The Michigan Wolverines were so close to snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The 143 team was Michigan’s best team since the 1997 team and possibly one of the top three teams in program history. But in the end, the 2022 season suffered the same fate as the 2006, 2016 and 2021 teams.
Aside from the obvious improvements of cleaning up self-inflicted wounds, how does this team continue to evolve and finally reach the next level? For now, let’s focus on the offensive side of the football, otherwise this could turn into a 5,000 word essay where I slowly descend into insanity arguing the nuances of defensive line technique.
Michigan’s rushing attack was deadly. The two-headed monster of running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards combined for 2,454 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. The Wolverines have a distinct foul-mouthed football identity, and that will never go away as long as Jim Harbaugh is the head coach of this team (please stay).
However, to optimize this offensive unit, the Wolverines must become a more fluid, consistent and efficient passing attack. Quarterback JJ McCarthy improved every week during his first year as a starter, and to accelerate his development in 2023, Michigan needs to bring in a passing game coordinator (PGC).
Offensive coordinators Sherrone Moore and Matt Weiss coexisted extremely well this season as double players and produced a top-five rushing attack and a top-six scoring offense. But the offense has lagged behind at number 83 in the country.
Aside from the statistical rankings, Michigan’s passing offense often felt forced, and nothing came easily enough — just compare Michigan and Georgia’s last few offensive possessions in the College Football Playoff.
Given that Moore and Weiss both come from a coach-first, ask-questions-later style, the influx of a PGC could inject the necessary creativity and game design to help balance and elevate this offense into a unit. Fuller. The most obvious example of the success of this is when LSU hired Joe Brady as the passing game coordinator and co-receivers coach in 2019. Brady helped orchestrate the most dynamic passing attack in college football history and took quarterback Joe Burrow from the middle transfer to the Heisman Trophy.
Harbaugh doesn’t need someone to do that, but he does need to hire someone who understands complementary football and his team’s identity. And it happens that the right person is looking for a job.
David Shaw resigned as Stanford’s head coach in late November after back-to-back 3-9 campaigns. Shaw succeeded Harbaugh at Stanford in 2011 and became the all-time winningest coach at his alma mater, posting a career record of 96-54 during his tenure.
In 2006, Harbaugh hired Shaw as his PGC and receivers coach at the University of San Diego. The Toreros went 11-1 and Harbaugh left the next year to take the job at a dormant 1-11 Stanford program. Harbaugh was so impressed with Shaw’s coaching that he brought him to Stanford and promoted him to offensive coordinator.
The Cardinal improved every year under Harbaugh: 4-8, 5-7, 8-5 and 12-1 in his final season in 2010. The biggest leap in improvement came when Stanford’s defense finally gained respect and when the attack evolved into a more balanced attack.
In 2009, Stanford’s rushing attack ranked 11th nationally (218 yards per game), while the passing offense trailed at No. 70 (209 yards per game). The following year, the rushing offense dipped slightly to No. 17 (214 yards per game), but the passing offense rose to No. 29 (258 yards per game).
Shaw had developed and cultivated an identity based on physicality, but could be just as dominant through the air.
The Harbaugh-Shaw connection is still alive and well after all these years. In his resignation press conference, Shaw referred to what he and Harbaugh started at Stanford in 2007: “I have an appreciation for Jim Harbaugh and the original staff. We started something that really, really lasted.”
Harbaugh has found his guy to lead the defense in Jesse Minter, and now he has to balance his offense. Shaw won’t be expected to come to Michigan and call plays or usurp responsibilities from Weiss or Moore; he just needs to design a passing offense to put the coordinators and players in the best place to succeed.
There are already some familiar faces on Michigan’s roster to make Shaw feel right at home. There’s Harbaugh, of course, but Stanford’s 2022 captain and center Drake Nugent, along with left tackle Myles Hinton, have both already transferred to Ann Arbor for the 2023 season.
Shaw and Harbaugh started something special at Stanford – it’s only right that they finish it together at Michigan.