Mike Locksley and Josh Gattis teamed up to lead Alabama’s offense in 2018. While their dynamic attack led the Crimson Tide to the national title game, the duo split up after that season, with Locksley joining Maryland as a coach and Gattis heading to Michigan as its offensive coordinator.
Five years later, they’ll reconvene in College Park and attempt to rediscover the success they found in Tuscaloosa. Locksley hired Gattis less than two months after he was fired from Miami, where he led an underwhelming offense in his only season with the Hurricanes.
Locksley, who cited the pair’s previous success working together as a reason for the hire, said he wants Gattis to inject his personality into Maryland’s offense, which Locksley has rebuilt in his half decade with the team. But what is Gattis’ personality?
Although the Terps have yet to play a game with their new offensive coordinator, players have already noticed changes in how Maryland attacks through the air and on the ground. A look back at Gattis’ previous stints offers insight into what the Terps could become.
“Josh is a bright, smart coach,” Locksley said. “He’s not the young coach anymore, but a guy that has the game experience of calling it. He’s really kind of put his personality on it.”
Maryland boasts a diverse group of receivers that possess a unique mix of size, speed, experience and youth. Gattis calls to that luxury in his play by allowing his pass catchers to make decisions for themselves on the field, multiple Terp receivers said.
If a receiver anticipates or notices a coverage that will leave a certain area of the field open, they have the freedom to forego the original play call and get to that unmanned territory.
“[Gattis] really caters to our skill set,” Tai Felton said. “We have some fast guys, some big guys, so we’re able to make our own choices out on the field and read defenses. It allows us to get the ball in our hands more often.”
That trust from the offensive coordinator is new to Maryland. Previously, receivers couldn’t deviate from the routes they were told to run, Jeshaun Jones said. That trust also stems from confidence that the receivers and Taulia Tagovailoa will be in unison in how they read coverages.
Tagovailoa will work with a couple new targets — transfers Tyrese Chambers and Kaden Prather — but will mostly throw to players he’s grown comfortable with over his four seasons as Maryland’s starter. That will give the on-field chemistry a boost and make impromptu adjustments possible.
“We definitely have a lot more freedom as a receiver group,” Jones said. “Coach Gattis trusts us and trusts our playmaking ability.”
The quarterback called Gattis’ offense “more like an air raid” than systems he’s previously played in. Tagovailoa ranked 55th nationally in yards per attempt last season, behind many of the nation’s top passers.
Maryland is also experimenting with lining up Roman Hemby in the slot and out wide to manufacture more touches for the running back through the air. Hemby caught 33 passes for 298 yards last season, but had just one target beyond 10 yards past the line of scrimmage in 2022.
Hemby noticed Gattis pushing a faster pace offensively, perhaps looking to increase Maryland’s average of 73.5 plays per game last season, which ranked fifth in the Big Ten.
“It’s kind of more to my strengths,” Tagovailoa said. “Us quarterbacks … we like to have the gunslinger mentality.”
An imperfect roster kept Gattis from successfully implementing his philosophy at Miami. Three quarterbacks appeared in at least eight games for the Hurricanes in 2022, preventing Gattis from finding stability.
Primary starter Tyler Van Dyke was 73rd in the country in yards per attempt last season, well behind Tagovailoa, and the Hurricanes ran fewer plays per game than the Terps did a year ago en route to a 5-7 finish and Gattis’ dismissal in January.
At Michigan, a loaded offense aided him.
He led a Wolverines offense that posted more than 35 points per game and passed for more than eight yards per attempt in his final season. They deployed four pass catchers who averaged more than 15 yards per reception in 2021, another display of an explosive air attack. None of Maryland’s top receivers surpassed that mark last season.
“Every place I’ve been to, it’s not about the person calling the plays, it’s about the people running them,” Gattis said.
Locksley hopes Gattis can replicate his success at Michigan rather than his failures at Miami.
Locksley said he and Gattis, the head coach’s third offensive coordinator in his five-year tenure, have already disagreed on the way Maryland operates. Clashes like that are natural and welcomed, Locksley said. The head coach is always open to suggestions and willing to change.
“As with anything in our system, it’s up for debate from the standpoint of ‘this is how we do it’,” Locksley said. “But if there’s a way to do it better, or if there’s a way to do it more efficiently, we’ve got open ears.”