Michigan football offense coordinator Josh Gattis wins Broyles Award as top assistant coach

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Michigan football's plan to overhaul its offensive scheme and commit to a power-running system guided the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff — and now it has yielded an impressive piece of hardware for a key member of the staff.

Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis was named the winner of the 2021 Broyles Award, recognizing the top assistant coach in college football, on Tuesday. He becomes the second U-M coach to receive the award since its inception in 1996; former defensive coordinator Jim Hermann won it in 1997.

The other 2021 finalists were Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, Wake Forest offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero and Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, who will match wits with Gattis in the Orange Bowl as part of the CFP semifinals.

Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis watches warmups before the Ohio State game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis watches warmups before the Ohio State game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

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Now in his third season with the program, Gattis propelled Michigan to impressive rankings in several categories. The Wolverines rank 13th in the nation in scoring (37.7 points per game), 19th in total offense (451.9 yards per game), ninth in rushing offense (223.9 yards per game), tied for third in runs longer than 40 yards (nine), 20th in third-down conversion percentage (45.4%), first in fewest tackles for loss allowed (27), tied for second in fewest sacks allowed (10) and tied for 15th in fewest turnovers (11).

In addition, Michigan’s 490 points scored this season is the sixth-highest mark in school history, with at least one game remaining.

Just as impressive as U-M’s statistical output is the overwhelming success of its philosophical adjustment, conceptualized and orchestrated by Gattis and coach Jim Harbaugh. As early as January, the Wolverines’ coaches envisioned a shift from the spread concepts Gattis was known for as co-offensive coordinator at Alabama to a run-heavy system predicated on a powerful offensive line, dominant tight end play and a deep group of running backs (Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum and true freshman Donovan Edwards, a former five-star recruit).

The new system raised eyebrows during the first few weeks of the season when the Wolverines relied almost exclusively on their tailbacks. Quarterback Cade McNamara completed just 16 passes in Michigan's first two games combined as Haskins and Corum racked up 507 yards and five touchdowns in comprehensive victories over Western Michigan and Washington. By the third week of September — at which point Michigan was 3-0 — there were only four teams in the country with fewer pass attempts than Michigan, and three of them were service academies running offensive systems of yesteryear.

“When everyone said we can’t do anything (through the air), it’s not that we couldn’t do anything, it’s that we were choosing to do things differently,” Gattis said on the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show prior to the Big Ten title game. “And I think that’s the biggest narrative that needed to be changed. A lot of people thought we couldn’t throw the ball just because we didn’t choose to throw the ball, not because throwing the ball wasn’t successful. A lot of people thought we can’t throw it deep. It’s because we were choosing not to.

Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis works with wide receiver Mike Sainristil during warmups before the Rutgers game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.
Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis works with wide receiver Mike Sainristil during warmups before the Rutgers game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

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“We were doing what we were doing best, and that allowed us to create an identity. That allowed us to build the team that we wanted to build and we knew could go out and win and put us in position to play for a Big Ten championship.”

In hindsight, the strategy proved to be brilliant. Haskins gained 1,288 yards and established a school record with 20 rushing touchdowns. Corum, who missed two games with a foot/ankle injury, is 61 yards shy of joining Haskins as a 1,000-yard rusher and has 11 rushing touchdowns. McNamara is tied for the third-fewest interceptions (4) among quarterbacks with at least the same number of dropbacks this season.

That type of production led to widespread recognition for the primary contributors in Gattis’ offense. Haskins and right tackle Andrew Stueber were named first-team All-Big Ten, headlining 10 players who received all-conference recognition — including all five starting offensive linemen. The Wolverines captured their first conference championship since 2004 and will make their first appearance in the CFP later this month.

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Much of the credit for that belongs to Gattis.

“Commitment from both sources: Coach Gattis and then us believing in him,” Corum said after the Big Ten title game when asked why the offense has worked so well this season. “You know, he committed to the run game early. In the interview, he said like last year, he didn't really focus on the run game. But, you know, he's been a tremendous play-caller. It has been great.”

Contact Michael Cohen at mcohen@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football's Josh Gattis wins Broyles Award as top assistant

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