You hang around Michigan fans enough, you start to find out what the cliques are. Me, I’m one of the eternal optimists. I like to say things like, “Next year, we have a lot of things going for us,” and “Trust the coaches, have patience,” mixed in with a recurring mantra of mental toughness and bouncing back after a loss or other adversity. Even after some bitter disappointments as a Michigan fan, I remain, deep down, an optimist.
But there are times when I realize things need to change, and the South Carolina game this past week was one of them. I was ready to forgive most of the offensive struggles this season; after all, there were a lot of hurdles to overcome, and just because the defense had to face a similar overhaul (and fared much, much better at it) doesn’t mean Michigan should bat 1.000 at hard challenges and should therefore have done just as well on offense. Hard things are hard. But I felt hopeful that Jim Harbaugh and company would be able to make the proper adjustments and salvage the situation, sooner or later.
But it’s become clear that something is not working. Michigan is paying over $2 million a year to fill its offensive coordinator position with two guys, both of whom had been offensive coordinators before under Harbaugh (Drevno at San Diego and Pep at Stanford).
We don’t know exactly what goes on behind closed doors - apparently Harbaugh liked to use an offensive coordinator by committee approach at San Francisco, too, so he doesn’t seem to mind the ‘cooks in the kitchen’ approach - but it feels to me like Drevno gets away from the running game too often and Pep remains out of touch from communicating his NFL schemes to younger players. There was not a coherent, preventive approach to the challenges this team would face - route-running, deep passes, establishing the run game early and often. (The team did get better at running the ball as the year went on.)
Overall, the season-long growth was lacking from the wide receivers (who really didn’t have a position coach) and the quarterbacks. Combined with bringing in Greg Frey and tinkering with different blocking schemes as the (young) offensive linemen were just reaching the field, this was just a big swing and a miss of a year.
Clearly, Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton know a lot of stuff, but they also clearly don’t know the right stuff for this team, right here, right now. I’m sure Tim Drevno can succeed as a run game coordinator and offensive line coach, and I remain optimistic that Pep Hamilton can contribute to … well, I’m not really sure where he can contribute, to be honest. Associate head coach? Quarterback coach? Wide receiver coach? Jack of all trades... guy? Solo OC? Well, he could succeed somewhere, I’m sure, but the point is he’s not succeeding now, and that means the players are not succeeding now. So we have to make a change.
You know, not surprising, given that I am an optimist, I’m also somebody who likes recruiting. Sure, it gets a little weird to follow attentively sometimes, but I love the promise that if young people buy in to a process and a team, they’ll be rewarded.
One of the most exciting prospects I’ve ever followed was Najee Harris, a running back from the 2017 class who almost went to Michigan. Well, Najee and his teammates just won a national title this week. So did Damien Harris, so did Da’Shawn Hand, so did Jedrick Wills. They bought in to a process and were rewarded. They didn’t go to Michigan. That was painful.
Another thought that’s been in my head lately: if there is one thing, I think, that pulls Michigan fans together, it’s a desire to win - either to roll the dice on Saturdays and see what you’re really made of, or a more intense desire to prove you’re the best. Either way, Michigan is a little less of a community than other fan bases, and more of a group with a shared interest and objective - like a workplace.
Michigan fans believe in proving yourself, believe in your resume, and they believe in winning. And I truly believe the only day they’ll ever be happy is the day they win a national championship. Not the day before, not the day after. Michigan could reach the CFP semifinal next year, or the title game, get bounced, and fans will still be unhappy. 8-5 and 10-3 are just shades of the same disappointment.
And the offense is what’s holding us back from that - from real victory. It’s holding the team back. Tarik Black said on Instagram this week that Michigan is going to win the national title in 2018-19. God, I hope he’s right. But for him to be this decade’s Jim Harbaugh and make a famous prediction that comes true, the real Jim Harbaugh needs to make changes to the offense. Because the one we have is sputtering beneath a coaching staff that can’t get it done. Simple as that.
And when that change comes, if it comes, you can bet I’ll be optimistic about it.