I've now done three (one, two, three) CC candidate roundups. In each, I profiled 4 legitimate and 1 not-so-legitimate candidates. Now I rank the 12 legitimate ones according to how desirable a candidate they are, but with close calls determined by plausibility. (As you'll notice, some candidates are more plausible than others.) In other words, if I were Hackett, I'd just go down this list--maybe skipping the pipe dreams, but more likely just putting out feelers and politely backing off if the answer is "thanks but no thanks."
So what makes an ideal coaching candidate for Michigan in 2015? The demonstrated ability to coach + the demonstrated ability to win QUICKLY with a roster like ours + the likely ability to manage the uniquenesses of a "blue blood" program and its vested interests. That last bit really shouldn't matter as much as it does, but it undoubtedly does. And not just at Michigan: at Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, USC and Tenessee too. Programs that feel the weight of history require coaches who can not only win but simultaneously embody and transcend tradition. Bo would be a perfect example, but there are others from more recent history, coaches who took the reins of once mighty "blue bloods" fallen on hard times and brought them back to glory. Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll, etc.
The Michigan job is further complicated by the fact that, like Notre Dame, we pride ourselves on academics and high integrity. Ideally we do not want to cut corners in our push (back) to the top. This is admirable, but it does make the job of finding the right person harder, as some of the best coaches out there are inveterate corner cutters. A Bob Stoops still makes the cut, but Pete Carroll? Not sure.
But enough about all that. Here's my ranked list of previously profiled CC candidates:
1. Jim Harbaugh
CASE: Harbaugh is the best available coach (to the unknowable degree that he is available) and the candidate who best “gets” what makes Michigan unique and special. Also shares Schlissel’s views on the academics/athletics balance.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 40%. It’s possible, maybe even more than possible, but he’s also going to have NFL options, and coaches with NFL options don’t often switch to college.
2. Gary Patterson
CASE: The best not available coach who's name nevertheless keeps coming up in every CC discussion at every major school. Patterson's long-term success at TCU speaks for itself—there’s a reason, after all, why his name keeps coming up. Unfortunately, it may not be worth the bandwidth to email an offer, because he’s not coming.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 1%. Anything's possible, but some things are so implausible that they might as well not be. In other words, he’s not coming.
3. John Harbaugh
CASE: Like little brother Jim, but less abrasive. Has won Super Bowl and grew up in Ann Arbor. Good NFL coaches (hell, even pretty good NFL coaches) tend to do well in college.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 10%. A neat idea, but hard to see “John Harbaugh, Michigan Football Coach” becoming reality. After all, unlike little brother Jim, he’s not being pushed out of his NFL gig for clash-of-personality reasons.
4. Les Miles
CASE: Big-time winner at LSU, and clearly a very good football coach. Former letterman and assistant coach under Bo too. Also the guy we maybe should have hired in 2007. However, is on the old side now and hiring Miles might exacerbate rather than heal our factional wounds.
LIKELIHOOD HE COMES IF OFFERED: 99%. He’s been non-obliquely hinting at it lately, and straight up told John U. Bacon in Three and Out that he was ready in 2007. If we want him, he’s coming.
5. Bret Bielema
CASE: Like most people, I thought this was crazytalk the first time I encountered it. But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Would be able to take this roster and make it competitive right away. And as has been said, Bielema wins with a brand of football that roughly corresponds to what Hoke and Brandon wanted to re-establish but couldn't. On the other hand, his teams at Wisconsin were mostly of the “almost-but-not-quite-great” variety. That sounds pretty good from where we are right now, but could wear thin after some time.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 33%. There is a solid speculative case for why he’d be interested, but it’s airy speculation (i.e. there are no sources or rumors, just logic). Astronomical buyout might render this dead in the water.
6. Dan Mullen
CASE: Has won more games at Mississippi State than previously thought possible. Is also a disciple of Urban Meyer, who wins a lot of games for our rival school. That said, he hasn’t really won that much at Mississippi State, (it took Mullen 6 years to reach 10 wins), and may favor recruiting practices we'd prefer to avoid.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 33%. He’s got to realize that his stock will never be higher, and at the least, should use that to renegotiate his current contract. But may be comfortable where he is, or at least in the SEC. You'd think Florida was a sure thing, but apparently it's not. May wait to see if the LSU job opens.
7. Todd Graham
CASE: Wins a lot. Runs modern offense, but is a defensive guy. Modern offense plus good defense = WANT. At the same time, “cultural fit” might be an issue here (or not). Also, Graham is pretty mercenary in his approach to jobs, and would easily bolt after one year if he felt it was in his interests to do so.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 20%. He’s a good coach and would probably be interested in any gig that pays more/has a bigger spotlight, but Graham-to-Michigan doesn’t seem like an intuitive match for either party--especially after his old boss' bad experience here.
8. Jim McElwain
CASE: Like Nussmeier but with experience/success as a head coach. Like Bielema, could plausibly take what we have and make it work. But also not a thrilling (potential) hire.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED:
50% 20%. McElwain will have options, but Michigan (and the salary we could pay) would be at or near the top something he'd look at. Would we offer? Depends on that $7.5m buyout. Also rumored to be a he appears to be the top Florida target.
9. Tom Herman
CASE: Really good OC at Ohio State. Urban Meyer coaching tree. Can recruit Ohio! However, lack of experience as HC means on-the-job learning, and we’re probably not in the mood for more of that.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 80%. I’d put it higher, but there’s always the chance he wouldn’t want to face his mentor every year in THE rivalry game. Or maybe that’s not an issue? In any event, I see him moving to a Tulsa or Cincinnati before making the big jump. But of all the coordinator-level candidates, Herman is the one I have the most faith in.
10. Paul Chryst
CASE: A low-transition-cost, ultra-safe idea. Who knows--could be a Dantonio-type? May, however, be another Hoke.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 99%. Can’t see him saying no. We’re pretty far down the list if we’re offering, though.
11. Bob Stitt
CASE: A true innovator on offense. Long-term success at FCS level. But lack of even mid-major experience likely a dealbreaker
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 99%. Can’t see him saying no, but he's not a serious candidate for HC. Now, if we're talking OC, then we're really talking. Yes please!
12. Greg Schiano
CASE: We prefer not to win or sell season tickets.
LIKELIHOOD THAT HE’D COME IF OFFERED: 99%. Welcome to my nightmare.