Michigan football has undergone a philosophical shift on offense with new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.
The shift involves a no-huddle attack with an abundance of pro-spread sets. In order to install the offense and hit the ground running, head coach Jim Harbaugh has allowed Gattis to do his thing.
“I’ve brought this offense in and I’ve allowed everybody to have a piece of it,” Gattis said in April. “But he does not get involved in the offense. He’s really giving me the freedom. He’s given me the authority to run it the way we seem it necessary to put our kids in a position to be successful. That’s truly a great attribute of his. As being the head coach and CEO of the program, he felt like he’s doing what’s best to put our kids in a position to win.”
Harbaugh may not be getting involved in the implementation of the offense, which is over 2/3rd’s installed, but he’s still been very much involved in Michigan’s quarterback room.
“He’s never far,” quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels said on Wednesday. “He’s never far and I don’t want him far. I’ve probably had to tell him that I want him around as much as anything. He’s never far. His knowledge, his experience specifically for that room is unmatched in our building, so as much interaction as he wants to have and can have with our quarterbacks is very good for those quarterbacks.”
As a former Michigan quarterback and Pro Bowl NFL signal-caller, Harbaugh certainly knows a thing or two about the QB position.
Harbaugh will always be a quarterback at heart, a competitor. Before every Michigan game you can find Harbaugh on the field catching passes from his quarterbacks, and throwing balls as well.
Harbaugh can give sound advice to any player on Michigan’s roster, but the quarterback position is his specialty. Just take it from Harbaugh’s star pupil at Stanford, Andrew Luck, who became the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL Draft. “It sounds cliche, but (what he really taught me was) competitive edge,” Luck said in 2016. ”How to play quarterback, not just on the field stuff, but the off the field work description, in a sense, that a quarterback has. He’s a heck of a coach.”
As McDaniels put it, Harbaugh is never far from Michigan’s QB’s, something 5-star Michigan QB commit J.J. McCarthy told Maize n Brew in April. McCarthy said he sat in on a QB meeting and Harbaugh was “heavily involved”.
At the moment, Michigan’s QB depth chart is loaded with the likes of Shea Patterson, Dylan McCaffrey, Joe Milton, and Cade McNamara.
While Harbaugh has let Gattis paint the picture and implement the blueprint of Michigan’s offense as he sees fit, Harbaugh’s guidance in the QB room remains as valuable, or more valuable than ever.
Michigan will be running read-option looks this season, and Harbaugh is well-versed in those schematics. This isn’t the first time a Harbaugh offense underwent a major shift in philosophy. Midway through the season in 2012 with the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh benched Alex Smith and rode the hot hand of Colin Kaepernick all the way to the Super Bowl.
With Smith, the 49ers offense was more of a traditional west-coast one, and with Kaepernick’s dynamic speed, Harbaugh added pistol formations and read-option runs. During 2012 through 2013, Kaepernick rushed for 939 yards in the regular season while adding another 507 yards in the ground in six playoff games, scoring 13 rushing touchdowns in all. His passing prowess was solid too, totaling 31 touchdown passes to 11 interceptions.
The point about Kaepernick is an important one to make, Harbaugh has already been there and done that with installing a new offense and showing the ability to coach scrambling quarterbacks. In fact, that is when Harbaugh has had the most success as a head coach. In two seasons under Harbaugh’s tutelage as starting QB at Stanford, Andrew Luck rushed for 807 yards and 5 touchdowns, while also throwing 45 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions.
Harbaugh, who was a scrambling quarterback himself, ranks in the top 20 all time in rushing yards by an NFL quarterback with 2,787. When factoring that in it isn’t a surprise his best QB’s have had the ability to take off with the football.
Right now Michigan’s QB room is as dual-threat of one as you’ll find in college football. Patterson is a dual-threat QB, McCaffrey runs like a gazelle, Milton can fly, and McNamara can scoot too. Gattis has installed an offense that maximizes the strengths of its players, QB’s included. The QB will be allowed to run aplenty in the new scheme.
There’s a reason Harbaugh brought Gattis in. He liked his demeanor and his coaching chops, he liked his vision of what Michigan’s offense should look like in the years ahead. This is the type of offense Harbaugh can help guide a QB along in, teaching them all the nuances of being a college QB. Even the no huddle element of Michigan’s offense that now exists that didn’t prior, Harbaugh has experience with (ran no-huddle offenses in the NFL as a player).
While Josh Gattis may be the most hands on when it comes to Michigan’s coaching Michigan’s new offense, Harbaugh’s presence is as hands on as ever with the quarterbacks, and that is a good thing for the unit, and the team in general.