Former Tide assistant Gattis leads Michigan offense against Alabama


CW / Joe Will Field

James Benedetto | @james_benedetto, Assistant Sports Editor

When the Wolverines and Crimson Tide face off in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, there will be a unique familiarity between the two teams. 

Josh Gattis, who spent a season as the co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach for Alabama, will face his old team as the offensive coordinator for Michigan.

“This year’s been awesome,” Gattis said. “I get a chance to work with some fabulous young men that are here today to represent us. And the support that I’ve gotten from our players, the support I’ve gotten from our coaches, it’s been amazing. So it’s really living out my dream.”

Gattis took over a Michigan offense that lost a 1,000-yard rusher in Karan Higdon and a top tight end in Zach Gentry to the NFL. Despite the loss of around 1,700 yards of total offense between the two players, Gattis was able to retool the offense and help lead Michigan to a nine-win regular season. 

During Gattis’ first year orchestrating the offense, the Wolverines became more reliant on the pass as Michigan has totaled 3,028 passing yards in 12 games this season, more than 200 yards more than it had last year in 13 games. Wolverines senior quarterback Shea Patterson, formerly at Ole Miss, set a new career high in yards and has matched his touchdown total from last year with 22, but his completion percentage declined from 64.6 to 57.3 and his passer rating dropped from 149.8 to 143.9.

“I mean, anytime [you have a] new offense and Coach Gattis had to come in and adjust to new players and we had to learn new schemes, there’s going to be some growing pains,” Patterson said. “But I know in the end — right now it’s going really well.”

Although the offense made strides toward the end of the season, Gattis’ first few games with Michigan were anything but perfect. The Wolverines held a 5-2 record through the first seven games of the year and were ranked 118th out of 130 teams in turnovers lost. 

“I would say when you first take over a job, the only thing that ever comes to mind is all the positive things,” Gattis said. “You know, you obviously think about all things positive, all the scoring, the touchdowns. You never really set the standard as far as thinking about the negative things as far as the adversity you may face.

“And we can laugh about it now. Our first play of the season ended with a fumble. So when you’re sitting there on your first play call, the first thing that happens and the next thing you know, the ball’s on the ground, you’ve got to learn how to deal with adversity.”

Gattis and the offense settled in after the rough start, averaging 38 points per game in its last five games. The offense exceeded 300 yards through the air in each of the Wolverines’ final three regular season games, as Patterson found his explosive targets such as sophomore Nico Collins and freshman Ronnie Bell who both gained at least 200 yards over that three-game span.  

Junior Crimson Tide receivers Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith said that Gattis helped with their technique as a receiver which may explain Bell and Collins’ recent uptick in production. 

“He was a pretty good coach,” Ruggs said. “He helped us out with a lot of things, made us look at things a different way. All coaches have a different style of coaching. His style was just a little different but we learned from him and it made us better.”