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Michigan mailbag: Season is over but the drama is just getting started

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan’s season is over, and so is Early Signing Day. Phew. Guess this means it’s time to sit back and wait for the early enrollee players to arrive and then start thinking about spring practice.

Oh, sure.

Nothing has been normal about 2020, except the constant that is Michigan football drama. You know it’s true. And what’s left? Finding out how the Jim Harbaugh contract shakes out and what’s next for the staff, for one thing. 

On that note, let’s get to the mailbag. As always, thanks for sending questions.

J.J. McCarthy

Question: What is your prediction of probability that J.J. McCarthy starts next year day one? -- @HPMike65

Question: With McCarthy enrolling in January, do you think Milton or McNamara will look to transfer? -- @11coachmike11

Question: Will Harbaugh let J.J. start over Cade? I believe at this point we know J.J. is a much better QB even as an incoming freshman. What do you think? -- @fforevergoblue

Answer: Lots of J.J. McCarthy questions here and there’s good reason. In many ways, McCarthy is the face of this 2021 freshman class, already a leader who has established ties with this group and helped recruit and hold things together. He will enroll early, he will participate in spring practice -- assuming everything reverts to normal, and so it will begin. Big things are expected of McCarthy, and he expects them, too, although he maintains he will do whatever the team needs, even if that means being the clipboard holder.

I don’t see McCarthy starting next fall, but it will be interesting to first see how things play out with Joe Milton and Cade McNamara. It isn’t a crowded quarterback room in terms of numbers, but it is crowded in terms of guys who want to start. Dylan McCaffrey opted out before this season.

Will someone transfer? With the NCAA granting the one-year pass on transfers with immediate eligibility, I bet we get that answer after spring ball, and I do think there’s a good chance that happens. One thing Harbaugh had to learn this season – and he could have learned it sooner, say in 2017 when he should have given Brandon Peters a shot earlier – is that hitting the pause button repeatedly and holding off on making a change even during a game when it’s clear a spark is needed, isn’t ideal. Just do it and deal with bruised egos later. He’s big on life lessons, after all.

Subscription: Jim Harbaugh, Warde Manuel meeting to discuss coach's future at Michigan

Question: Coaching philosophy, why haven’t we evolved? We’ve made changes on the surface with different formations/packages/plays. However those moments are fleeting. Why stick to the ways of old rather than build onto where football is going? -- @TreDay80

Answer: The hiring of Josh Gattis signaled a change in philosophy, didn’t it? Has it worked well? Do I need to answer that? This doesn’t mean it’s the wrong approach. It means that a guy who had never called plays before arriving at Michigan is learning along the way as are the players. Was this ideal? Again, do I need to answer? This also doesn’t mean it can’t work. But Michigan really does have to decide what it is offensively. And in Year 3 of calling plays, if Gattis is running the offense next fall, he needs to shy away from gimmicks and go with what works. After McNamara came in at Rutgers, the play calls for the most part worked, didn’t they? 

Question: Bowl game? -- @Yostmeister

Question: Any chance we go to a bowl game? -- @KRPhillips13

Answer: No and nope.

Joe Milton and Cade McNamara

Question: I’ve heard rumors about Milton and Charbonnet entering the dreaded portal. Can you elaborate on who else might be going? -- @Danny_Halling

Answer: Dreaded? Why is it dreaded, Danny? It goes both ways, right? Michigan can lose guys to transfer and pick up guys (think defensive tackles for starters). But to your question, have also heard those rumors but can’t confirm. Perhaps a receiver and a defensive back may find their way to the portal. Stay tuned.

Question: Will Harbaugh do anything to improve our defense or will he replace Don Brown or any defensive position coach? Let’s face it, we have been bad on defense, especially against that school down south. -- @Lesisallot

Answer: Brown is taking a big hit for the defense, and, well, it is his show and he’s running it, so of course he’s getting the fingers pointing at him. I think a lot of upcoming decisions will revolve around money. With that in mind, I’m not sure there will be a change there. But will demands be made to change his approach regarding his philosophy? I’d bet yes.

More: J.J. McCarthy has 'it factor'; Jim Harbaugh raves about Michigan's recruiting haul

Question: Appears a contract extension for Harbaugh is imminent. If he stays, where do you see staff shakeups? Outside of Ed Warinner and Jay Harbaugh, changes are possible, even necessary everywhere else. Your thoughts? -- @JGV62082

Question: Thoughts on the defensive staff? Now that the season’s over and defense has steadily declined, who stays and who goes? -- @GoBlueMO

Answer: Mark and Jeff, there’s always the possibility coaches leave because they find something that better suits them, so don’t rule that out. Clearly, they need a safeties coach, so that’s a pretty good place to start. It is very possible that if Harbaugh signs an extension, one of the parameters will be that he must adjust the staff. I still think they need a running backs coach who played the position. Jay Harbaugh is a proven recruiter, and not saying he should be off the staff, just moved perhaps, to a special teams-only role and open that spot for a running backs coach.

Question: What’s it gonna take to get Larry Foote in here as defensive coordinator? -- @JasonKiessel

Answer: Why would Larry want to leave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Some coaches love being in the NFL. He would be a great addition to any college staff, and you gotta love recruiting and there’s no doubt he’d be great at it. But the NFL is a nice place to be, too.

Jim Harbaugh

Question: JH told recruits he plans/wants to be at UM. Does that put pressure on Warde to agree to an extension now that they’ve waited? -- @JonSSwartz

Question: What’s up with the silence regarding Jim, Don Brown? Season is over, let’s start hearing something. -- @ItsMustSeeGG

Answer: These are connected, so here we go. I think Manuel has been in favor of Harbaugh staying. A strong recruiting class helps, but will that be enough? Will Harbaugh be willing to settle for a contract he thinks is probably a bit beneath him financially? I’ve always said my gut feeling is Harbaugh returns, and I do think he will have to tweak his staff. As for the silence, Manuel and Harbaugh met Thursday. I do not think this will drag on.

Question: Michigan lost a few defensive recruits. Does that mean we’ve seen the last of Don Brown and even Shaun Nua? -- @MLKowalsky

Question: We noticed that some UM coaches tweeted yesterday and some didn’t. Do you think that relates to if they’ll be back next season? -- @TonyTtoporek69

Answer: Doubling up here, too. It’s a mistake to read into tweets and who made them and who didn’t. As for Nua, I said this last week in the mailbag – the lineman like playing for him and they want to play for him. Addressed Brown above.

Question: Is there any interest in trying to get (Will Muschamp) as the defensive coordinator? Wouldn’t that be a great hire? -- @NoBoyzAllowedBB

Answer: Don’t know if there is reason for Michigan to be poking around for a defensive coordinator, but Muschamp would be a good hire. I just wonder if a guy who has been a head coach a couple times would want to be a coordinator again.

Question: Is Hutch coming back next year or declaring? -- @nickjg2

Answer: My gut feeling is Aidan Hutchinson will return. This was clearly not the season he envisioned on any level. And for Michigan, which really needs strong leadership, he would be that pillar.

Question: Seems like I remember Jim Tressel commenting that one of his first priorities was putting up a recruiting fence around Ohio making it more difficult for UM to get players there. -- @s_crabtree

Answer: I can’t remember, Steve, but he probably did say that. Ohio State certainly has done a good job keeping really good Ohio players in-state, as has Cincinnati (shameless plug for my alma mater). But there is one old-school approach I always think is wise – Michigan should focus on recruiting Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois for starters and then pluck players nationally.

Question: Regardless of who will be the DC, do you see Michigan bolstering the defense through the transfer portal? -- @St3vWilds

Answer: For sure. Absolutely. A million times yes. Uh-huh. Does that say enough? They need defensive tackles and I’m not sure there’s time to wait for young guys to mature. They need guys with bulk, guys who have played, guys who can stop the run.

Question: I’ve been thinking the beginning of the defensive slide can be traced to Greg Mattison leaving after 2018 and further exasperated by Partridge leaving after last year. Great coaches and fantastic recruiters. Thoughts? -- @andrewchall13

Answer: Big, big losses in terms of recruiting if we’re talking defensive side of the ball. This class is ranked No. 12 nationally and they picked up some good talent on offense, especially. I’d throw Al Washington into that mix, too, of defensive recruiters Michigan misses. But Brady Hoke and Mattison sure seemed like they could identify good defensive talent, didn’t they? I keep wondering if the issues are developing talent on defense or identifying talent. I'd go with the latter.