Thought it would be useful to take a look at the 2010 and 2009 offenses of Stanford in a detailed way to see what sort of offense fans should expect if Jim Harbaugh makes a triumphant return to Ann Arbor. This will be the pass at 2010; I'll see if I have the energy to repeat the work for 2009.
At a 40,000 foot point of view I will cut and paste some data out of my earlier diary "A Statistical Look at Jim Harbaugh's Stanford Years" and then we'll go look at it from a player personnel perspective. I won't delve into the defense because frankly Jim needs a very good DC - he struggled thru 3 bad years on defense until Vic Fangio arrived on a silver platter and made a miraculous turnaround in 2010.
Harbaugh coached from 07 to 10, so I've also listed the data for Stanford in the year before and year after he coached for comparison (please note there was no FEI data in 2006)
Please note Andrew Luck was QB in 09/10/11:
|W/L||Tot Off||oFEI||oS&P+||Tot Def||dFEI||dS&P+|
Here is a deep dig into the data broken down by run / pass
|Rush O||Pass O||Rush D||Pass D|
Key - Total Offense is a simple measure via the NCAA that simply ranks team on total yards per game. Obviously teams in conferences with weaker defenses benefit. I prefer to ignore it and focus on the 2 advanced stats that while not perfect are more comprehensive: (1) Football Outsiders FEI measure and (2) Football Outsiders S&P+ measure. Both of these incorporate various strength of schedule adjustments, garbage time adjustments, blowout adjustments etc to give a more comprehensive view of a unit other than yards gained or yards given up. Read more about them here and here.
As I wrote in that earlier Harbaugh piece the commonly held belief that Stanford offense was all Andrew Luck is just wrong. Luck had a great 2010 and 2011 (post Harbaugh) and a decent 2009. But the Stanford offense of 2009 and 2010 was centered on the run - which did include Luck to a significant degree. The 2010 offense was 14th overall by the simple Total Offense measure and even more impressive via FEI and S&P+ at #5 and #3 respectively. It was also well balanced as it ranked #17 in rushing yards and #29 in passing yards.
Let's look at the players who constructed this offense
Contrary to revisionist belief, Andrew Luck wasn't a "can't miss" #1 overall prospect out of HS. That doesn't mean he wasn't highly touted but to hear people today, "Andrew Luck made Jim Harbaugh and anyone who had him would have done great". Luck was a 4 star, 68th rated player in the country, and #4 at his position. For perspective Shane Morris was a 4 star, 81st rated player in the country, and #4 at his position. Effectively these 2 guys were identical prospects via Rivals. Despite his ranking and being from Texas he did not have a single SEC offer, and only OK State offered in the Big 12. I don't know the specifics - but he committed in June 2007 as a 2008 prospect so that is relatively late in the process, but the point is this was not a guy everyone saw as a can't miss in HS.
Luck went from a solid RS FR year (that was nowhere near what a say a guy like Henne did as a true FR) and exploded on the scene in 2010 as a RS SO. Completion % at an almost unheard of 70%+, 9.0 yards per attempt, and a measly 8 INTs vs 32 TDs. For perspective 9.0 yards per attempt is in the range of a 2014 Cook, Barrett, and Nova.
Obviously QB is the most important position on the field and having an engine revving like this helps make a great offense. Luck's backups barely played in 2010.
Below are the 4 leading rushers for the 17th ranked Stanford rush offense.
I was a bit surprised to see Luck there at #2 in total yards - while a pretty mobile QB at the next level, getting nearly 500 yards at the NCAA level where sacks count against you is quite solid. The prior year Toby Gerhart and his nearly 1900 yards dominated the stat sheet. Four star, #220 rated player (2009) SO Stepfan Taylor took over as the lead back in 2010. (Of note, rushing focused teams like Nebraska, TCU, and Wisconsin also were after Taylor) The 5'11, 210 lb Taylor continued his lead back role post Harbaugh in 2011 and 2012, with 1300+ and 1500+ yards respectively. The Stanford offense actually throws to their RBs, and Taylor had 28 receptions for 266 yards (9.5 average) to go along with his rushing total. For a non RS second year player these are very nice stats.
Tyler Gaffney was a bit player in 2010 who would go on to big things later in his career. He came out of HS as a highly rated fullback. Wilkerson was basically a Thomas Rawls type of Stanford, a guy who never budged from this 2010 level in his career.
Overall, a solid and efficient running game. Taylor was essentially at the age Green/Smith were in 2014 (and less touted but one of the few 4 stars on the Stanford 2 deep) and performed very well with >1000 yards rushing and >250 yards receiving.
Below are the 7 leading receivers for the 29th ranked passing game.
Luck did a good job of spreading the wealth as there was not a primary go to guy per se. These were not also a bevy of high level recruits. Leading receiver (2 star) SR Doug Baldwin was a scant 5'11, 190 lbs. He had very little production until his senior year - and then surged. 6'2 207 lb SR Ryan Whalen had more protypical WR size but little pedigree - he was a walk on. But he was a prime time player for Stanford, in a major role in 2008 thru 2010. So your top 2 guys here were very experienced in terms of age but one was a low production 2 star (until his senior year) and the other was a high production walk on. Michigan has a bevy of 3/4 stars in comparison. JR Chris Owusu was coming off a very exciting SO campaign but looks like he was limited by injury as he only played 7 games in 2010. This was the only really highly rated guy out of the WR/TE set as a 4 star, #240 guy in the country in 2008.
Hey it's Jim Harbaugh so we have to talk TE. You are looking at 6'6 240 lb JR Coby Fleener. Fleener improved on his SO season by 7 catches and nearly 200 more yards as his per attempt jumped from 12.7 to mid 15s. Fleener was a 3 star with an offer sheet that looks like a 3 star. SR Konrad Reuland was the other TE.
All in all nothing like the type of guys UM gets blessed with. But that's the benefit of a cogent offense with a stud QB at the helm.
Hey there are no stats for the big uglies but let's talk a bit about them since one lesson we've learned the past few years is how important the lines are to good teams. 2010 Stanford had the benefit of returning 4 out of 5 starters including 2 future studs, RS SO LT Jonathan Martin and RS SO RG David DeCastro. Both started in 2009 as RS FR and were freshman All Americans in a very good offense. They were paired with 3 seniors, 2 returning SR starters (Phillips/Beeler) and 1 newbie SR starter (Hall).
- LT: 6'6, 304 RS SO Johnathan Martin
- LG: 6'5, 302 RS SR Andrew Phillips
- C: 6'3 285 RS SR Chase Beeler
- RG: 6'5 310 RS SO David DeCastro
- RT: 6'5 303 RS SR Derek Hall
So unlike 2009 where Stanford had two RS FR on the line this was a good mix with 3 seniors, including 2 returning starters and 2 RS SO who would eventually go on to be high level NFL draft picks. By the way that 2009 unit with 2 RS FR on it finished 2nd in the nation in sacks allowed. (no excuses about youth)
One should be very pleased with Harbaugh's eye for HS OL since both DeCastro and Martin were just 3 star west coast dudes in the 2008 class (DeCastro as a center). The other guys were obviously Walt Harris recruits but they formed a pretty well oiled unit.
If curious - and I am sure you are - the OL coach for that unit was named Tim Drevno, who was the OC/OL coach with Harbaugh at San Diego and followed him to Stanford to coach TEs for 2 years and then OL for 2 years. Drevno also followed Harbaugh to the 49ers for 3 years but went to USC last year to join Sark.
So there you have it - other than Luck Taylor and Owusu there were not many highly rated guys playing for what turned out to be one of the better offenses in the country. Obviously Luck helped but again Luck was not OMG LUCK in HS. 8 of the 11 starters were also upperclassmen. This offense looks a lot like the San Fran one (until this year) - run based, solid OL, playmaker at QB.... main difference is some serious playmakers at WR and TE in SF.
Not to end a positive story on a negative note but when you compare this roster with our embarrassment of HS talent riches, well.... it's not good. (Also had to bug the hell out of USC to lose to this type of team) Of course it makes you wonder what Harbaugh could do with classes full of top 150 prospects that the USCs and Michigans get.
No need to wonder anymore Jim. Come home.
Recent events have encouraged me to go back to read the sections of Three and Out about the 2007 coaching search. There are several lessons learned that James Hackett seems to have taken from the experience.
I very much want to avoid restarting the age-old debate on whether we should have hired Rich Rodriguez. That's not the issue here. The issue is how badly we screwed up the entire process, and what we are doing differently in 2014 to avoid the mistakes of 2007.
It seems to me that we can take away 3 major lessons from 2007:
(1) You need a single person in charge. In 2007, at least 3 separate people contacted coaching candidates on behalf of the University--and they were not always communicating with each other.
(2) Proceed with a sense of urgency, but not desperation. In 2007, Michigan went from having no real urgency straight into "panic mode."
(3) Control information. On several occasions in 2007, the media leaked information about events almost as soon as they happened. This scared at least one candidate away from the job who was otherwise quite willing to take it.
So...here is the chronology of the events of the four weeks from Lloyd Carr's official retirement to Rich Rodriguez's hiring, mostly summarized from Three and Out:
Saturday, November 17: Michigan loses to Ohio State.
Monday, November 19: Lloyd Carr announces that he will retire after January 1 bowl game. Bill Martin privately considers Kirk Ferentz the top candidate to replace Carr.
Wednesday, November 21: Mary Sue Coleman tells Bill Martin that Kirk Ferentz is not to be considered for the job.
Monday, November 26: Martin meets with the 6-member "search committee", mentions Tony Dungy as his preferred candidate, although Dungy had not been contacted nor had he expressed interest in the job. Committee discusses Brian Kelly & rejects him due to his reputation. Committee mentions Les Miles, Martin rejects the idea out of hand. No actual names were put forward for consideration other than Dungy; no plans were made to move forward.
Thursday, November 29: Miles's people attempt to contact Martin, not for the first time. They get in touch with Jamie Morris, who informs Martin of the contact attempts. Before leaving for a weekend trip to Florida, Martin tells Morris he will return the calls on Sunday when he gets back. Miles's people are not informed of this.
Saturday, December 1: Kirk Herbstreit announces Miles has accepted a job offer from Michigan. Miles's agent (and several people officially & unofficially associated with Michigan) desperately try to contact Martin in Florida, but Martin later claims he was not reachable because he did not know how to use his new cell phone. Miles announces to the press that he has not been talking to Michigan.
Sunday, December 2: Upon Martin's return to his Ann Arbor home, he receives an angry phone call from Coleman asking him what happened and where he was.
Monday, December 3: Martin announces to the media that he has a list of twenty candidates. Martin flies to New York under the guise of attending the National Football Foundation's Hall of Fame dinner.
Tuesday, December 4: Martin meets with Greg Schiano in New York City. Word of the secret meeting gets out to the press the same day. Search committee members express surprise, not having heard that Schiano was being considered for the job.
Thursday, December 6: Schiano announces to the press that he will not take the Michigan job. Martin informs search committee that the search would be postponed until after the bowl games.
Friday, December 7: In the wake of the bad publicity (and angry alumni feedback) that Michigan was beginning to receive, Coleman summons Martin to a private meeting in her office, informs him that she will be "working with" him on the coaching search until it is complete. Martin attempts to contact Miles, but is informed that Miles will only speak with Coleman, not with Martin. At 11am, Miles speaks with Coleman & Martin (in Coleman's office) on a conference call. Miles states "I would never say no to Michigan." By 1:30pm, news of the call has been leaked to the Detroit area press; Miles is not happy.
Monday, December 10: Coleman & Miles speak by telephone without Martin present. Coleman requests a face-to-face meeting in Miami for Tuesday (Miles will be there on a recruiting trip). Citing the press leak from Friday, Miles refuses to meet prior to the bowl game. Miles adds, "If you want me, then after the bowl game, I will be your coach...I would never say no to Michigan." Coleman discusses this phone call with regents Laurence Deitsch & Andrea Fischer Newman, who agree with this course of action, but ask her who is going to tell Carr. Coleman announces that she will do so. That evening, Carr calls Rich Rodriguez to talk about Michigan job. Rodriguez: "Is there interest in me on Michigan's part?" Carr: "Yeah, they're looking at you."
Tuesday, December 11: Carr encourages Martin to consider Rodriguez. Later that day, Michigan media announce that Miles is still being considered. That night, Martin calls Rodriguez to discuss the job. Rodriguez begins discussing job with friends.
Friday, December 14: Rodriguez, in Toledo for a pre-planned meeting with his financial planner, meets with Coleman & Martin. The job is offered to Rodriguez on the spot, with Coleman & Martin asking for an answer today. News of the meeting leaks to the media before the meeting ends. Martin asks Rodriguez to keep Carr's assistants. Coleman tells Martin, "No, Bill, you can't ask him to do that." Rodriguez tells Coleman & Martin that he needs to talk to West Virginia first.
Saturday, December 15: Rodriguez meets with President of WVU, who tells Rodriguez (basically) to take it or leave it.
Sunday, December 16: Coleman speaks by phone for 90 minutes with Miles and is very favorably impressed with him. Coleman tells Miles that they have offered the job to Rodriguez, but if it didn't work out they would contact Miles after his bowl game. WVU president tells the media that Rodriguez is never leaving. Rodriguez meets with Don Nehlen, who encourages him to take Michigan job. Rodriguez phones Martin to accept job offer, boards plane to Michigan.
Monday, December 17: Rodriguez introduced to media as Michigan's next coach. Rodriguez flies back to WV to close out business there.
Wednesday, December 19: Rodriguez returns to Michigan, followed by all of his assistants from WVU except Bill Stewart (who was not offered a job by Rodriguez) and Jeff Casteel (who was offered $265K and no contract by Michigan and $275K on a 2-year contract by WVU).
I’ve been watching The Wire – I’m through Season 3, Episode 6. Won’t be writing about this D’Angelo though. (source)
Your weekly B1G Hoops column
Table of Contents:
D’Angelo Russell player similarities
James Blackmon player similarities
Melo Trimble player similarities
The Big Ten is weaker than usual
Ugly losses: not just for football!
Michigan missing NCAA Tournament: DEFCON 3
We aren’t the only ones to lose to good teams
Trending up, trending down
Other player comparisons, by request
Early frontrunner for most B1G game of the year
1. D’Angelo Russell player similarities
Over the summer, I devised a system by which current players and their statistical profiles can be cross-referenced against a database of former Big Ten players (from 2008-2014) to find the most similar players. The “Similarity Score” system uses the difference between the z-scores of each statistical category (weighted equally), adds up the absolute value of those differences, and the players with the smallest Similarity Score number are the most analogous players – statistically speaking.
A few caveats: it is early in the season and the quality of opposition hasn’t been great, so some of these names might be a little too complimentary for the players listed; this isn’t a comparison of playing style or even listed position – the numbers are blind to all of that; these guys aren’t necessarily “as good as” the players listed below them – they’re just the closest out of the sample of Big Ten players over the last seven years. Every statistical system has drawbacks and this is no different, but it does provide an interesting jumping-off point for discussion and it definitely has some merit.
Click on image to enlarge. Top comps, in order: Trey Burke (2013), Gary Harris (2014), Jake Kelly (2009), Bo Spencer (2012), E’Twaun Moore (2011), Andre Hollins (2013), John Shurna (2012), Demetri McCamey (2011)
D’ANGELO RUSSELL IS NOT TREY BURKE. I’M NOT SAYING THAT. PLEASE DON’T ACCUSE ME OF SAYING THAT.
…but, against a terrible schedule, D’Angelo Russell has been absolutely superb. Maybe not Trey Burke superb, but pretty damn close if not. Even against Louisville – by far the best team that Ohio State’s faced thus far – he put up 17 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals (with 4 turnovers on rather inefficient shooting). There have been many impressive parts of his game – the steal rate bodes well for a potential NBA future, but nothing stands out to me more than his assist rate of 32.2 (5.4 assists per game).
Incredibly, he’s more efficient and has a higher usage than the names listed above (except for Trey Burke, with whom he’s on par). Again, he has only played one Kenpom Top-100 team, but that’s very impressive regardless.
Right now, everything suggests that Russell is a one-and-done talent. He stuffs the stat-sheet from the two-guard position with points, rebounds, assists, and steals; his tempo-free numbers are bound to regress against better competition, but Russell’s done everything that could be asked of him thus far. He hits threes – 20 of 46 for a nice 43.5% – and, at six-foot-five, he has size for the two-guard position in the league. Ohio State’s had plenty of NBA players under Thad Matta and, at least so far, it looks like Russell will be another one.
Also, another D’Angelo released a new album that’s pretty solid. [Ed-Ace: "Pretty solid" is a disturbing understatement, young buck.] [Ed-Alex: This is just the first step in truly refining my musical tastes.]
2. James Blackmon player similarities
Click on image to enlarge. Top comps, in order: Nik Stauskas (2014), Deshaun Thomas (2013), Jon Shurna (2011), Drew Crawford (2012), Tim Hardaway (2011), John Shurna (2010), Matt Gatens (2012), Deshaun Thomas (2012)
Another five-star, another standout freshman. Blackmon isn’t quite as well-rounded as Russell and probably isn’t as sure of a pro, but he’s been terrific for Indiana thus far this season. According to Pomeroy, the Hoosiers have the ninth-best offense (and 174th-best defense) nationally and the backcourt of Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon could stack up against nearly any other in college basketball – size (and, by extension, defense) is really the only major issue.
Like Russell, Blackmon’s blend of efficiency and usage is unsustainable, but absolutely excellent thus far. His shooting splits are fantastic: 53% on twos, 46% on threes, and 88% from the free throw line. Per data from Shot Analytics, he’s only taken 17 midrange shots – out of 130 total (13%) – which speaks to his shot selection and ability to get to the rim, where he finishes well.
Nik Stauskas isn’t a perfect comparison for Blackmon, but there’s a lot in common: both are very efficient shooters who have fairly similar shooting splits. Stauskas was a much better distributor and got to the free throw line more (while Blackmon’s a better rebounder). Deshaun Thomas is another intriguing statistical profile: Thomas is much taller than Blackmon and played as a stretch-four, but they’re the same type of remorseless gunner that has a high shot attempts to assists ratio. Blackmon shoots at a higher percentage however.
I know I have to mention it: arghhh Michigan could have used Blackmon this season.
[AFTER THE JUMP: more numbers (obviously); STOP LOSING EVERYBODY; stuff on Michigan]
Recruiting and player development go hand in hand – a lesson we have learned the hard way over the past few seasons. While it is important to recruit highly rated players, it is equally important to be able to discern which ones are more likely to pan out. At the same time, no matter how much potential a recruit has it is crucial to be able to maximize that potential on the field. Obviously the ideal coach has the ability to both evaluate talent, and to create a staff that will get everything out of them.
Jim Harbaugh had four recruiting classes at Stanford (though the first and the last may not have been solely his due to the coaching changes). To keep this simple I have just used the Rivals ratings. The first two classes had a lot of two stars as reflected in the average stars below:
2007: 2.63 (one 4*)
2008: 2.70 (two 4* including Luck)
2009: 3.27 (eight 4*)
2010: 3.13 (five 4*)
As you can see the quality improved each year, and I would guess that 2010 would have been even better had he not jumped to the Niners. On a personal note, when I look at recruits I am much more interested in offer lists than star ratings. Beginning in 2008 I began to see Stanford offers popping up all over the country – both for big name players and diamonds in the rough. Stanford offers were practically non-existent in my Michigan-centric searches before that. Clearly JH was even then capable of spreading a very wide and selective net throughout the country.
In 2009 Stanford had risen from terrible to 8-5, yet Harbaugh’s first (mixed) class were only juniors, and his next two classes were sophomores and freshmen.
By 2010 when they went 12-1 the only upperclassmen were 3rd and 4th year guys from his weaker first two classes (average stars well less than three). Of course there must have been help from the stronger ’09 and ’10 classes, but they were only 2nd and 1st year recruits.
JH was able to create a solid BCS bowl winning team with talent that – on its face – looks a lot lower than what we get at Michigan. This indicates not only his ability to develop talent, but also the recruiting acumen to find players with more potential than their star ratings would indicate. In sum, it appears (not surprisingly) that JH brings the same intensity and ability to recruiting and talent development that he does to all phases of the game.
For the last few years, I've blatanly stolen Seth's idea to use advanced metrics both to fill out my Bowl Pick'Em and to decide on which games to watch. Two years ago, using this approach got me 69% correct picks in my pool, but last year things were a bit rougher - an FEI-based pick'em got 54% correct, while a Sagarin PREDICTOR based one got 57%. When something doesn't work, throw more data it. So I put together a more elaborate spreadsheet (available here) that presents picks from several different advanced metrics: FEI, Colley, Massey (Power), and Sagarin (new, improved GOLDEN MEAN).
The methodology is straightforward - I compared all the teams using these metrics, and using the difference between them picked the winners and the confidence in the picks. That is, a huge difference in the ratings of the teams suggests a lock, a difference of zero is a push. In addition to looking at these metrics individually, I also put together a composite score by standardizing all the values and averaging them together. The list automatically sorts based on the system you use, with locks at the top and coin-flips (and presumably more exciting games) at the bottom. Interestingly, the four different system present three different potential national title winners, but none of those include OSU, so take some small pleasure in that.
Here is the table of composite picks:
|Rose Bowl Winner||Sugar Bowl Winner|
|Confidence - Watchability:||0.0807|
|Bowl||Date||Projected Winner||Confidence - Watchability|
|New Mexico||12/20/2014||Utah St||0.7864|
|Advocare V100 Texas||12/29/2014||Arkansas||0.7151|
|Popeyes Bahamas||12/24/2014||W. Kentucky||0.4061|
|Heart of Dallas||12/26/2014||Louisiana Tech||0.4038|
|Idaho Potato||12/20/2014||Air Force||0.2092|
|Quick Lane||12/26/2014||N. Carolina||0.2037|
Good luck in your bowl pools and happy holidays.
While we continue to play the waiting game these next few weeks — and in the spirit of today’s NFL scoreboard-watching and a ongoing analysis of the college “Football Four” — I had an idea. There have been endless speculation and rumors and so little clarity, and a myriad of possible head coach candidates multiplied exponentially by multiple coaching destinations for Candidate #1. Y’all know what we need, right? Of course, the device that always solves these types of multi-faceted challenges: Make a bracket.
Specifically, we’re going to create a “Harbaugh Four” semifinal bracket.
To borrow ESPN’s CoFoPo slogan, I believe we’ve seen the pool of possible destinations for Harbaugh get distilled down over the past few weeks, albeit via buzz, more buzz, and the Sportsbook odds (http://mgoblog.com/mgoboard/michigan-now-leads-harbaugh-sportsbook-odds). The final four appear to be the following:
#1 Seed: San Francisco 49ers While everyone would agree that they are the least likely “winner” of this bracket given the alleged bad blood boiling in the organization, the seeding is based on the bigger picture. Harbaugh is, in fact, their CURRENT COACH RIGHT NOW, and he has had tremendous success over his entire three-plus-year tenure there, so we’ll base the 49ers’ seed on being the “incumbent.”
#2 Seed: Oakland Raiders Oakland makes it “in” based on buzz and those NFL “insider” reports we love to hate, plus the whole Bay-Area thing and the fact that the Raiders gave Harbaugh his first pro coaching opportunity.
#3 Seed: Miami Dophins Miami represents what Vegas has on the boards as “other NFL team.” While it seems unlikely that Stephen Ross in any way publicly stated that he’d like to hire Harbaugh (that would be tampering), the concept does seem plausible. A much as Ross loves Michigan, his more direct business interests are with the team he owns.
#4 Seed: University of Michigan We’re in! Vegas’ up-and-down odds currently have Michigan #1 but this seeding is based on U of M being two factors separated from Harbaugh’s current status: Not only would be be switching teams, but also switching entirely back to the college-game paradigm.
Semifinal #1: San Francisco vs. Michigan
It’s Harbaugh’s friendship with former teammates and other UM alumni vs. the deteriorating relationships within the 49ers organization. It’s Schembechler vs. Walsh, former home vs. current home, pro vs. college. Some tough matchups, but if we are to believe that 49er management and ownership are ready to part ways with Harbaugh, with few tears shed by the players, then on this side of the bracket, Michigan wins and it’s not close. However if reality is not perception, and at the end of the season the Niners front office, the players and Harbaugh all come to some sort of meeting of the minds and decide that they have a good thing going, then the Niners will have justified their #1 seed — he simply stays put.
All things considered, though, assuming ships have sailed in Santa Clara, we’ll give this one to Michigan.
Semifinal #2: Oakland vs. Miami
The NFL season ends with both Miami and the 49ers missing the playoffs (and, of course, the Raiders too). The 49ers begin negotiations with Harbaugh and his agent regarding a trade. Several teams including the New York Jets express interest, but the Raiders and Dolphins rise to the top. This is where Jim Harbaugh is using Michigan as leverage: If he doesn’t like the destination where the 49ers want to trade him, he can simply tell them he’s going back to college. So the Raiders and Dolphins make the cut. Most (perhaps not all) other NFL suitors seem below the “Harbaugh-to-Michigan line” — if the 49ers attempted to trade him anywhere but the Raiders or Dolphins, he’d instead bolt to Michigan.
So the Raiders bring a few positive elements for Harbaugh to consider: They’re of course Bay Area-based, but only for the time being it appears. The may, however, end up remaining in California, moving to L.A. They have some positive history with Harbaugh, having given him his first NFL coaching gig, and present a challenge for JH to sink his teeth into. An NFL insider report this morning notes that the Raiders are ready to change GM’s and spend more, and could offer Harbaugh a GM-Head Coach package.
But not so fast: The Raiders are not quite the destination the 49ers had in mind: They’re a regional rival, and would be motivated to bring an alternate team into the conversation — one that is ideally in the other conference. Enter: The Dolphins.
The Dolphins have been on the fringe of the playoff hunt all year, and they remain there this week. However as the end of the season nears, their chances continue to diminish. The conventional wisdom is that if the Fins make the playoffs, their owner Stephen Ross would be compelled to stick with current head coach Joe Philbin. However, a sketchy “report” today has Ross stating that he’d like to go after Harbaugh if Miami misses the playoffs. While the report seems fuzzy since this would be tampering on Ross’ part, the concept seems sound.
I don’t know enough about how the process of the 49ers and Harbaugh extricating themselves from their situation will work in terms of draft picks, and who has more “say” in where he would go. If Harbaugh has “veto power,” or if York and Baalke will call him into York’s office and tell him where he’s going. But I can see the Raiders finding a way to screw this up, and the Dolphins being motivated to sweeten the deal. Especially, say, if the division-rival Jets are also suitors.
This one’s a toss-up, but today I’d give it to the Dolphins. Like I said, this morning’s shady/fake/whatever report on Ross’ intentions was at least plausible, and I would give the edge in any such contest to Ross over Mark Davis, NFL negotiations or otherwise.
So it’s the Dolphins.
Finals: University of Michigan vs. Miami Dolphins
In a stunning(?) upset, the top-seeded Bay Area contingent is shut out of the final, not-so-single-handedly by Stephen Ross (we figure Jim Hackett has a hand in there as well).
So here’s what this matchup will come down to, and Brian strongly alludes to this in his freshly-posted SEARCHBITS XV: MACHINATIONS http://mgoblog.com/content/searchbits-xv-machinations: If Jim Harbaugh wants to remain in the NFL, he will have options. If Jim Harbaugh decides that the college game suits his style better, he’ll return there. The choice will come down to the best NFL option (I think the Dolphins) vs. the best college option (Michigan and only Michigan).
The Stephen Ross factor Ross is more than the elephant in the room, he IS the room. Ross has been heard saying that he would love to see Jim Harbaugh return to Michigan. As UM athletics’ biggest benefactor (by far), he could be playing a leadership role alongside Jim Hackett and former UM greats in convincing JH to return “home,” and may be able to play a financial role. This was a few weeks ago, and made sense because Ross wouldn’t want to undermine his sitting head coach Joe Philbin. Fast forward to this week, and the “machinations” may be starting to move in a different direction, as the Dolphins are slipping out of the playoff picture.
So Ross plays a big role in this “contest,” but of course it all comes down to Mr. Harbaugh.
If Jim looks at the Oakland and Miami situations and feels that he a.) wants to continue to challenge himself in the NFL and b.) either of these franchises is the place to do it, he will likely work with the 49ers and either Allen or Ross to make that happen. If it’s the Dolphins, he will have made it clear to Mr. Ross that he prefers the NFL and Ross will rather see him coaching his NFL team than someone else’s, if Michigan isn’t in the cards.
Be it by direct statements by Ross and/or Harbaugh, or simply by implication, the Michigan fan base will have an understanding of “it’s not you, it’s me.” If Harbaugh considers himself an NFL lifer, this cannot be in any way considered a slap in the face. Many will take it as such, but it will be difficult to blame either of these men if Harbaugh wants to stay on the NFL path.
Elevator pitch time I’ve developed an “elevator” pitch for Jim Harbaugh, should I ever find myself (ha ha) crossing paths with him. In the vein of Apple CEO Steve Jobs courting Pepsi CEO John Scully with “do you want to sell sugar water, or do you want to change the world?” I would ask “do you want to be your brother, or do you want to be Bo?” Meaning, do you want to spend years trying to match your brother’s one Super Bowl ring, or do you want to win multiple Big Tens, go to a few Rose Bowls, and top Bo by winning a national championship?
I hope that’s the line of thinking, because I believe Harbaugh has his best chance of building his legend at a place where he’s already off to a gigantic head start. But I envision the endgame involving the Dolphins surfacing as the sweepstakes winner among NFL teams, and then things will probably centralize around a meeting between Ross, Hackett and Harbaugh, with the NFL vs. college decision crystallizing. You could say that Hackett and Michigan are the only ones who could lose in this situation. Harbaugh will do what he wants and get paid handsomely for it, and Ross wins either way.
Brian may not be bullish on Michigan’s prospects, but he’s certainly optimistic albeit cautiously so. Taking that plus today’s betting lines — and the fact that I along with everyone else on this board want it so badly — I’ll give the edge to Michigan. It “feels” like he’s leaning ever-so-slightly toward leaving the 49ers empty-handed and giving Ann Arbor every consideration.
So, this isn’t the NCAA Men’s Basketball bracket, so no running out of timeouts and no crappy calls on a last-minute shot block.
College football beckons. Legendary status awaits. Harbaugh returns. Michigan wins.