Michigan certainly has enough talented players set to take the field this fall.
However, the men behind the Wolverines—an exemplary coaching staff—may be all the more impressive.
Entering his third season as head coach, Brady Hoke has carved a reputation as a football coach’s football coach. Since finding his way to Ann Arbor, he’s won 19 games and coached his team to a BCS Sugar Bowl victory.
When it comes to putting together a lethal scoring attack, offensive coordinator Al Borges is the man for the job. While manipulating Auburn’s offense from 2004 to 2007, Borges helped four players reach All-American status, including running backs Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams.
Power in the backfield shouldn’t be an issue this season, as Borges has a group of horses ready to careen down the field en route to sizeable gains.
Keeping offenses honest is the name of the game for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who is widely considered as one of the premier coaches in his field. In 2009-10, Mattison fashioned one of the NFL’s elite defenses with the Baltimore Ravens.
Michigan made the wise choice by extending his contract for another three years.
Mattison’s NFL background is enough to attract marquee recruits—and it’s worked like a charm.
Respected by coaches throughout the game, running backs guru Fred Jackson’s 22 years of experience at Michigan is enough for Wolverines fans to expect the world from their ball-carriers. His charisma and knowledge are two of his best assets.
And so is his ironclad work ethic.
He’s stood the test of time in Ann Arbor, despite several coaching changes. There aren’t many survivors in the cut-throat world of college football as competent and revered as Jackson.
Keeping the special teamers on-point and the tight ends in top form is Dan Ferrigno’s job. Curt Mallory heads the secondary, and Mark Smith makes sure that the inside linebackers are up to par. Like Ferrigno, Mallroy, Funk and Hecklinski, Smith enters his third season at Michigan.
Newcomer Roy Manning joined Michigan at the right time. The program looks like it’s roaring toward the top of the Big Ten, and Manning, a former Wolverines linebacker and four-year letterman, is expected to lend his expertise to the outside linebackers.
Analyzing UM’s Staff
It’s taken just two seasons for Hoke to gain a cult following. The Web is full of blogs and Facebook pages praising the Michigan Man.
Hoke doesn’t mince words. He’s not a politician-like front man who says what the media wants to hear. He’s kind of bland. He doesn’t dress things up like other coaches.
Straight to the point. No bull.
He’s the anti-Urban Meyer.
While he’s drastically different, Hoke hasn’t defeated the Ohio State coach. In 2012, Meyer’s Buckeyes squeaked out a 26-21 victory. Michigan’s offense was inept, struggling to inch across the 50-yard line during the second half at The Shoe.
With a win against the Michigan State Spartans—one that snapped a four-year losing streak—in his back pocket, Hoke’s next goal should be to down his most bitter rival Nov. 30 at The Big House.
Wins over in-state pests are great, but they pale in comparison—and aren’t nearly as sweet—when it comes to knocking off a national title contender such as Ohio State.
Hoke’s perfect record at home gives enough reason to believe that a win over the Buckeyes is on the horizon. Helping matters, Michigan’s recruiting classes have been among the top 10 since 2012. That’s not a mere coincidence. High-end talents want to play for Hoke, who’ll need every 4- and 5-star he can get to hang with Meyer.
He’s bringing back the storied mentality and hard-nosed brand of football that made Michigan famous.
Stop, Coordinate and Listen
With a reputation that precedes him, Mattison could easily hang his hat on the fact that he’s worked with NFL stars. But that doesn’t seem to be his style.
He’s energetic, and college players love that. Getting guys to the next level is Mattison’s purpose.
Take Taco Charlton’s comment as concrete proof of that.
"I want to play professionally," said Charlton, a 6’6”, 265-pound incoming freshman defensive end (via ESPN’s Michael Rothstein). "That's why I chose Michigan, because I thought it'd give me the best chance to get me to the NFL, especially with Greg Mattison."
Offense is a science for Borges, who does a forensic study of opponents each offseason, according to SI.com’s Andy Staples. Although criticized for his play-calling against the Buckeyes this past season, Borges has one of the more athletic attacks in the Big Ten.
Quarterback Devin Gardner, a redshirt junior, has the potential to make Borges look like a genius this season. At times, catering to Denard Robinson’s strengths—and somewhat limited pro-style skill set—held back the Wolverines when push came to shove.
Now with a legitimate pro-styler who has a cannon for an arm, Borges can run the type of offense he desires with Gardner slinging the ball to receivers Jeremy Gallon, Amarah Darboh and Drew Dileo.
Borges said the following about past offensive constraints (via Staples):
There is a case for spread offense. Because it looks so good on the board. There are no runs that look bad. But you pound your quarterback. You're asking your quarterback basically to be Superman. He's got to throw it. He's got to run it. He's got to do it all...but you've got to keep him healthy -- which we couldn't do with Denard our second year. It's a tall order for the kid. As a coordinator, I like to distribute more.
Will the Wolverines turn into Auburn 2.0? If Borges has his way, the answer will be yes. He plans to run a 50-50 split (between pass and run) offense, but that could change if running backs such as Derrick Green, Drake Johnson, Fitz Toussaint and Thomas Rawls command more carries.
Borges’ offense at Auburn was incredibly effective while running rampant over opponents. Borges returning to form may be the best thing for the Wolverines.
Senior left tackle Taylor Lewan is the cornerstone of the offensive line, and Funk knows how to get the most out the surefire 2014 NFL Draft first-rounder. That’s not a prediction, that’s fact. Lewan has already earned Rimington-Pace honors (2012) while studying under Funk, who was Hoke’s offensive line coach at San Diego State.
David Molk, a center, achieved that status in 2011.
According to his profile on MGoBlue, Funk doesn’t allow defensive lines to bring…well, the funk. Michigan quarterbacks have been sacked just 18 times in two years, the third best total in the Big Ten during that span.
In 2012, the Wolverines averaged nearly 200 yards per game through the air. Hecklinksi has been with Hoke since 2004, when they both coached at Ball State. Having that type of comfort and relationship with the head coach only makes Hecklinski’s day-to-day tasks easier.
Now that Michigan has wideouts such as Jaron Dukes, a 6’4”, 197-pound freshman, coming to campus, Hecklinksi has premier options, whether they’re down the field, along the sidelines or across the middle. Imagine an offense with DaMario Jones, another big-bodied 2013 recruit, coupled with Drake Harris, the No. 4 wideout of 2014 according to 247Sports.com, and Dukes.
Can you say long ball?
This past year, Devin Funchess was selected to the Football Writers of America’s All-Freshman Team. Having Ferrigno must have helped. Since signing with Michigan, Ferrigno’s touch with tight ends has produced great results. As a senior in 2011, Kevin Koger had a career-best 23 catches and four touchdowns.
The Wolverines are heavy at tight end and with Jake Butt, A.J. Williams and Funchess leading the charge, expect more of the same from Ferrigno, who’s coached tight ends at San Diego State (under Hoke), Cal, Pacific and San Francisco State.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81