With Pep Hamilton out, is Michigan in for an offensive transformation in 2019?

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Pep Hamilton is leaving Michigan after two seasons on Jim Harbaugh’s staff. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Pep Hamilton is leaving Michigan after two seasons on Jim Harbaugh’s staff. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It looks like Pep Hamilton’s time at Michigan has come to an end.

Hamilton, who will reportedly pursue other coaching opportunities, helped steer the offense alongside Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh during his two years in Ann Arbor and was one of the nation’s highest-paid assistant coaches. Harbaugh said in October that Hamilton, who held the titles of assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, called the “majority” of the Wolverines’ plays.

But when Harbaugh hired Josh Gattis away from Alabama to be his offensive coordinator, it seemed pretty clear that Hamilton was on his way out. Hamilton, according to The Wolverine, has an NFL job lined up. Hamilton coached in the NFL from 2003 to 2009 before joining Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford.

When Harbaugh left Stanford for the NFL, Hamilton spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts and then one year with the Cleveland Browns before he reunited with Harbaugh in the Big Ten.

Hamilton was one of the highest-paid assistants in college football

When he joined UM’s staff ahead of the 2017 season, Hamilton agreed to a four-year, $4.25 million contract. According to USA Today’s coaches salary database, Hamilton made $1.45 million in 2018, more than any other offensive assistant in the country. But the team’s offensive production didn’t always align with Hamilton’s lofty salary.

Harbaugh often referred to the team’s play-calling as a “collaborative” process as he worked closely with Hamilton to develop game plans. In October, he said Hamilton called the “majority” of the team’s plays on Saturdays.

The Wolverines, with the addition of Shea Patterson at quarterback, improved on offense from 2017 to 2018 and ended up finishing the season No. 49 overall in total offense. But the Wolverines struggled down the stretch, especially against rival Ohio State in a game that cost UM a Big Ten title and a shot at the College Football Playoff. The loss dropped Michigan down to the Peach Bowl, a game the Wolverines lost 41-15 to Florida.

What’s next for Michigan’s offense?

The 2018 Michigan team liked to bully its way down the field with a physical running game while getting Patterson (who returns in 2019) involved with zone reads and play-action passes. That approach worked all year until facing Ohio State, a team with more speed and athleticism. For the Wolverines to ascend to the top of the Big Ten East, an adjustment in offensive approach became a top priority entering 2019.

After hiring Gattis, Harbaugh said on his podcast that Gattis will “run the whole offense.” Gattis, who worked his way up the coaching ladder with his work as a wide receivers coach at Western Michigan, Vanderbilt and Penn State, seems to have a plan to get talented wideouts Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins more involved. He said he wants to emphasize getting the ball to the team’s skill players in space while maintaining the level of physicality UM has exhibited under Harbaugh.

“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 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.”

In news that seemingly confirmed Hamilton’s departure, Michigan announced that Ben McDaniels has been named quarterbacks coach. McDaniels was an offensive analyst for the Wolverines during the 2018 season. McDaniels previously coached in the NFL for the Denver Broncos, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears. He also spent two seasons at Rutgers.

“Ben has been an excellent addition to our football staff, and we look forward to his elevated role as our quarterbacks coach this year,” Harbaugh said.

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