luckily for the coaching staff as a whole, the Wolverines lost seven starters. Only Mike McCray and Maurice Hurst Jr. left the vaunted defense. A mere five starters left on offense. The best way for coaches to look good is to have good players. Certainly the new arrivals are starting in a great place.