In 2006, Wake Forest defensive back Josh Gattis racked up five interceptions and 82 tackles en route to first-team All-ACC honors and the school’s second-ever conference championship.
On Friday, the same Gattis publicly addressed the media for the first time since being hired as Michigan’s new offensive coordinator in January.
After short stints with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears, Gattis joined the Western Michigan football staff as a wide receivers coach in 2011. Since then, he’s had profound success as a passing game coordinator, system-speciality coordinator, wide receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator at programs among the likes of Vanderbilt, Penn State and Alabama.
Though next season will mark Gattis’ first as a full-time offensive coordinator, his previous experience building gameplans and his understanding of football suggest he’s the right man for the job.
The course of action may not seem clear at first: How does such a dominant defensive back become a hot commodity on a national market for offensive strategists?
“(My playing career) has always led to an advantage in my mind,” Gattis said. “Just understanding defenses and knowing how to attack them and understanding the weaknesses of a defense. One of the things we emphasize is not just relying on our talent, but, when you get talent in a scheme, (being) able to explode.
“Going back to my defensive background, it’s helped me on the receivers, being able to teach those guys how to attack opposing defenses, the techniques, the alignments, how to get open and create separation and how to attack certain defenses whether that’s by run or by pass. It’s been a huge impact in my coaching career and my philosophy, understanding defenses and knowing how to attack them.”
Since accepting the program’s offensive coordinator position, Gattis has reinvented most of the Wolverines’ offensive scheme, tearing down some of the basic principles of Harbaugh’s previous scaffolding in the process. Last season, the Wolverines approached big moments with a conservative playbook. This season, the unit will look to attack under Gattis’ new system — an offensive style that he claims is built on a foundation of aggression.
“One of the things we talk about on offense is having to dictate the aggressiveness of the defense,” Gattis said. “We feel like if we can stay aggressive on offense, we can limit how
aggressive the defense is going to be. … We’re still going to have a mindset that we’re an attacking offense, but also that we’re a physical offense.”
Now in his fifth coaching stop, Gattis sees Michigan as a long-term home. In fact, he turned down head coach Jim Harbaugh several years ago when he offered Gattis a position on his staff.
At that point, the timing simply wasn’t right. Gattis was happy with his previous role, and Harbaugh wasn’t in the market for an offensive coordinator just yet.
But this offseason, Gattis saw everything he needed to see in the job offer to accept it in a heartbeat.
“My appreciation for this university, what it stands for academically, Coach Harbaugh and what he’s built with this program and the success they’ve had,” Gattis said. “Very few times are you able to go into a program and take over as the offensive coordinator of a winning program. You’re going in not trying to figure out what went wrong, but how to make it better. That was something that was very intriguing to me when this opportunity came open, and it was a no-brainer.”
13 years after taking Wake Forest’s defense to new heights, Gattis will look to have the same effect at Michigan. But this time, his impact will be felt on the other side of the ball