Thursday, April 18, 2024

Michigan coaching staff: Breaking down Sherrone Moore’s assistant hires in Year 1 replacing Jim Harbaugh

Just two months into 2024, it’s already been a wild year for Michigan football. The Wolverines began the year by winning the College Football Playoff National Championship — its first national title win since 1997. Then, they saw head coach Jim Harbaugh return to the NFL with the Los Angeles Chargers after guiding his alma mater to national glory. More significant was that Harbaugh took a significant chunk of the coaching staff with him.

Sherrone Moore, who earned plenty of head coaching experience during the 2023 season while Harbaugh served multiple suspensions, was quickly promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach. The promotion made sense and surprised nobody. The bigger question surrounding Moore, however, surrounded the construction of his coaching staff after the assistants followed Harbaugh to the Chargers.

With Moore’s first staff largely complete (there are still some questions about running backs coach Mike Hart’s status), let’s break down what the Michigan sideline will look like in the first season post-Harbaugh. 

Offensive staff

Kirk Campbell — Offensive coordinator/QB coach: The 37-year-old Campbell has no previous Power Five coordinator experience but was quickly promoted by Moore to be his replacement, so it’s clear the first-year coach has confidence in him to do the job. Before spending the 2023 season as Michigan’s QB coach, he was an offensive analyst in 2022 and had J.J. McCarthy in his corner last offseason. Other Michigan players have spoken highly of Campbell as well. It’s not a splashy hire, but in an offseason full of changes, there’s value in familiarity. Perhaps Moore views Campbell’s potential the same way Harbaugh once saw Moore’s.

Grant Newsome — Offensive line: Newsome played tackle for Michigan before being forced to medically retire in 2018. He immediately joined Michigan’s coaching staff and worked his way up to tight ends coach the last two seasons. Now, at only 26 years old, he’s taking over as offensive line coach. It’s an important position for the Wolverines, but it’s no surprise Moore is comfortable with Newsome given the praise he received from both Moore and Harbaugh over the years.

Mike Hart — Running backs: There are some questions about Hart’s status, but at the moment, he’s still Michigan’s RB coach, a position he’s held since the 2021 season. He’s overseen the development of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards and has also proven valuable on the recruiting trail.

Ron Bellamy —  Wide receivers: Bellamy is another holdover; he’s served as Michigan’s receivers coach since 2022 (he also spent a season as safeties coach in 2021). The former Michigan receiver has helped with the development of Roman Wilson and has a couple of promising youngsters to work with in Tyler Morris and Semaj Morgan. Along with Hart, Bellamy has also made waves in recruiting. 

Steve Casula — Tight ends: Casula comes to Michigan from UMass where he served as offensive coordinator, but it’s not his first stint with the Wolverines. He spent three seasons as an analyst before moving to UMass with former Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. With a first-time offensive coordinator in Newsome, bringing in a position coach with seven years of offensive coordinator experience at three different schools is a plus.

New York Giants v Washington Commanders

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is returning to the college game for the first time since 2003. Getty Images

Defensive staff

Don “Wink” Martindale — Defensive coordinator: After going to the Wink Martindale coaching tree with their last two defensive coordinator hires (Mike Macdonald and Jesse Minter), Moore went and got Martindale this time around. Martindale was Ravens defensive coordinator for four seasons under John Harbaugh and also worked with Jack Harbaugh earlier in his career. In other words, there’s plenty of familiarity here, but this will be Martindale’s first college job since he was last at Western Kentucky in 2003. The landscape has changed a bit since then!

Greg Scruggs —  Defensive line: It’s not surprising that Moore would look to surround the 60-year-old Martindale with younger assistants, and the 33-year-old Scruggs makes a lot of sense. Scruggs spent last season on Luke Fickell’s staff at Wisconsin and six seasons coaching at the NFL level before joining Fickell’s Cincinnati staff in 2018. He was director of player development and was promoted to DL coach a year before the Bearcats made the College Football Playoff. Scruggs has shown an ability to develop and recruit in his time, and he takes over a defensive line with plenty of talent at its disposal.

Brian Jean-Mary — Linebackers: An excellent blend of experience, familiarity and recruiting. Jean-Mary, a former Appalachian State linebacker (no, he wasn’t on that App State team), worked the last three seasons at Tennessee but spent the 2020 season at Michigan. Before that, Jean-Mary worked with Moore at Louisville under Charlie Strong. A solid position coach, Jean-Mary is also considered an elite recruiter with plenty of connections across the southeast.

LaMar Morgan — Defensive backs: Morgan spent the last two seasons as defensive coordinator at Louisiana. While he doesn’t have a direct history with Moore, Morgan did spend a season coaching the secondary at Vanderbilt when Minter was defensive coordinator. It’s easy to see why a defensive backs coach with coordinator experience and Jesse Minter’s approval would be appealing to Moore in his first season.

Special teams staff

J.B. Brown —  Special teams coordinator: The role of special teams coordinator has been phased out at many programs in recent years, but Brown was quickly promoted from his role as analyst to be Jay Harbaugh’s replacement. Brown has been an analyst at Michigan for the last three years but spent time at Kansas, Houston and Texas Southern before that. Special teams have been one of Michigan’s biggest strengths in recent seasons, and it seems Moore takes them just as seriously as Harbaugh did.

Questions surround Michigan coordinator hires

There will be an adjustment for Michigan next season; there’s no way to avoid it. While time will tell on the position coach hires, the two biggest questions for next season will be the coordinators. While Campbell called plays at Old Dominion, he’s never done so at the Power Five level, and it’s been a few years since he was in the role. Still, I have confidence in the hire due to his familiarity with Moore. Also, you’d assume Moore will likely continue to play a significant role in play calling decisions.

My bigger concern is at defensive coordinator. Martindale has been an excellent coach for a long time, but he’s been out of the college game for over 20 years. While he was a mentor to Minter and Macdonald, he’s on his third job in four years. Schematically, I wonder if Martindale will adapt to the college game or continue being ultra-aggressive.

In Martindale’s four seasons as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator, the Ravens defense blitzed 40.9% of the time, the highest rate in the NFL in that period. His Giants defenses led the NFL with an even higher blitz rate of 46.5% the last two years. Michigan blitzed only 30.0% of the time last season, which ranked 49th nationally. Since 2021, when Macdonald first arrived, Michigan has blitzed 30.5% of the time.

Will Martindale dial back the aggression? If not, it could lead to more variance in Michigan’s defensive performance due to the high-risk-high reward nature of Martindale’s NFL approach.

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