H4: Hall of Harbaugh Quarterbacks, Part 1 Comment Count

Seth February 10th, 2015 at 10:15 AM

Michigan's offense this year is facing the mother of all X factors in its quarterback situation. Brady Hoke left the rest of the team in relatively great shape, but its most important position in a Shane-or-die position.

Hoke and his staff recruited just Russell Bellomy (a last-minute flier stolen from Purdue) in the hybrid 2011 class, and skipped a quarterback altogether in 2012 because they already had a commitment from Morris in 2013. This was a bad idea then, and worked out awfully for Michigan. Bellomy's injury ruined any chance of a badly needed redshirt for Shane, so even if Morris worked out he'd be gone after 2016. And if he didn't work out: Michigan was going into this year hoping to catch lightning in a freshman from either lone 2014 recruit Wilton Speight, or early enrollee Alex Malzone.


From left: Morris, Speight, Malzone, Gentry, O'Korn. O'Korn won't be eligible in 2015 due to transfer rules but gives Michigan a guy they didn't have between Morris Speight.

This won't happen under Harbaugh. The former Michigan and NFL star likes lots of bullets and lots of competition at his old position, which he personally coaches. Harbaugh has already added the high-ceilinged Zach Gentry, a perfect complement to the high-floor Malzone. By this time next year (unless there's attrition), Michigan should have the above plus two years of eligibility remaining on Houston transfer John O'Korn, and likely one or two of the nation's best freshmen.

What I'd like to do, then, is go back through Harbaugh's quarterbacks—the starters and the recruits—to see if we can find any common threads in the type of guy he adds to the pile, and the type of guy who emerges from it.


Jim used his Orlando offseason home as a base from which to recruit the talent-rich region for WKU. [USA Today]

Western Kentucky
Recruiting assistant, 1994-2001

Bo's former defensive backs coach Jack Harbaugh was coaching at Western Kentucky, and struggling through his first few years, when the school decided it would cut two assistant coaching positions and a handful of scholarships (they already put very little toward equipment). His sons offered to do some scouting and recruiting for him—John from Cincinnati and Jim from his house in Orlando—and the harvest from those recruits was an WKU's rise to a I-AA national championship in 2002 and eventual reclassification into Division I-A.

The Jim-John co-op (John was doing much of the scouting, passing on guys Indiana couldn't recruit) was personally credited with 17 players on the national championship team. Nick Baumgardner got the story of Jim's first quarterback recruit, Willie Taggart:

Harbaugh explained he was trying to round up some talent for his dad's program. He told Taggart that he and his father were watching tape of Manatee and asked, "Who is that little skinny guy?" Jim said he thought he should play quarterback in college and he'd come by the school on Tuesday at lunch to discuss it further.

Taggart hung up and assumed it was a prank or something. "I called my high school coach and he checked on it and said, 'Yeah, Jim is Jack Harbaugh's son.'

Manatee was a Tampa area powerhouse back then, so Taggart's a guy who absolutely would have shown up on recruiting radars today, and had FBS programs looking at him then. He became the best QB in school history, improving a 2-8 team in in 1995 to 7-4 in '96 and 10-2 in '97. Taggart is now USF's head coach, and was an assistant for Jim at Stanford.

Taggart returned to WKU in 2000 and ran an option offense that rotated between three candidates. The original winner was Jason Johnson. They got the 6'3/200 Johnson out of Palmetto, but with the limited scholarships they couldn't offer him one out of high school. Johnson went to a military college for a few years before being re-recruited:

It was during that second season that Johnson had to renter the recruiting game. He was in contact with a number of Division programs, including Clemson, South Carolina, Kansas State and Indiana, but in the end Western won out.

Donte Pimpleton was the second, a local-ish dual-threat kid who wound up playing receiver—there isn't anything on the internet connecting his recruitment to the brothers. The third candidate, and the starter of the 2002 championship team, was Jason Michael, another local recruit, onetime Jim Harbaugh assistant in SF and now the OC of the Tennessee Titans,

Jim did recruit Alan Ogletree, an overlooked athlete from Atlanta who ended up starting at every position in the defensive and offensive backfield for the Hilltoppers (QB, RB, FB, WR, CB, SS, FS, K, P).

[After the jump: Raiders and San Diego]


Oakland Raiders
uarterbacks/quality control, 2002-'03

In Harbaugh's first year at as QBs coach for Oakland, his QB won MVP and led his team to the Super Bowl. Both he and Rich Gannon admit Harbaugh wasn't doing a lot of coaching for the starting QB, who was his same age. Harbaugh had the backups, but he also was responsible for breaking down film and tendencies:

"I'm an offensive assistant. Basically, I get to work with the backup quarterbacks, Marques Tuiasosopo and Rick Mirer. I do some computer work and break down the opponents. I watch a lot of film. I average about 104 hours of working a week."

Did better scouting account for Gannon's career season? Not really. Amplitude did:

Rich Gannon Att YPA* TD/INT Cp%
Washington (1993) 141 4.38 0.43 59%
Kansas City (1995-'98) 673 5.52 2.09 58%
Minnesota (1987-'92) 1084 5.52 1.11 56%
Oakland pre-JH (1999-'01) 1641 6.45 2.32 62%
Oak under JH (2002-'03) 896 6.32 2.29 64%

*ypa is sack-adsjusted.

Gannon was the same Gannon, except in an offense that passed more—he had 6 or 7 more attempts per game under JH than in Oakland's offense previously. By 2003 he was 38 and wouldn't play another full season.

Those backups, Rick Mirer and 2001 draftee Marques Tuiasosopo, filled in the eight and a half games Gannon missed in 2003. May as well compare but there's not much there.

Rick Mirer Att YPA TD/INT Cp%
1993-2000 1999 4.90 0.66 53%
Under JH 243 4.71 0.60 52%
Marques Tuiasosopo     Att YPA TD/INT Cp%
Under JH 47 6.60 (0/3) 56%
After JH (2005-'08) 49 2.86 (2/4) 51%

Zooming in from the aggregate, the backups were anecdotally serviceable to good when called upon. You may or may not remember Tuiasosopo's 224-yard second half on Monday Night Football in 2003, which ended one yard short of an epic comeback. The linked article includes this from Jerry Rice:

“I looked at Marques in the huddle, and he reminded me of Joe Montana,” Rice said after the game. “He was very composed. He knew what he wanted to do, and he was able to do it.”


Oakland didn't draft or sign a new quarterback while Harbaugh was there so we can't say much about his scouting here. At least his wards say nice things:

"The players will flock to his personality," Raiders quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo said. "He's the type of coach they'll want to play for."

That article's from when Harbaugh took the Stanford job.


University of San Diego (FCS)
Head coach and quarterbacks coach, 2004-'06


Jimmie Dougherty, Tim Drevno, Jim, and Jack Harbaugh (from USD 2004 media guide)

The Toreros that Harbaugh took over weren't just Division I-AA, they were in the Pioneer League, which meant they didn't have full-ride scholarships and only a few financial aid offers to give out.

June 2005 Cover.indd
June 2005 cover of San Diego Family

They had just graduated a longtime starting quarterback who had been the bulk of their offensive production, so like at Michigan, Harbaugh was starting with a clean slate.

The first guy he got was transfer Todd Mortensen, who had already graduated summa cum laude (straight-A's) from BYU with one year left of eligibility. After that year Mortensen was picked up by the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent, and later signed with the Patriots. He also established the model for all future Harbaugh QBs:

Mortensen would routinely arrive at the line of scrimmage with three possible play calls: a run or a pass based on the defensive alignment and, if the defense showed blitz, a third play Mortensen termed a "man-to-man beater."

"The complexity was in the game plan and being able to come up with the right play against the right defensive scheme," Mortensen said. "... But once you're running the play, Jim made it so your progressions and decision-making process was very clear cut, very simple and allowed you to make those decisions quickly."

This will be a recurring theme with Harbaugh QB management: lots of reads pre-snap so that the post-snap decisions are easy. It also didn't come right away; San Diego's 7-4 season started 2-4 and ended 5-0.

Harbaugh had two more quarterback recruits his year at San Diego. The first was David Perez, a transfer from Jeff Tedford's Cal. The second was all-around athlete Josh Johnson out of Oakland (Technical—same school as cousin Marshawn Lynch), whose best offer was Idaho State, being (at the time) 5'9 and having missed his entire junior season to injury. Harbaugh offered him after seeing him play basketball:

"He saw Josh playing basketball," Oakland Tech coach Delton Edwards said of Harbaugh's visit. "He saw what kind of leader he was and how aggressive he was on the basketball court. And then he looked at his highlight tape and he just fell in love with him."

Johnson (who shot up to 6'3) became the best player in the history of the school, and first to ever be drafted (5th round, Tampa Bay). Johnson has bounced around the fringe of the NFL since, most recently in a second stint with San Francisco.

The raw QB stats (Harbaugh years bolded, not sack-adjusted):

USD Quarterbacks Passing Rushing Totals
Year Player Att Cmp% Int Yds Eff Att Yds YPP TDs
2003 Eric Rasmussen 318 61% 3 2982 174.5 38 29 8.46 35
2004 Todd Mortensen 389 60% 6 2874 140.3 29 -25 6.82 27
2005 Josh Johnson 371 70% 8 3256 171.5 86 379 7.95 40
2006 Josh Johnson 371 66% 5 3320 169.0 107 720 8.45 45
2007 Josh Johnson 301 68% 1 2988 198.3 101 726 9.24 45

Mortensen's legs didn't factor into the offense, but Johnson's, while not exactly dual-threat territory, were a nice little weapon.

Other recruits: In 2005 Harbaugh took Ben Hannula, a legacy (brother was a senior receiver in '04) state of Washington prospect who'd garnered preferred walk-on offers from Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State. Hannula was also an all-around athletic type who became a constant on-field presence at RB, CB, and WR, while serving as backup QB. The second QB recruit for '05 was Kevin Dunn, who set school passing records at Santa Barbara. Dunn ended up moving to safety, then linebacker, then SAM/WDE.

The heir apparent was 2006 recruit Andrew Rolin, who started the opener in 2007 (Johnson was serving a one-game suspension). Rolin was a 6'3"/210 athlete out of the Sacramento area with interest from Nevada and UNLV. Again, he was a little-known guy whose team won a lot more than usual with him. Rolin and Hannula ultimately lost a three-way battle for the starting job in 2008 to Juco transfer Seb Trujillo. The second 2006 recruit was athlete Anthony McCrady, who'd taken over at Oakland Tech after Johnson. McCrady wound up a rotational linebacker. A third was Tommy Eulberg, another tall and lanky athlete; Eulberg never made it up the depth chart and is now a high school assistant coach.

[Coming up in part II]

Jim Harbaugh Andrew Luck Washington State DIytpfI_3yolrawr.



February 10th, 2015 at 10:53 AM ^

Quarterback situation looks good for 2016. Actually really good. 2015 is the question mark. I hope someone steps up from day 1 and locks down the position. My best guess would have Speight but time will tell. Go Blue!


February 10th, 2015 at 12:03 PM ^

I don't want to place bets even on 2016, if only for lack of data.  I'd just say Harbaugh is doing exactly the right thing to fix the problem.  As for 2015, there's not much time to get any of these QBs prepared, and adding more doesn't make the process more efficient so much as just hedge our bets.  Rather than go all-in on Morris, we're taking the least from a pack of necessary evils* here.  Which frankly isn't all that different from Harbaugh changing the scheme on an established stable of QBs in the first place.  Don't anyone expect this offense to catch fire in his first season (though I'll be happy if that happens).  What I expect is regression in 2015, then steady improvement through 2016.

The beauty of it is, there's little downside (except, dang, that's a lot of scholarship QBs).  This guy is a famous NFL QB and coaches his own padawans, so while there's a mathematical certainty that the supermajority of these guys won't see the field next season, you're being coached under Jim frickin' Harbaugh.  As mentioned earlier on this blog, you apprentice like crazy under a "high-functioning lunatic".  If the dust clears from Thunderdome and you find yourself buried in the depth chart, transfer and play your last 1-2 years as the likely starter of another program.  Meanwhile Harbaugh's taking two QBs a year so the departures won't be detrimental.  Basically this is the beginning of a QB factory.

*not questioning their talent or effort, it's just that in year 1 of yet another scheme change they all might as well be true freshmen, pessimistically speaking.

Go Blue in MN

February 10th, 2015 at 1:06 PM ^

what does that leave us with . . . 2 points per game?

I'm hoping that a better running game from an experienced OL and RBs improves our offensive output in 2015, and believe that's realistic.  Unlike Devin, who was essentially asked to be the entire offense at times, in 2015 we will be expecting our QB to be a game manager who does not turn the ball over (I know that doesn't exactly mesh with Shane's performance so far).  If we don't score more points than last year, it will be another LONG season.


February 10th, 2015 at 1:52 PM ^

Regression from where they were at the end of last season, by which time the O-line was coached up to kinda decent.  If they install the Stanford gap-blocking scheme, though, all that work on inside zone goes out the window.

One thing about 2014 in retrospect -- as the season wore on, they improved against tougher defenses.  In the first half of the season, when they weren't destroying App State or Miami (NTM), the offense got blanked by ND and mustered 3 points against Utah (the only TD was an INT).  They went on to score 18 against Penn State, 11 against Mich State, and 28 against Ohio State.  Baby steps, but still, if they didn't improve, those Oct-Nov scores would've looked even uglier.  Northwestern was the outlier because Northwestern games are always insane; the only real disappointment (lowered expectations considering) was 16 against a porous Maryland D.

Point is, against tough Ds we went from scoring 0-3 points to at least 10.  That's progress, for what it's worth, and it's been pointed out that IZ takes years to learn.  Well, hit the reset button on the offense again.  But this time, expect a much faster progression because as much as Harbaugh's a solid play-caller, I think it's far more significant that he's purged the program of some pretty terrible position coaches.  I don't think Funk, for example, is near the walking disaster he's made out to be, but after seeing him finally given a solid year to teach a cohesive scheme, neither do I think he's any better than mediocre.


February 10th, 2015 at 10:58 AM ^

Given what you said about his ability to make quarterbacks go through proper progressions and "lots of reads pre-snap so that the post-snap decisions are easy" taking some time to take root, I feel that we should look at 2015 through that lens no matter who we start.

I'm all for optimism, but if we start slow this season I'll have faith that Harbaugh's teachings are worth waiting for to come to fruition in a young/inexperienced quarterback's mind (and body).


February 10th, 2015 at 11:10 AM ^

It sounds like Gentry is a great athlete with huge upside however he seems to be a boom or bust kind of prospect. Reading how Harbaugh was able to shift QB's to other positions if they didn't pan out and his general eye for athletes, is it possible to see Gentry move to TE if Malzone wins the job down the road or a guy comes in the next class that is just a better talent? Dude is 6'7" and has speed!


February 10th, 2015 at 11:11 AM ^

It sounds like Gentry is a great athlete with huge upside however he seems to be a boom or bust kind of prospect. Reading how Harbaugh was able to shift QB's to other positions if they didn't pan out and his general eye for athletes, is it possible to see Gentry move to TE if Malzone wins the job down the road or a guy comes in the next class that is just a better talent? Dude is 6'7" and has speed!


February 10th, 2015 at 11:17 AM ^

I think a big thing with respect to harbaugh is that he got his coaching starts at places where his talent evaluation needed to be good and creative. That can only help him now that he is here where he can be more choosy about who to recruit.


February 10th, 2015 at 11:23 AM ^

Great write up. To me what sets Harbaugh's QB recruiting apart is that he finds guys who have the same passion for the game that he has. His players at the lower levels seem to stay around the game after their playing careers are over.

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February 10th, 2015 at 11:34 AM ^

I have a feeling about Malzone.  He just seems like one of those kids that was born to play QB.  I'm not sure how his physical tools stack up, but he just has the look for what it is worth.  Gentry looks like a boom or bust kid.  I wouldn't at all be surprised if he was the first pick in the NFL someday with his measurables.  I'm really confident Harbaugh will coach up the kids and eventually we will be very sound at the position.  



February 10th, 2015 at 12:22 PM ^

I will be rooting for Shane, but from what he has shown thus far, I think he will be beaten out for the starting job.

I just hope that the lack of QB developement is directly related to poor coaching. Minus Shane's Bowl performance, our back up QB production has been atrocious. Shane looked absolutely clueless last year and Bellomy's performance against Nebraska was one of the worst QB showings I have ever seen.

The QB situation has been the key differentiator between us and OSU. If our first string QB could be 75% as efficient as their third string we will be in good shape.


February 10th, 2015 at 12:39 PM ^

To me, Morris is the Colin Kaepernick to Speight's Alex Smith.

Shane has all the tools. His arm strength is extraordinary. He has good wheels. He is the type of guy that aggressive coaches absolutely love, because he is basically just a bit of knowledge away from greatness, and knowledge is the easiest thing to coach.

Harbaugh is a confident coach. He probably licks his chops at the opportunity to coach a guy like Morris. If he can get Shane up to snuff between the ears, the sky is the limit. Coaches like Harbaugh are usually enamored with guys like that. Whereas a coach like Hoke might prefer the lower-ceiling, higher-floor guy like Alex Smith.


February 10th, 2015 at 12:59 PM ^

I think Malzone will come in and win the job with Speight nipping at his heels for time.

He wins the job and it's possible that Grant Perry sees the field as a true FR. I am excited to see both of them together at UM. Had great rapport in HS, will certainly continue in college.

I just think Morris was a product from poor development as were quite a few of the recent offensive players


February 10th, 2015 at 12:59 PM ^

I think Malzone will come in and win the job with Speight nipping at his heels for time.

He wins the job and it's possible that Grant Perry sees the field as a true FR. I am excited to see both of them together at UM. Had great rapport in HS, will certainly continue in college.

I just think Morris was a product from poor development as were quite a few of the recent offensive players


February 10th, 2015 at 12:34 PM ^

With no attrition and assuming Michigan has one quarterback recruit for the Class of 2016 (or perhaps even two), that means UM could have up to six scholarship QBs on the roster (Morris, OKorn, Speight, Malzone, Gentry and new recruit--or two).

So how many quarterbacks should be on scholarship?  What are the tradeoffs having six QBs when there are 85 scholarships available?  Does Harbaugh's strategy for recruiting QBs lead to position changes or transfers to other schools?  If yes, is that what you want to see UM doing gong forward?

Is good quarterback play absolutely essential for higher levels of success in college football?  Absolutely.  LSU has NFL talent sprinkled all over its roster, but the problem with last year's Bayou Bengals was a real lack of QB play.  The same could be said of Texas as well, and of course, Michigan has been hurting in that category as well.

But again, does Michigan really need six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster when fall practice rolls around in  August 2016?  Is this good roster management or will we see fewer QBs in the future when the overall talent level of the incoming recruits trends upward?


February 10th, 2015 at 1:35 PM ^

It will be frustrating, but I can foresee a scenario where Michigan has different starting qb's in 2015 and 2016. Harbaugh goes with the safe option in 2015, and then after a year of development the highest ceiling guy in 2016.

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February 10th, 2015 at 8:54 PM ^

I've been watching Michigan regularly since 2008 but I've never understood football really well (plays, formations, recruiting etc...) and I'm still learning. Being new to the MGoBlog I see that Hoke never took QB's seriously (Maybe he did?) and I am just wondering if that was part of his strategy, or maybe there was something that went terribly wrong. 

Anyway thanks for the awesome coverage here at MGoBlog! Go Blue!


February 10th, 2015 at 10:07 PM ^

Hoke recruited one superstar QB per year and had that guy be the first recruit of a class. That quarterback then became a rock star recruiter for his class.

It was a strategy that netted very good recruiting classes, and had guys like George Campbell committed at one point. On the other hand it needed success to maintain itself, and it needs the rockstar QBs to work out.