Michigan football: Wolverines owe Cade McNamara a debt of gratitude
Without Cade McNamara, Michigan would have been lost at the quarterback position.
If it weren’t for McNamara leading a charge to beat Rutgers in 2020, a 48-42 triple-OT victory, the Wolverines locker room probably would have hit an all-time low under coach Jim Harbaugh. It would have been difficult to rally the troops and get everyone on board for a championship run in 2021, but McNamara took it upon himself to lead the way.
His postgame speech in the locker room lit a fire under the Wolverines, one that continues to burn today.
His leadership, work ethic and demeanor were greatly appreciated in Ann Arbor, so much that Mike Sainristil, then a WR and now a key DB, chose not to flip his commitment away from the Wolverines. McNamara had that much influence as a fellow member of the 2019 recruiting class.
He also helped prepare JJ McCarthy for the starring role, so he deserves a nod for that as well.
On Monday, it was announced that McNamara has entered the transfer portal. An early-season knee injury sidelined him for the most of this year, creating discussion around his future in Ann Arbor. With Alex Orji waiting in the wings for a backup role and McCarthy excelling as the starter, McNamara had no guarantees of cracking the 2-deep, let alone regaining QB1 status.
He’ll be an asset for whichever program he chooses. Graded as a 3-star transfer, he’s considerably undervalued.
Only a 3-star? He was one of the main reasons Michigan won the Big Ten title in 2021 and made the Playoff for the first time. He was also a reason why Harbaugh was able to get his first win over Ohio State.
There isn’t a QB in the portal with the same pedigree as the 6-1, 206-pound McNamara, who has 2 seasons of eligibility remaining. A 3-star rating is suspect and a bit disrespectful — kind of like his exit from Michigan.
Back in September, Harbaugh essentially hinted at a transfer when answering questions during a media session. McCarthy had been crowned as the starter, and it was clear the Wolverines were moving on to the next generation.
“There are things that happen in football,” Harbaugh said, per The Wolverine. “It doesn’t always go the way you want or hoped it would, even when you’re putting in all the work and doing everything you possibly can. Doing a heck of a job. If really seen the right way, there’s a burden there, laid on you, you treat it like ankle weights. …
“It’s the nature of the business, playing football and quarterback. I know the competitor Cade is, and he’s got gravel in his gut and he’ll be ready for his next opportunity. That’s what I predict.”
Prior to the announcement of McCarthy as the starter, Harbaugh often cited McNamara’s attitude and work ethic as the QB’s top attributes. Gritty, gutty, gravely — all words used by Harbaugh to describe the now-discarded, former championship quarterback.
In a way, it’s a bittersweet separation. Some would say that McNamara deserved better.
What if the injury didn’t happen?
McNamara was the starter throughout camp, only to be blindsided with the new plan: He’d start Week 1 vs. Colorado State, McCarthy would start Week 2 vs. Hawaii — and then Michigan would make a decision on the full-time starter. If he had remained healthy, would he have had a shot to reclaim his spot? Or was the writing already on the wall?
“Coach mentioned that he wanted to — he doesn’t really want to do this switching this year,” McNamara said, per Wolverines Wire. “However it shakes out, that’s just how it’s gonna be. … I would definitely say it’s pretty unusual. It was kind of a thing that I wasn’t expecting by the end of camp. I thought I had my best camp. I thought I put myself in a good position. And that was the decision that coach went with.”
Harbaugh has had a lot of QBs come through Ann Arbor since 2015.
Some joined the program as transfers.
Some transferred to other programs.
But not one of them won a championship like McNamara, Michigan’s first outright Big Ten title since 2004. Sure, players and media have shown some respect to McNamara, now that he’s leaving. But he never really got his fair share of the spotlight, considering what he did for the program.
Some would have been bitter, even angry.
But not McNamara, at least not publicly. Instead of questioning things, he accepted the changes and continued to support his team. He was even named a captain, which said a lot about the level of admiration and respect from teammates.
“I was confident with the way I performed over camp, definitely felt that way,” McNamara said, per Wolverines Wire. “However, it’s just not my decision. So whatever it is, however, you know, whatever my role is, I’m honored that my teammates recognize me for the role that I have currently. And that’s about it.”
Next year, he’ll providing all those tangibles and intangibles for some other program. Just in the Big Ten, a bunch of teams could use what he has to offer. In the end, it’ll likely turn out that he and Michigan each gave the other something of value. That’s not such a bad way to leave things.