Shea Patterson remembers when he first met Jim Harbaugh. It was last December in Mississippi when the now-junior quarterback found the Michigan football coach’s straight-forward approach and character endearing.
So much so that, during the pair’s first recruiting visit, Patterson turned to his friend with a prophetic message.
“I want to play for that guy.”
Almost a year later, Patterson is indeed playing for Harbaugh — and quite well. Patterson has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns in 10 games as a Wolverine, delivering striking consistency with just three interceptions and a 66 percent completion percentage.
Patterson said that Harbaugh naturally helped with his knowledge and understanding of the game. That has been reflected in Patterson’s success in transitioning from Ole Miss’ spread offense to more complex sets at Michigan.
But Harbaugh’s effect on Patterson extends far beyond a playbook.
“I think he reminded me of that feeling again,” Patterson said. “Because every coach is different. But just his drive, his work ethic and the way he runs things here reminded me and has gotten me back in that killer mode.”
That killer mode is a product of an obsession for the game of football. It’s well-known that Harbaugh has it — from the cleats he wears on the sideline to mottos like “crave contact” — and Patterson says he does as well.
“Just his passion for the game — you can really see it,” Patterson said. “I think I’m one of those guys, too. I love the game. I love everything that comes with it. So does he, not only as a player back when he was playing, but as a coach. You can see it.”
That’s just a start for the similarities between the two. During his weekly radio show Monday, Harbaugh said that he and Patterson are “on the same page,” and even took it a step further.
“I think I get him,” Harbaugh said.
The parallels are not glaring in front of the media. Harbaugh can be unpredictable, tense and combative at times. Patterson, meanwhile, is soft-spoken and even-keel.
But the two have meshed on the football field. Patterson has seen clips of Harbaugh during his playing days evading defenders to complete throws on the run — something Patterson continues to do successfully at Michigan.
In the third quarter last Saturday against Rutgers, Patterson rolled to his left and threw across his body 30 yards down the sideline. It was not a high-percentage play — but it was for Patterson. He put it in perfect position for sophomore receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones to make the catch for a third-down conversion.
“He made some throws that were just unbelievable,” Harbaugh said Saturday. “Put in the right spot, with the wind blowing, swirling.”
It was not always this seemingly easy for Patterson. When he joined Michigan’s roster last winter, his eligibility for the 2018 season was still up in the air. And though many expected he would eventually win the starting quarterback job, it was not necessarily a guarantee for him.
“‘You got to earn it, you got to earn everything.’ That’s the first thing (Harbaugh) ever told me,” Patterson said. “He said when I came in, ‘Nothing’s going to be given to you. Everything’s going to earned. We got some really good quarterbacks here, you’re going to have to find a way to be the guy.’
“Once I had the opportunity to do that through play and the season as it goes, we continued to build that bond.”
Patterson and Harbaugh’s cohesion has the Wolverines at 9-1 and ranked inside the top four. Eleven months after the pair first met, Patterson knows his message to his friend was the right call.
“It’s been everything and more of what I thought it was going to be,” Patterson said.