On Thursday January 9th, only a day after the announcement that offensive coordinator Al Borges would not be returning in 2014, Michigan announced the hiring of their new offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier. The move was quite a surprise and the speed at which it was executed was quite impressive for a program that has struggled in the past with coaching transitions.
Upon receiving his introduction into the program, Nussmeier made it clear he was excited to join the Maize and Blue: “I’m extremely excited to join University of Michigan and work with Brady Hoke, the staff and players…Michigan is a program I’ve always had deep respect for and I’m looking forward to getting started in Ann Arbor and being a part of the great tradition there.”
Hoke echoed this excitement, stressing Nussmeier’s experience and offensive expertise: “Doug is a highly respected offensive coordinator… Doug has been successful at every coaching stop with his balanced and explosive offenses, and he brings national championship experience. He is an excellent addition to our coaching staff and football program…”
More recently, Nussmeier opened up about his decision to come to Michigan, citing a conversation with coach Brady Hoke. According to Nussmeier, Brady stressed the importance of the role the coaches play in developing their players, not only on the football field, but off the field as well: “The most important thing we do is to make an impact on these young men in order to be successful for the rest of their lives.” This strong philosophy resonated with Nussmeier and he has been on board ever since.
Nussmeier has made many stops along his coaching career, which ironically began in East Lansing, as he served as quarterbacks coach at Michigan State from 2003-2005 under John L. Smith, whom he played quarterback for during his days as an Idaho Vandal. From 2006-2007, Nussmeier went to the NFL and served as quarterbacks coach for the St. Louis Rams. In 2008, he went back to the college game, where he held the position of offensive coordinator at Fresno State. Nussmeier stayed out west from 2009-2011, where he held the same position at University of Washington, until he left to become offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2012.
Nussmeier brings with him a reputation as a strong recruiter, something that could be said of Al Borges, as rumors have already floated around about some Alabama commits potentially to jumping ship with Nussmeier and heading to Michigan. At age 43, he will certainly be an asset as a young energetic leader hitting the recruiting trail to try land Michigan’s next generation of offensive talent.
There’s no question that this hire has generated a great deal of buzz around campus about the immediate prospects for success, as Michigan’s offense was horrendous in 2013 and needed a new look after the many offensive no-shows against the likes of Northwestern, Nebraska, Iowa and UConn. Nonetheless, it will be no easy task for Nussmeier to turn things around quickly. In 2013, Michigan averaged 373.5 yards per game (10th in the Big Ten) and 125.7 rush yards per game (11th in the Big Ten). The running game and the offensive line in particular, need immediate help. Nussmeier’s zone-blocking offensive line scheme has generated some early attention among fans but it’s highly doubtful that Michigan can transform into an elite rushing in merely one year. With this new scheme and with tough runners like Derrick Green and Deveon Smith a year older, the rushing attack should improve, but improvement is a relative term, as Michigan’s run-game nearly reached rock bottom last season.
The passing attack, on the other hand, succeeded for the most part in 2013, averaging 247.8 yards per game (4th in the Big Ten) and 32.2 points per game (4th in the Big Ten). Quarterback Devin Gardner had very gaudy offensive stats at times while displaying a great deal of inconsistency as well. For example, Gardner’s offense produced 9 points against Northwestern in regulation, 13 points against Nebraska, and zero against Iowa in the second half last year. Notre Dame, Indiana and Ohio State however, were victims of Gardner’s successful performances, as the offense seemingly fluctuated to a large degree on a weekly basis.
There has been a great deal of speculation as to whether the change at offensive coordinator will result in a change at the starting quarterback position. As of right now, Nussmeier has not announced a starter yet and likely will not until after spring ball at the earliest. Gardner will likely be the starter; however, his recovery from his foot injury might cause uncertainty in that regard. Most fans are frustrated with Gardner’s inconsistency and would love to see the young Shane Morris, the more traditional pro-style Michigan quarterback, get a chance to run a true pro-style offense. However, there’s no denying that Gardner is the most talented quarterback on the roster, and he gives Michigan the chance to beat nearly anybody in the country on any given night.
In conclusion, Doug Nussmeier was truly a big time hire for the Maize and Blue. The Wolverines, and Dave Brandon specifically, have proven that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to restore Michigan back to its position as a traditional superpower. A couple notes of caution, though, should be considered before fans begin expecting Rose Bowl and Big Ten Championships. This move was clearly made because Brady Hoke is on the hot seat after seeing his team regress for the second consecutive year. This was, by no means, a panic hire, but its clear that Hoke recognized his current offensive system was not getting the job done. Furthermore, if Michigan’s offense flourishes, Nussmeier will be a strong candidate for a head coaching position somewhere else, potentially as early as next year, and could very easily bolt to reach his own professional goals. Finally, this Michigan team is still very flawed. It’s unfair to expect them to compete for a Big Ten title or even become an elite offense in just one year. With trips to Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame in 2014, wins are going to be hard to achieve. Nonetheless, the hire was absolutely essential to restoring the energy around Michigan football and hopefully marks the beginning of a better football year.