New Michigan OC Josh Gattis says Nick Saban was not happy about him leaving Alabama

Sam Cooper
After four years at Penn State and another at Alabama, Josh Gattis was hired as the offensive coordinator at Michigan. (Getty Images)
After four years at Penn State and another at Alabama, Josh Gattis was hired as the offensive coordinator at Michigan. (Getty Images)

The story of Josh Gattis landing the offensive coordinator job at Michigan is a pretty funny one.

Gattis, after one season on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama, seemed set to make the move to Mike Locksley’s staff at Maryland. Locksley was the offensive coordinator at Alabama and wanted Gattis to be his OC in College Park.

Gattis even told Nick Saban he was leaving Alabama (presumably for Maryland) when Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh gave him a call.

The two explained how it all went down on an episode of Harbaugh’s podcast, “Attack Each Day.”

“I found out through the grapevine that Josh was considering leaving Alabama to go to Maryland, so we reached out and asked if he’d have any interest in Michigan,” Harbaugh said. “I called him at 10 in the morning and by 3:30 he was coming to Michigan with a signed memorandum of understanding.

“And then he was on a plane here a day or two later. We’ve been working here the last couple days through the weekend. Really, really excited. You can see the resume and track record of success in Josh as a coach. The development of players really jumps out at you wherever he’s coached. Josh is well regarded across the country.”

Nick Saban was not happy about Josh Gattis leaving Alabama

Gattis said Harbaugh called soon after a not-so-pleasant meeting with Saban.

“When Coach Harbaugh called, it kind of caught me off guard,” Gattis said. “I had just left a meeting with Nick Saban getting my butt chewed out for about 20 minutes telling him I was leaving and he was trying to keep me to stay. It did not go over well. So if there was any band-aid to the bruise or what he left on me it was that phone call. It was exciting to hear his voice and get the chance to talk to him personally.”

Gattis, after years as a position coach at Western Michigan, Vanderbilt, Penn State and Alabama, said it did not take long for him to realize Michigan was the perfect opportunity to be an offensive coordinator.

“Last week was an emotional week. It feels like we played the national championship two years ago but that was last Monday. So coming off the game, I had a few opportunities where teams were calling to gauge interest. I wasn’t looking to make a one-year stop anywhere, but opportunities start presenting themselves. I had some tough choices to make. One of my goals professionally and personally was to be an offensive coordinator. That’s been a lifelong dream of mine,” Gattis said.

“When you know it’s right and it hits your gut, it doesn’t take long. I had to tell some people, ‘no.’ It was a hard day telling those people that I wasn’t going to be a part of their program because of the previous relationships. But when you feel inside that this is the right place, it helps ease away those concerns.”

Harbaugh: Gattis will ‘run the whole offense’

Harbaugh and Gattis align philosophically, they said, but Gattis is going to emphasize getting the ball to Michigan’s playmakers in space.

Harbaugh did not explicitly say that Gattis will call plays, but said the hire was about finding someone “who could coordinate our offense and run the whole offense.”

“I like the idea of him running it,” Harbaugh said.

What will the offense look like? The 2018 Michigan team liked to bully its way down the field with a physical running game while getting quarterback Shea Patterson involved with some zone reads and play-action passes. That approach worked all year until Michigan played Ohio State, a team with more speed and athleticism.

While Patterson will be back for his senior season, Gattis, who worked his way through the coaching ranks as a receivers coach, seems to have a plan to get talented wideouts Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins more involved.

“We want to be an explosive offense. Obviously, we’re not going to get away from some of the base foundation we truly believe in starting with the run game and being able to impose a physical presence. That’s where it’s going to start for us,” Gattis said.

“But it’s also about getting our skill players involved and having answers to what teams want to be able to do defensively. We’re going to make sure it’s going to be personnel-driven. We’re going to get our playmakers the ball, get our speed out in space and allow our skill players to be skill players and let them be active, but also have a physical presence where we’re going to set the tone each and every week with the guys up front. Everything is going to build off that. This is going to be player driven.”

That has to sound pretty good to Michigan fans.

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