Will the success of Shea Patterson determine the fate of Jim Harbaugh?
This is the position everyone quietly expected Jim Harbaugh to be in three years ago.
When Harbaugh first took over at Michigan, we were willing to cut him slack. We recognized the tattered state of the program and conceded that it may take a little time to get the Maize-and-Blue back into the national conversation.
Back then, needing three or four seasons to restore Michigan’s name among the bluebloods of college football seamed like a reasonable time frame. But Harbaugh became a victim of his own success, the Wolverines winning 10 games in his first season (2015) and following it up by posting victories in the first nine games of 2016 and climbing as high as No. 3 in the College Football Playoff polls.
After that instant success, we’ve had trouble getting over the fact that Harbaugh hasn’t finished higher than third in the B1G East and owns a 1-5 record against Michigan State and Ohio State.
Funny how things change, isn’t it?
In reality, this is exactly where we initially thought Harbaugh would have Michigan by this time. This might be the most anticipated season in recent memory for the Wolverines. The defense is loaded, considered to be one of the top five units in the country by most. And Shea Patterson — the mobile, accurate, playmaking quarterback that has everyone in Ann Arbor salivating — is under center.
Truthfully, it’s that last part — the addition of Patterson and his incredible skill-set — that has everyone buying stock in Michigan. He’s been anointed as the holy savior of the winged helmet without taking a single snap.
The stars have aligned. The pieces are in place. Michigan finally has a quarterback capable of leading a championship-caliber offense. If the Wolverines were going to reestablish themselves as a prominent power in the B1G and consistent contender nationally, 2018 would be the starting point.
What if it’s not, though?
What if the defense struggles against some of those potent B1G offenses? If Michigan still can’t eclipse that third-place spot in the East? Or if the Wolverines go another year without beating Ohio State? What if Patterson flops?
Again, it’s really that last part that I’m most interested in.
Michigan’s biggest issue throughout the first three years of Harbaugh’s tenure has come under center. There’s never been a quarterback on the roster capable of extending a play, commanding a game or leading a game-winning charge.
Jake Rudock wasn’t that guy. Wilton Speight wasn’t that guy. John O’Korn wasn’t that guy.
Patterson can be that guy. At least he’s got all the necessary tools. He’s mobile, accurate and capable of making big plays. Even his teammates complimented his overall ability to play the position at B1G Media Days in July. There’s no question he’s the most talented gunslinger Harbaugh has had the pleasure of coaching in Ann Arbor.
So what if Michigan — what if Patterson — can’t get it done? Does it have any affect on Harbaugh’s future?
Personally, I’m not a fan of ousting the guy who has brought some sense of consistency and stability to a program that has been in constant flux since the Lloyd Carr era came to an end over a decade ago. There has been too much hiring and firing in an attempt to steer this ship out of choppy water.
You don’t pay a coach over $50 million to save a sinking program just because he’s having some early trouble with Ohio State and Michigan State. Harbaugh still has a .718 winning percentage.
Firing Harbaugh just doesn’t seem explainable, especially when there’s no guarantee the next guy will do any better. It’d be a pretty risky play by athletic director Warde Manuel.
On the other hand, Michigan has a passionate fan base, one that has been waiting a long, long time to be on the same level as Ohio State and Michigan State. Losing to Ohio State and/or Michigan State and failing to reach the B1G Championship Game, in such a highly-anticipated season, would be nothing short of heartbreaking.
And, there’s the “if he can’t win with Patterson, who can he win with?” argument. Patterson being the most talented quarterback in the Harbaugh era — and one of the most hyped in the country — has increased the pressure for Harbaugh to produce championship-level results in 2018.
Sure, former 4-star, pro-style quarterbacks Joe Milton, Dylan McCaffrey and Brandon Peters would all have great opportunities to lead Michigan back into the national picture, but would folks be willing to wait and find out?
There are two sides to the coin. There really isn’t a correct stance to take right now. We’re still in August and not a single snap has been taken. But it’s still an interesting question to ponder.
This is exactly the position we expected Harbaugh to have Michigan in three years ago. The difference is, now we’re a little more eager to see the Wolverines take that next step. The staff is in place, the defense is in place, and now, the quarterback is in place.
Patterson has the opportunity to define the Harbaugh era at Michigan, one way or another.