Why Brady Hoke Needs Doug Nussmeier at Michigan, Even If Just for Now

Chris KudialisFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2014

Sep 15, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier runs through drills before the start of a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Alabama defeated Arkansas 52-0. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan announced the signing of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama on Friday, just one day after firing former OC Al Borges.

At Michigan, Nussmeier will be among the five highest-paid assistants in college football, per CBSSports’ Bruce Feldman. And if successful, he’ll deserve every penny of his new salary. Nussmeier faces an uphill task of bringing the Big Ten’s No. 9-ranked offense in 2013 back to prominence. If the Wolverines’ offense flounders again in 2014, both Nussmeier and head coach Brady Hoke may soon be unemployed.

Since going 11-2 in 2011, the Wolverines have finished 8-5 in 2012 and 7-6 in 2013. Perhaps more surprisingly, Michigan has yet to find a consistent offensive identity under Brady Hoke, and its running game has been among the Big Ten’s worst over the past two seasons.

In two years at Alabama, Nussmeier directed one of the nation’s most efficient offenses, finishing in the top 10 in Football Outsiders' S&P offensive metric in both 2012 and 2013.

Alabama’s total offense ranked No. 33 nationally last season, averaging 38.2 points and 454.1 yards per game, while Michigan’s offense ranked No. 44 in the country with 32.2 points per game and No. 87 in total yards with 373.5 yards per game. The Tide were No. 3 in the SEC, averaging 205.6 yards per game on the ground, while Michigan was No. 11 in the Big Ten, averaging just 125.7 rushing yards per game.

Both Shane Morris (7, left) and Devin Gardner (98, right) should improve under Nussmeier
Both Shane Morris (7, left) and Devin Gardner (98, right) should improve under NussmeierMark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Though Nussmeier had more offensive talent at Alabama than he’ll inherit in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s quarterback arsenal of Devin Gardner and Shane Morris provides a high ceiling for a coordinator who specializes in maximizing his signal-callers’ potential.

Nussmeier’s coaching career includes stops at Michigan State, where he worked with Jeff Smoker and Drew Stanton as the Spartans’ quarterback coach, and the NFL’s St. Louis Rams—where he coached Marc Bulger to career bests in passing yards (4,301) and touchdowns (24) in 2006. After a year at Fresno State, Nussmeier was Jake Locker’s offensive coordinator at Washington and coached AJ McCarron to a school-record 30 touchdown passes in 2012 and several national awards in 2013.

But if successful, how long can the Wolverines count on Nussmeier to stay? Already considered one of the nation’s top coordinators, the 43-year-old is entering his 14th season as an offensive assistant—and was a semifinalist for both Southern Miss’ head-coaching vacancy in 2012 and Washington’s head-coaching job in 2013.

For now, it doesn’t matter. Both Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon understand Michigan’s need to win in 2014, and they selected the best available offensive coordinator to help the Wolverines do that right away.