I like to tell people that sometime in the afternoon of September 1st, 2007, after the final whistle of The Horror, Michigan football began a long walk in the woods in search of itself. We saw the edge of the woods perhaps in 2011 in the first year under Brady Hoke, but only for a fleeting moment as we took the bend in the path which led back into the thicket of seemingly muddled identity.
Even going into 2014, it didn’t seem like the way out was coming anytime soon, and as disappointments mounted, we began to wonder if 2014 was becoming a make-or-break moment for the program. That is to say, we seemed to come to the conclusion that it either gets righted now – or at least gets in a position where it can be righted – or we might be in for a long period of numbing irrelevance.
2014 itself began, I think, with some cautious optimism but much impatience after a lackluster end to 2013 with the bowl loss merely encapsulating the frustrations that had been building since one night in October 2013 where we witnessed, to quote Ace, “the stupidest fucking game that Michigan ever played”. Let’s be honest, it was exactly that.
It was with those memories we began the year, but we did have an excellent run from our basketball team which ended sadly with a loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. During the so-called Polar Vortex, during which much of the upper Midwest became the densely populated mockup of Greenland, we watched with delight as Michigan basketball put another great season in the books.
The late spring and summer were dominated with football talk around here – more than usual - because I think the crossroads were before us, and we knew it. The fall began with a bit of vengeance against Appalachian State, but then the reason of the season happened – I’ll put it that way. We endured deteriorating performance even with a theoretically excellent roster, public relations nightmares and it became clear by the end of September that this was not, in fact, Michigan. Indeed, the things that made it so were absent altogether in some cases.
Enter Jim Hackett. The absence of David Brandon as our Halloween treat suddenly breathed some life into what was a thick fog of disillusionment around the fanbase by that time. Sure, he was interim, but almost immediately, changes began – vestiges of the Brandon era in the department were told they had no future – and the culture began to change. Our season was lost by then, but we all talked about the potential to make it right existing where it had not before.
We lost to Ohio State. Days later, Brady Hoke found himself unemployed – this felt like a necessary, sad duty and if there was anything that would have summed up 2014 to that point, it was having the team leaderless yet again. We talked about whether or not the leadership had actually been there in the first place, but now it physically was not.
December on MGoBlog was one of the nuttiest months I’ve ever experienced here. Up and down, left and right, rumors, sources, sources shooting down or confirming those sources, the NFL / college axis of reporters…every conceivable name up to and including some Division III guys being discussed as potential replacements. We had no effing clue, more or less, until not that long ago that this was in fact “happening”, but I think that deep down we loved every minute of this or we would not have tried so hard to make “Stitt Happens” a Michigan thing for 15 minutes.
If 2014 up to the point of noon yesterday were to be called anything, it would be the year where Michigan’s identity crisis reached critical mass. With the Harbaugh hire, I think we’ve put ourselves in a position to have 2015 be the year where Michigan rediscovered itself.
A year that began on a cautious note, sunk to despair for a lot of fans (myself included), and then has now ended with a grand slam hire in Jim Harbaugh is a year that I wouldn’t call completely lost then. Indeed, we end 2014 with a renewed optimism and a sense that the future really can be ours. We end this year with the hope that football can get back to where we know it has been, perhaps even farther than that at some point. It might not happen right off the bat, but the potential is now real under the stewardship of Harbaugh, in my opinion.
I realize that this diary rehashes some unpleasant moments, but it isn’t anything you didn’t know. I just want to believe that now, after 7 long and frustrating years, this walk in the woods ends along with 2014 and the future is indeed bright.
So thorough was the coaching incompetence at Michigan the past two seasons that many among us have genuinely become convinced that we don't have good players on our team. On-field ineptitude chipped away at our psychology, making us feel that all things Michigan football were inept. Even in the past glorious days, there are Michigan fans claiming that we don't have good players and that we should temper our expectations for Harbaugh's first years. Maybe by 2017 we will have a competitive team.
We have extremely talented players and can be competitive this next season. The table below shows the total points from the 247 Composite Team Rankings for the 2014, 2013, and 2012 recruiting classes. Players from these classes will be teams' primary contributors during the 2015 season. Total points take into consideration both quality and number of recruits in a class. The "Total" column in the table simply sums the total points from the 2014, 2013, and 2012 classes, resulting in total points over the three-year period. Further, since older players typically contribute more, another column, "Weighted total," gives more weight to 2012 (x2) and 2013 (x1.5) points to privilege talent more likely to contribute next year. Note that the top 50 teams in terms of three-year total points, plus Big Ten and future opponents are included in the table.
Based on recruiting rankings, Michigan has the seventh most talented roster in the nation, ahead of every Big Ten team and every 2015 opponent outside of Ohio State. Using the weighted total, Michigan has the fifth most talented roster in the nation, with a preponderance of talent in the upper classes.
Clearly, recruiting rankings aren't completely accurate predictors of college performance, but Michigan's superiority based on this metric is so vastly beyond every non-Ohio State opponent (Nebraska is next at 27th), that even if there is a margin for error, we should still rest assured that our players have the talent to compete in every game next year.
Now that we have a proven winner, leader, and developer-of-talent at the helm, we can feel good about our odds this next season. The talent is there. These kids came to Michigan with the expectation of being developed, being put in position to succeed, and being great. Get after it, Jim.
One of the staples of an efficient Jim Harbaugh offense has always been the running back position. In his time at Stanford he coached the likes of Toby Gerhart (a 3 star Recruit, who was not recruited by Jim Harbaugh’s staff), Stephan Taylor, and Tyler Gafney, both of whom were Harbaugh recruits. Below are Harbaugh’s year by year running back commits while at stanford, provided by (www.rivals.com).
All three of these backs were, or eventually became the featured back in Jim Harbaugh’s offense at Stanford. The most highly touted of three listed backs above was Stephan Taylor. Stephan Taylor possessed great vision and was good at both the power and zone running scheme. There is no doubt that Taylor benefited from having Andrew Luck as his quarterback while at Stanford, but this is one of the many parts of the Harbaugh Offense that will be relied upon heavily at Michigan.
Toby Gerhart who was not recruited by Jim Harbaugh, was only 3 star recruit but he was the leader of the Stanford offense in 2008, 2009. In 2009 Gerhart was a workhouse. He compiled over 1800 yards on the ground. This was big for the growth of the Stanford offense and the tough identity it would have under Jim Harbaugh and that same identity has continued under current Stanford coach David Shaw. Gerhart can also be credited for helping take pressure off of a young Andrew Luck who was still coming into his own in 2009.
This is the type of back Michigan needs in Harbaugh’s first year, a tough nosed guy, who can get the tough yards when needed and who can carry the load 25,30 times per game. This will be important for Michigan in 2015 while Harbaugh grooms a quarterback.
Harbaugh was at a severe disadvantage recruiting and as you can see his best recruit was a 4 star at the running back position. According to rivals Harbaugh did not get a single 5 star commit at Stanford. Andrew Luck was a 4 star, and even Owen Marecic was only a 2 star kid. The big disadvantage were academics at Stanford. If a kid did commit to Stanford, he had to wait to be admitted academically and there were instances a recruit, or commit did not get accepted. Jim will not have this problem at Michigan. Yes, Michigan is a highly regarded academic institution, but not quite on the level of Stanford.
Stephan Taylor Highlights: Sorry I can never get the embed to work.
I have what I believe to be the four deep at the running back position for Michigan. We can argue the order all day, but I will start off with who I believe will line up first in 2015 for Michigan, based off of my own expectations.
1. Ty Issac, former 5 star recruit and number one ranked running back in the nation according to many recruiting sites out of high school. Click his name for more details.
2. Derek Green, Was also a 5 star guy out of high school. Rated the top back by many recruiting sites. Click his name for more.
3. Deveon Smith, a 4 star kid out of Ohio. He is a bruiser who seems to lack great vision but would never avoid contact. Click his name.
4. Drake Johnson, a 3 star kid who played in the shadows of the Big House, at Ann Arbor pioneer High School. If it were not for his ACL tear against the Buckeyes this past season I would have him at 1, or 2 on the depth chart. If he can fully recover, he has the ability to overtake all the other guys listed above him. He possesses great speed and vision. Johnson can run powerfully between the tackles and will not avoid contact. Click his name as well for more details.
The tape I chose to analyze was that of Ty Issac who played limited snaps his freshman season at USC before transferring to Michigan.
The Thing that stands out to me when I watched the above video, is that Ty Issac never tries to avoid contact. He is always lowering the boom on defenders, and this is important when you are running a power, or a zone rushing attack. He also has a knack for bouncing the play outside. My only concern is his pad level. As a running back you always want to get low when running. I foresee Issac being the lead back to start 2015, while splitting carries with Derrick Green.
Michigan has depth, and before derrick green was hurt last year he was starting to come on stronger. As long as the offensive line continues to improve, Michigan will have success running the ball in 2015 and this will be important for Jim Harbaugh while he is breaking in a new signal caller.
There have been a number of threads asking, essentially, “Now that Jim Harbaugh is our coach, what kind of recruiting class can we expect in 2015?” The most common answer has been “we should do okay in 2015 and then kill it in 2016.” That seems like a fairly safe assumption, but because we are all in “we got JH let’s party” mode, I figured I would take a look at how some other rock-star coaching hires have improved their teams’ recruiting in the recent past. I will use the Rivals database primarily since that seems to be the most popular and goes back sufficiently far.
1. Nick Saban – Alabama
Nick Saban became the 27th head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide on January 3, 2007, and thus had roughly the same amount of time (actually, several days less) to assemble his inaugural 2007 recruiting class that Jim Harbaugh will have before NSD 2015.
At the time he signed, Alabama’s ’07 class had nine recruits with an average star rating of 3.33 (four 4-stars). Saban added 15 additional recruits to that class, including six 4-stars, to finish with the nation’s #10 class. This was Alabama’s best class yet in the Rivals era; in the five years preceding Saban’s arrival, Alabama had averaged a 24.4 recruiting class ranking.
Even so, Saban’s 2007 class would hardly compare to his 2008 harvest. With 32 overall signees at a 3.72 star average, Alabama signed the nation’s #1 recruiting class in 2008—headlined by 5-star WR Julio Jones. That 2008 class featured two other 5-stars (OL Tyler Love, ATH Burton Scott) and nineteen 4-stars (including eventual Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Jr.). Nick Saban’s performance at Alabama is, accordingly, “Exhibit A” for the suggestion that Harbaugh will help Michigan land a solid 2015 class, and a potentially great class in 2016.
2. Urban Meyer – Ohio State
Ohio State hired Urban Meyer around November 28, 2011, inheriting the machine from which Jim Tressel had departed earlier that year in disgrace. Fueled in part by free tattoos and extended “test drives,” as well as a prolonged period of Big Ten domination, Tressel’s recruiting classes had averaged #11.6 nationally in the five years preceding Meyer—including top-4 classes in 2008 and 2009.
Meyer, at most slightly handicapped by Tressel-related sanctions that would make the Buckeyes ineligible for post-season play in 2012, had significantly more time to assemble his first recruiting class than Saban had (or than JH will have). He used that time well, proceeding to land the nation’s #4-ranked class in 2012. That 25-member class included 5-stars Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence, fourteen 4-stars, and an overall 3.72 star average. His 2013 class was just as good (arguably better, though there isn’t much room to improve from #4) ranked #2 in the nation and featuring two more 5-stars (Vonn Bell and Mike Mitchell), sixteen 4-stars, and an overall 3.83 star average. Meyer has maintained this level of recruiting in 2014 (finishing #3 overall) and 2015 (sitting at #3 headed into NSD).
3. Steve Spurrier – South Carolina
Steve Spurrier became the Head Ball Coach at South Carolina on November 23, 2004, after Lou Holtz retired. The Gamecocks had been a league whipping boy since joining the SEC in 1991, but Holtz brought them to some measure of respectability by going 8-4 in 2000 and 9-3 in 2001. That success had begun to translate into recruiting, with South Carolina landing the nation’s #11 class in 2002 and the #8 class in 2003. But by 2004, Holtz’s Gamecocks were mired in mediocrity and their recruiting dipped back to historical levels (the team Spurrier took over had gone 6-5 in 2004, after signing the nation’s #38 recruiting class that spring).
Like Meyer, Spurrier had almost three full months to sign his first recruiting class—and with that time was able to sign the nation’s #23 class with six 4-stars and 28 overall players (2.96 star average). Spurrier signed a similar class in 2006: the #24 unit nationally, with six 4-stars, 24 total players, and a 3.08 star average. But in his third season (2007), Spurrier pulled in the nation’s #6 class—headlined by 5-star WR Chris Culliver and joined by fourteen 4-stars, 31 total players, and a 3.42 star average. Whether this 2007 class was Spurrier cashing-in on his rockstar status after a bit of delay and his 2005 SEC Coach of the Year award, or whether the modest 2006 class as a response to an NCAA investigation (through which South Carolina wound up on 3-year probation for violations that occurred under Holtz), or some combination thereof, is unclear. But since then, Spurrier has been able to maintain South Carolina’s recruiting at a high level—averaging #18.1 in the nation over the past seven cycles.
4. Bobby Petrino – Arkansas
Journeyman Bobby Petrino famously resigned from the Atlanta Falcons with three games remaining in their 2007 season to become head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks in December 10, 2007. Like Urban Meyer, Petrino took over a strong program from a successful former coach—in this case, Houston Nutt, who’d bolted Fayetteville for Oxford, Mississippi.
Under Nutt, the Razorbacks had steadily recruited just inside the nation’s top-30 programs, finishing no worse than #31 and no better than #24 over the six preceding cycles (#27.2 average national ranking). Petrino’s first class (2008) ranked #36 nationally, however, Arkansas’ worst finish in the Rivals era. But Petrino’s second class, headlined by 5-star Darius Winston (and, though not counted, transfer Ryan Mallett coming off his sit-out year) ranked #16; with 31 players and an overall star average of 3.26, the 2009 class was far and away Arkansas’s best of the Rivals era. Interestingly, though, Petrino was the one rockstar coach who proved unable to sustain his recruiting success beyond the second year; Arkansas plummeted back to #49 in the 2010 cycle, and continued to recruit outside the top-30 for the remainder of Petrino’s tenure.
5. Bobby Petrino – Louisville (2)
Petrino was fired from the Arkansas job in April 2012 after a motorcycle accident led to the revelation of his adulterous affair with a colleague. He remained out of work until December of that year, when Western Kentucky hired him to replace Willie Taggart. He coached the Hilltoppers for a season, but then thriving Louisville head coach Charlie Strong took the head job at Texas. That left a vacancy at Petrino’s old program, and he promptly returned to the Cardinals for 2014.
Louisville announced Petrino on January 9, 2014, leaving him only about five weeks before national signing day. He still managed to sign thirteen recruits, to finish with 25 overall players and the nation’s #40 class (2.82 overall star average). While #40 may not sound impressive at first blush, Louisville averaged a #49.6 ranking in the five previous cycles (2009-2013), finishing inside the top-30 only once (#29 in 2011). And Louisville’s current recruiting class is ranked #27, which would make for a nice second-year bump if it holds up through NSD.
6. Pete Carroll – Southern Cal
Though arguably not really a rockstar at the time, I am including Pete Carroll anyway because any study of modern recruiting needs to include Pete Carroll. He took over the USC Trojans on December 15, 2000—meaning (i) he had about two more weeks to assemble his first recruiting class than JH will have, and (ii) that first class was assembled before the Rivals era.
The 2001 USC Trojans recruiting class featured only sixteen student-athletes—but among them were key contributors like Shaun Cody and Matt Leinert. Most of the sixteen were Paul Hackett recruits that Carroll locked-down after coming on board. The overall quality of the class is a matter of some disagreement, with Tom Lemming ranking it #9 nationally while SuperPrep ranked the USC class outside the national top-10 and behind both Washington and UCLA in the Pac-10.
Carroll signed the nation’s #13 class in 2002, with 20 overall recruits and fifteen 4-stars among them (3.1 overall star average). While that was undoubtedly a strong class, it was the following season when Carroll’s recruiting success really took off: the 2003 class featured two 5-stars (Reggie Bush and ATH Whitney Thomas), ten 4-stars, and 26 players (averaging 3.43 stars), good for #3 in the country. USC would finish with the nation’s #1-ranked recruiting classes in each of the next three years (before dropping to #2 in 2007).
Of the six cases of “rockstar coach hires” studied herein, three were able to improve upon their schools’ recent recruiting performances in the first cycle. But in two of those three instances, the incoming coach was taking over a strong program whose prior coach had left for greener pastures (Petrino, replacing Strong) or for reasons unrelated to failure on the field (Meyer, replacing Luke Fickell after Tressel). Most of the coaches were able to make a dramatic improvement in recruiting by year 2, however—and all of them by year 3. Only Petrino (at Arkansas) was unable to sustain that high-level recruiting beyond their second or third-year increases.
So, what does this mean for Harbaugh? I am no statistician, but I highly doubt there is enough of a sample size here for the numbers to mean anything. But for what it’s worth, the few existing examples suggest that Harbaugh should enable Michigan to sign a top-30ish class for 2015 (Michigan finished no worse than #31 in the past five recruiting cycles), improve significantly upon that with his second-year leap in 2016, and land top-10 (maybe top-5, comparable to Meyer/Saban/Carroll) classes consistently thereafter.
Or maybe he'll just kick everybody's asses from day one.
The staple of the Jim Harbaugh running game while at Stanford was power. Does this sound familiar to anyone reading? The good news here is that Michigan has been running power under Brady Hoke the last four seasons. The other good news is last season when Doug Nussmeier was hired he installed a zone blocking scheme. Well, the zone was also used by Harbaugh while at Stanford. This bodes well for continuing development under the new staff and assuming Harbaugh continues to use power and zone running schemes, the learning curve for Michigan’s offensive line will be a lot easier with this coaching transition.
The 2009 Stanford offensive line was bolstered by a strong running game that featured Toby Gerhart, (over 1800 yards), and Stephan Taylor who added 300 yards on the ground. When thinking of either of these two talented backs, you think about the power running game and great offensive line play. The 2009 Stanford offensive line was bolstered by 2 RS fresh, 2 SR’s, and 1 RS JR. Of the 5 lineman listed below they had a combined 36 starts. Stanford had to replace their left tackle, center, and right guard to begin the 2009 season.
The power and zone running game:
I chose a video clip of Drake Johnson against Indiana in 2014. In my opinion Drake Johnson possessed the best vision of all the Michigan Backs from last season and seemed to be a great fit in the power zone running game. Drake Johnson Displayed the ability to see the holes and make quick reads on where he needed to go. I will do my best to compare Drake Johnson to Toby Gerhart below in an effort to prove that Michigan’s offensive line can be as effective as Stanford’s was during the Jim harbaugh era.
This play is a power run to the left where Johnson can chose his lane. He has three choices, take the edge, cut back inside to the B, or A gap. Michigan shows an unbalanced formation to the right indicating that the play is headed that way.
Drake Johnson sells a great counter step to the right and holds it long enough to allow the pulling right guard to get to the left side and seal the edge.
Drake also allows for the H-back to kick out to the left side and block whatever defender gets into the B Gap. The left guard is going to run out to the second level and take on the Mike backer and the left tackle goes one on one with the weakside defensive end.
The key to the whole play is Drake Johnsons patience with his counter step. He allows the pulling guard to get where he needs to be while brilliantly selling the counter to the right side. By the time he takes the handoff Drake Johnson knows where he is going with the football.
Now for the comparison. This play is not identical to the above Michigan play, but it does show lineman getting to the second level in what appears to be a zone blocking scheme. Gerhart does not need to sell a counter and Stanford is lined up with two tight ends.
The right side tight end has his hand down and is bookending the right tackle, while the left side tight end, who is similar to the motioning H-back in the Michigan play above is lined up just outside the left tackle, and off of the line of scrimmage.
The left tackle goes man to man with the 5 technique, or defensive end, the left guard supports a double team with the center Vs the 3 technique or defensive tackle lined up directly over him.
The right guard quickly shifts to his left to block the nose tackle, the right tackle gets to the second level to take on the mike backer. The tight end on the right goes one on one with the 5, or 6 tech, or defensive end lined up to his side.
Once again the vision on this play allows Toby Gerhart to make a quick and decisive decision to get outside.
For comparisons sake I would like to present to you the 2009 Stanford Offensive line Vs what Michigan is returning in 2015.
The 2009 projected offensive line provided by: http://www.examiner.com/article/stanford-football-starting-lineup
LT 73 Jonathan Martin Redshirt freshman primed to make first career start
LG 63 Chris Marinelli Has made 26 career starts
C 72 Chase Beeler Takes over at center aft er playing LG last season
RG 52 David DeCastro Targeted to make fi rst career start
RT 61 Matt Kopa Made 11 starts last season
Now for the comparison. The 2015 Wolverines are returning the following starters listed from the two deep as of the 2014 Ohio State game:
LT 52 Mason Cole (So., 6-5, 292) 12 career starts
78 Erik Magnuson (JR., 6-6, 294)
LG 61 Graham Glasgow (SR., 6-6, 311) 24 career starts.
78 Erik Magnuson (JR., 6-6, 294)
C 60 Jack Miller (SR., 6-4, 299) 15 Career starts.
57 Patrick Kugler (RSO., 6-5, 299)
RG 67 Kyle Kalis (JR., 6-5, 298) 17 career Starts.
RT 71 Ben Braden (JR., 6-6, 322) 12 career starts.
72 Logan Tulley-Tillman (RSo., 6-7, 290)
If we project the starters as the same 5 who finished the season against the Buckeyes, Michigan would be returning 1 soph, 2 JR, and 2 SR with a combined 80 starts between the five players.
I am of the camp that believes that Harbaugh can come in and make an immediate impact on the Michigan offensive line because of similarities that the previous staff has already installed with the current players and if you add to the fact that Michigan’s potential starting 5 has a combined 80 starts, 2015 sets up for what could be a great year for Michigan’s offensive line. One thing is for sure, the cupboard is not bare.
This post was initially designed to be a "so far" diary because it was written right around the time the initial Harbaugh offer was made. Then the holidays happened, the narrative fluctuated a bit at the fringes but didn't change much, and now we basically have confirmation that It's Happening! So some of this might sound a bit more reserved than intended, but I tried to update it where I could.I am sure much more will be written, perhaps by me, as it relates to Harbaugh in the coming weeks. Still, I figured I have more than enough content to surround animated gifs and references to professional wrestling, late-90's movies, and funny dog pictures. So enjoy. Also, Harbaugh!
Best: Big Boy Pants
The absolute biggest concern I had coming into this coaching search was watching Michigan's athletic department flub, flounder, and fart its way through the process like it did in 2007 and 2011. In 2007 it was Bill Martin floating around on a boat, seemingly caught off guard by Lloyd Carr's decision to retire despite Carr saying he wanted to in 2006 and having to be convinced to give it one more go by both Martin and President Coleman. This of course led to Les Miles being asked about taking over for Michigan while preparing to play for the national championship, which looked pretty bad when it happened and looks even worse now given how disorganized the search turned out to be behind the scenes. At the time, I think most people figured it was just Herbstreit reporting rumors prematurely, and when Michigan wound up with Rich Rodriguez it felt like an irrelevant misstep at worst.
Then in 2011, with RR gone after a desultory bowl loss to the Fightin' Mullens (until this season probably his 3rd or 4th most-impressive victory in his career), we all expected Dave Brandon to, I don't know, not be an idiot and actually perform a legitimate coaching search for a viable replacement. It isn't worth rehashing here for the same reason I don't let the 1 train's doors slam shut on my fingers, plus there are so many rumors and half-truths (Harbaugh said yes, Brandon scared him away! Brady Hoke was Michigan's #1 choice after Harbaugh! My gawd King, is that Kirk "Puntasaurus" Ferentz's music!) that is is hard to ascertain fact from fiction. What we do know is that Michigan wound up with a guy with basically a .500 record who coached like one, save for a glue factory of horseshoes in his ass during the 2011 season.
Now, there have been a couple of themes throughout the past two coaching searches: a dogged preference for "Michigan Men" who can placate a calcifying segment of the fanbase that maybe doesn't think football stopped innovating in 1997 but absolutely thinks those changes don’t apply to Michigan, "Fort Schembechler " having so much palace intrigue and agenda-driven leaks that nobody had control of the narrative, and displaying some of the worst timing this side of a 2014 UM 2-minute drill. But probably the biggest theme over these past 2 coaching changes, and really of the last decade or so, is the second-rate nature of it all. For a university so renowned for its educational and research accomplishments, for proclaiming itself a "leader and best" in so many fields and backing it up, and for having one of the most storied athletic programs in college sports history, its search for a head man seemed to lack much in the way of foresight, professional execution, or, frankly, prestige. It isn't uncommon for teams to "settle" on a second or third option, but usually after a strong play for their first choice. With Michigan's most recent coaching transitions, though, it seemed like they thought "This is Michigan" was enough.
That's why this search, even with its extended googly-eyes session with Harbaugh, was so refreshing; it finally felt like the Powers That Be were treating this like a big deal and actually acted accordingly. While the exact terms might still be a bit in flux, $49M over 6 years represents the type of offer a school like Michigan should be making for the man who will spearhead its multi-million dollar football team. No pussyfooting around, not "preliminary offer" to get negotiations started. Hackett and co. looked at the landscape, identified Harbaugh as the top candidate, and made it rain.
For all of Dave Brandon's odes to marketing buzzwords and bottom-line business acumen, and Brady Hoke's passion for "Big Boy" football, they never seemed to willing or able to translate those words into results. It was Hackett, for what feels like the first time in an eternity, who actually acted like an executive, made a plan, and followed through on it efficiently and effectively. Even if by some insane confluence of events Michigan doesn't get Harbaugh, it won't be for lack of effort or resources; it'll be because Jim Harbaugh doesn't want to coach at Michigan in 2015. It'll be because he wants to remain an NFL coach, because he has "unfinished business", because billionaire private owners will pay him way more than a public state institution should ever, whatever. And Michigan will move on, not with a sense of desperation or befuddlement that the Block M and The Victors didn't seal the deal, but with some purpose. That's all I think most people want to see out of the AD, and though the jury's still out on Hackett being a long-term solution, there's a sense of confidence and competency displayed thus far that puts the similar efforts of Brandon and Martin to shame.
If you want to read my thoughts on the idea of Harbaugh coaching, go back and check out my OSU recap. Not a lot has changed, save that I am a bit more optimistic now that he's coming to Michigan with intentions on sticking around for a bit, with the siren song of the NFL less appealing than I first thought. I mean, there are options out there for him if he wanted to stick around in the pros (Jets and Chicago are big-market teams, while the Raiders are at least nearby), yet he's shown no real interest in doing so. This is obviously a great hire for Michigan, and it feels like, for once, a confluence of events has led to everyone involved finding each other as the best option. Given what has happened the past decade or so, that feeling of contentment shouldn't be discounted. Plus, it looks like he is going to breathe some fresh air into the program by bringing in people he's familiar with, including those with (Wheatley) and without (Durkin) connections to the university. That can only help clear out some of the lingering staleness of the recent past, and any concerns about lost "institutional memory" are pretty trivial given how dysfunctional this program has been with the stalwarts in place.
I will be a bit of a wet blanket on two fronts, though, as it relates to the hire. First, in the short term (i.e. the 2015 season), I'm not expecting an amazing turnaround, at least against the good-to-elite programs on the schedule. Michigan is going to play 3 Power-5 quality outfits in the OOC (BYU is an independent but would be in the upper-half of the B1G if they joined tomorrow), including opening at Utah. The Utes might be going through a coaching transition (they are already down a couple coordinators), but that's still a very good defensive team that should be competitive in the PAC-12 next year. They do get MSU and OSU at home, but good lawd is OSU terrifying offensively and MSU should be pretty solid offensively with Cook back in the mix to complement that stout defense. I think MSU's fall from elite to very good will continue, but this isn't the MSU-UM rivalry Harbaugh probably remembers (3-1 during his four years, including wins of 27-6, 31-0(!!), and 42-0(!!!)), and all the good vibes and memes aren't going to make the WRs any faster, the QB any more experienced, and the cornerbacks any better at sticking with receivers. Plus, Michigan is looking down the barrel of trips to PSU, Maryland, and Minnesota, so it isn't going to be the smoothest of transitions back to the college game for the new coach. I'm not predicting another 5-7 campaign, and there is A LOT that will change between now and early September, but it is going to be a multi-year process for Michigan to get back to being the "Michigan" Harbaugh helped create, and barring Harbaugh pooping golden horses with a million lucky golden horseshoes, I don't expect a repeat of Hoke's first year record-wise for Jim.
The second, slightly more far-reaching concern...okay, not "concern", but inevitable annoyance is going to be that this will likely not be Harbaugh's last dance with the NFL, which means I'd be surprised if he completes the full term of his current contract before leaving again for the NFL. As others have noted, this isn't a guy going back to college because he stumbled in the NFL, and there are always going to be doors open for him to return provided he is successful at Michigan. I have little doubt that he won't, which means in 3-4 years there are going to be legitimate murmurs about Harbaugh making a return to the NFL, hopefully fueled by multiple 10+ win Michigan seasons and a return to the upper-echelon of college football. You look at other successful programs and nobody is knocking down the door for Saban, Meyer, Fisher, Dantonio, etc., so at least they have one less distraction to deal with each offseason. I suspect virtually all Michigan fans will accept that bargain, but it is an ongoing din that will only get louder the better Harbaugh does at UM. My hope is that if/when he does move on, the program will be back to its normally stable position so that the next guy will have an easy transition and, heck, there might actually be a legitimate coaching tree by then. So in summation, this is totally awesome you guys!
Best: Stability + Desirability = Awesomeability
With news that D.J. Durkin was waiting on Harbaugh to go to Michigan before joining him as defensive coordinator, plus scattered reports of Swag Mattison sticking around at least one more year, Michigan is enjoying one of those rare occurrences (at least around these parts) of optimism and stability that are usually a hallmark of successful programs. Durkin has basically been sitting on the DC position at Texas A&M for a week, yet apparently wants to get the band back together with Harbaugh and should be a welcome addition. And yes, being a DC under a defensive coach like Muschamp brings with it the usual questions of how much influence he had at Florida, but this is still a guy with the trajectory of a top-notch assistant who'll be a head coach sooner rather than later.
With Mattison possibly returning, that should help stabilize recruiting a bit in the vacuum between now and Harbaugh getting on the road, and should help reaffirm a couple of wavering guys, to say nothing of the boost the trips will have once Harbaugh gets going. This will be a small class, but with a crack recruiter in a position of some authority, that will only help the transition. Again, it's a long way to even NSD, and most of the staff remains in limbo, but Michigan should enjoy the best of both worlds with this coaching change.
It isn't news to anyone on MGoBlog that the internet can be both your best friend and worst enemy when it comes, well, pretty much anything, but especially when something as "newsy" and ripe for misdirection and hearsay as a coaching search. For every legitimate insider report or guy who actually knows a guy, you'll read a dozen random Twitter handles with 10k tweets and 25 followers, and pages of forums posts fueled by someone's brother's girlfriend's sorority sister's dad's second cousin's landscaper's adopted uncle's burned-out podiatrist's receptionist's albino twin who ran into a junior associate in the athletic department at Meijer who was buying two 12-packs of Dr. Pepper (which we all know is Jim Harbaugh's 3rd favorite drink after Earl Grey tea and the tears of MSU fans OMGOMGOMG! It's Happening!), proclaiming to know what the future holds both in terms of the front-runner as well as the internal politics, backup plans, and related scuttlebutt that drives web traffic in the modern era well after the actual thing you should care about has been resolved. Obviously you can figure out who is right and who is wrong once you have some perspective, but the internet is kinda the wild wild west when it comes to rumors, and those first couple of weeks are just chock full of idiots wanting some attention.
And to make matters worse, social media and the clear NFL/CFB divide in terms of biases creates a whole new class of semi-informed, semi-credible pundits with the lowest barrier to entry probably since you could literally stand in the middle of a town square and yell whatever you wanted at people as they passed by.
On one hand, the ubiquity of the internet lets information be relatively "free" not only in terms of who possesses it but who can disseminate it quickly; you don't need to be a friend of Ed Werder, Jay Galzer, or Chris Broussard to be given a platform to be heard; a Twitter account and $10/mo. for a "premium" account is more than enough to tell the world what you know about a hot topic, sometimes well before more established voices catch wind of it. And that, to some, is incredibly valuable information that needs to be made available as soon as possible. And while I'm sure some print journalists still yearn for their own "Deep Throat" (I'll wait...) with an established paper trail of sorts, it's far more likely that the "first" source to report something will be some random guy, because random people have little to lose if they are wrong and lots to gain, even temporarily, if they are right.
But on the other hand, what it also creates is just wave after wave of bullshit to sift through for these few nuggets of actual wisdom. I joke about the circuitous route some rumors go through, but read some Reddit or 24/7 threads and it's just burner accounts from guys at airports, janitors on night shifts, and gym buddies telling you they heard from some "big money donor" or a "buddy" whose family knows someone that something big is going down, that some assistant is booking tickets to an airfield, that rooms are being repainted and new placards being designed, and all of a sudden you've got people freaking out or celebrating, while reporters and more trusted sources of information are left scrambling to verify while sifting through all the copy-cats and trolls. It's draining to watch as an observer, and I don't even need to give a crap. And along the way, people get burned enough that lines in the sand are drawn and opinions calcify, creating a certain level of acrimony and zealotry throughout the process that creates the perfect feedback loop, where anyone who says what you want to hear is credible and anyone else is lying, an idiot, or a troll.
This race for "scoops" also creates the shit-throwers like Gregg Henson and Football Scoop who basically "report" everything they can think of in the hope that enough of it is right that people forget everything else they make up. I mean, technically they are true, but Paul the Octopus also had a nice streak going but I don't remember him trying to drive traffic to his blog. And in virtually all cases, these same guys tried to inflate their numbers by claiming the most obvious things as "news" (Brandon to be fired! Michigan is looking at Harbaugh! Lots of money is involved!). I'm sure these guys had some "sources" as they were; you sniff around enough and someone will talk. But now every time one of these guys fires off some harebrained "insider scoop" about a team, they'll have that whiff of undeserved credibility.
I get that it doesn't really matter in the end; I doubt Jim Harbaugh even knows this exists, let along how many times it's been posted across the internet. But I get why lots of fans don't obsessively follow this stuff, those who will probably see an interview on ESPN or read an article on Yahoo! about Harbaugh coming to Michigan and say "that's nice" and forget about it until the fall. The end result never changes, and at least they didn't spend weeks getting worked up about an anonymous purchase order for Dockers in size "Awesome!" being found in the Ann Arbor dump.
Worst: No F*cking way League
So yeah, I'm bitching about all of the dubious stories coming out of the internet's nether-region, but most of them all pointed toward a single reality: Jim Harbaugh is going to be the next coach of Michigan football. Sure, some tales were painted of him torn between another run in the pros and returning to the college game, and that certain teams might also be in play, but the vast majority of the rumors, especially amongst those most connected and accountable, were positive on Michigan. Well, except one group...
With the NFL guys, you are dealing with people who basically all default to the NFL PR view, but with the critical distinction that some are willing to at least entertain the possibility of some other reality also being possible. With the Schefter type, they live and breathed The Shield for so long that it takes them a couple of weeks to cut through the fog, but at least they are at least willing to reexamine their sources and accept the alternative reality. It's infuriating because they've bought into the arrogant argument that coaching in the NFL is a one-way street until the League dismisses you, but given the levels of delusion we've seen from people in charge these past couple of years it's not surprising how potent that kool-aid can be.
Then you've got guys like Tim Kawakami and Greg Gabriel who, for lack of a better word, are just ignorant about anything outside of the worldview they've crafted over decades of sitting in media rooms talking to the same 10-15 people and passing off recycled dribble as interesting and thoughtful commentary. For them, questioning the NFL isn't even possible because it seemingly violates some hard-coded rule in their own lives; you don't deviate from the norm because that would be admitting failure or, worse, that the world is evolving in ways they aren't willing to accept. To a man, I suspect you'd get a similarly dismissive response if you asked them about the viability of "bloggers".
I'll admit to being biased, but beyond the money and whatever self-affirming gains you get from being at the "top" of your field, I don't see the appeal of an NFL gig anymore. You never have complete control of a team, regardless of your titles, because a billionaire owner/group can always make your life a living hell if they disagree, you have to deal with a bunch of men who make quite a bit of money (oftentimes much more than you) and don't usually like being yelled at by their boss, the level of transgressions tend to be higher and more severe in the pros versus college, and with few exceptions you are only as good as your last season. I mean, Harbaugh will be coming to UM after one of the most successful first-time runs in NFL history, and yet because Colin Kaepernick regressed and a couple LBs got hurt (Patrick Willis) or went kinda crazy (Aldon Smith), he is on the outs and the born-on-third/thought-he-hit-a-triple Jed York is leading the charge. Say what you will about meddling college presidents, but most of them are smart enough to stay out of coaching situations until their hands are forced, and with the AD acting as a firewall a coach is going to enjoy far more freedom in college than he'd have in the pros, to say nothing about recruiting and player development benefits. And in this case, Michigan is going to pay a competitive salary, one that treats Harbaugh as one of the best at his position. This is a long way of saying I don't think Harbaugh (who just got through the inevitable clown show that ends most NFL tenures) sees this as much of a demotion, and while there will still be a couple of NFL guys dying on their wrong swords of wrongness, hopefully by the time Jim Harbaugh is running spring practice a good 75-80% of the NFL reporters will admit that Michigan has a chance.
Regardless, I do think we'll see quite a few of these responses coming from that brood in the coming weeks.
Best: Puntasaurus Extinction?
Hold onto your butts, because with any coaching transition there are going to be changes. But probably none will be as necessary and welcomed as (I hope) Michigan's transition away from the dinosaur "pro" punt style that existed under Hoke. And really, it's extinction was a long time coming. It's the perfect blend of barely-there upside (slightly easier to fake out of) and huge downsides (huge yards available for returns, over-reliance on unpredictable hangtime, less flexibility to address aggressive pressure) that made it an eyesore when it was happening and looks even more insane in retrospect. It basically cost Michigan the bowl game against USC, let Utah's Clay strike the most unnecessary Heisman pose, and consistently gave up gobs of field position that, at best, put Michigan's defense in tough spots. Because of rule differences between the NFL and CFB you don't see the Shield punt formation in the pros, so I guess I'm not 100% sure that Harbaugh won't keep lugging out the tired Spread punt formation, but since he seems to have a functioning cerebral cortex I expect Michigan will go with the more effective and prevailing formation. And while that will be a good day for Michigan football, it'll be a sad day for the few remaining puntasauruses walking the earth. Maybe InGen will bring one of them back from the fossilized remains of Kirk Ferentz.
Oh...apparently I've been informed by Google that he's still alive and being paid to coach. My apology to Iowa fans.
Best: Nobody Else is Happy
There is a saying that you'll know how good/bad a guy is based on how his current fans talk about him and his departure. When a stud coach/player leaves, you'll typically read knowledgeable fans lament the loss and speak glowingly about his past accomplishments. When he's kind of a dud, everyone makes jokes and criticizes his failings. But an equally-useful gauge of a new hire's overall perception is how rival fans respond to him coming on board, and in this case it is pretty universal that, well, MSU and OSU partisans are having a bad time.
I won't link to specific threads, but go to their respective boards and you'll read a lot of "I can't wait to beat that smug look off his face" or "He's not that great anyway. Plus, it'll be years before he's good." Yes, there are rational fans who recognize that Harbaugh is a good hire, but these aren't the "hur hur you have a fat coach" stuff you heard when Hoke was hired. Harbaugh is going to piss off a lot of people and give plenty of "material" for rival fans to latch onto, but this feels like Michigan is "back", and coupled with OSU and MSU losing significant cogs on their staffs (Herman to Houston, Narduzzi to Pitt), you can see the ire ratcheting up for both fanbases that absolutely took pleasure in Michigan's recent struggles. At least with OSU, that team has been a premiere program for decades even when Michigan was at its height; this is a rivalry again, not a clear ascension. But MSU fans seem supremely upset specifically because a returning Michigan probably pushes them down a peg in the conference; they'll still be a tough out as long as Dantonio is there, but that first handshake between the two is going to extra salty, and with more and more teams starting to "figure out" MSU's defense (at least the elite offenses are; we'll get a good idea how they respond against Baylor), I get a sense that Spartan fans are seeing that door close.
Best: Did I Mention Harbaugh? Also, Finally We Can All Get Back to Our Lives!
My wife sent me this gif while I was typing this up. This pretty much sums up the last couple of weeks.