Webblog: Hoke, Harbaugh, & the Echo Chamber

The rumor mill concerning the future of the Michigan coaching position continues to turn, and an unfortunate consequence of that is inaccuracy. We correct one of the more significant inaccuracies in today's Webblog.

It has become increasingly clear to me in recent months that we live in the age of the echo chamber… a time where the type of news and commentary that people crave most is that which validates what they already believe.  We’re seeing it now with the Jim Harbaugh-to-Michigan talk. To some, anything short of a written guarantee that he is going to be Michigan’s next coach is either purposefully distorted or misconstrued as a sign of being a part of “a faction” that doesn’t want Harbaugh in Ann Arbor.  Preposterous claims at best, at least insofar as they apply to this site or my radio show.  We’ve dealt with every aspect of the coach/athletic director saga in a balanced and blunt way.

I lay those things out to show that while some of the commentary and reports have been wildly unpopular, they haven’t been inaccurate.  I also do it to bring attention to the perils of only seeking out and being satiated by news you want to hear… and to take responsibility for my inadvertent and unknowing role in quenching that desire.

There was a blog recently that depicted an extreme-intensification of the Harbaugh-to-Michigan possibility.  It is not my intent to call out the blogger or to smear or discredit him in anyway.  I’m addressing it because it contained information that I’m responsible for.  That makes it my responsibility to clear up the misunderstanding born from its presence.

I make it a point to develop as many sources for a story as possible… whether that be in recruiting or lately in this athletic director/coaching story at Michigan.  For the latter topic I’ve been in touch with numerous contacts across Michigan’s campus, former player donor contacts, Dominos contacts (during the Brandon story), and also contacts with direct access to Jim Harbaugh.  Last week in the process of talking to one of the sources in direct contact with Harbaugh, Tyrone Wheatley’s name came up.  It is no secret that Wheatley is a longtime and very good friend of mine, and naturally this source knew that.  The question came up of whether or not Wheatley would be interested in coming back to Michigan.  That happened to have been a topic that I’ve discussed with him on numerous occasions… including, coincidentally, last week.  So I know first-hand where Wheatley stands.  I know he loves Michigan, but I also I know that he’s interested in being a head coach one day.  I know that his next coaching move will be one up the coaching ladder… possibly to collegiate head coach or coordinator.  And if it was another running back job… a dual role as a run game coordinator or associate head coach would be on his radar.  Simply put, he is not looking to be a running backs coach the rest of his career.  I shared that information with the Harbaugh source not intending for it to ever be put out for public consumption.  And to be clear, it’s not like this source was told to vet Wheatley or his interest on Harbaugh’s behalf, nor was he told to do so at Michigan’s behest.  Like so many in Maize & Blue circles in recent weeks, this source was acting of his own volition.  Could that eventually lead to interest from Jim Harbaugh if he were to wind up Michigan’s coach?  Sure it could. But was it a sign that Michigan’s current staff has been given its walking papers and the wheels in developing a new staff are already informally turning? No, it was not.

It would have certainly been easy to drop Wheatley’s name on this site to excite people, but I knew how it would have been perceived.  Not only would it have made it appear that things were suddenly intensifying with Harbaugh… it also would have put Wheatley in a difficult position with his current employer.  So as I often do, I chose to keep that information out of the public eye.  The problem is it made it into the public eye anyway via a blog that happened to have consulted one source we have common... (i.e. the aforementioned Harbaugh I converse with).

I can say unequivocally that Tyrone Wheatley has had NO conversations with Jim Harbaugh or anyone representing Jim Harbaugh.  I can say also unequivocally that the information about Tyrone Wheatley’s interest in being an associate head coach hasn’t even been conveyed to Harbaugh at this point.  Any interest that Jim Harbaugh might have in Tyrone Wheatley is speculative at best.  Wheatley is extremely happy in Buffalo. He hasn’t actively sought to put his name in the mix at Michigan or anywhere else.  Any opinion otherwise is born of a conversation I had. All of those bullet points will hopefully eliminate the litany of questions that Wheatley may have eventually had to face anyway, but certainly have no validity now.

It’s impossible to avoid parsing rumors and dealing with anonymous sources on clandestine dealings and sensitive topics like these… which makes it even more important to be responsible.  That’s what I’m trying to do by not delivering to you every single thing I hear or know.  That doesn’t mean we skimp on our responsibility to keep you as informed as possible.  It just means we choose to be discerning. For us sharing the belief held by Harbaugh contacts that he would have definite interest if the Michigan job came open is okay. Sharing unconfirmed speculation about his interest in Tyrone Wheatley is not.

All of this begs a bigger question. Is an echo chamber what you really want? If it is, be careful because what I laid out for you above is an example of how that could easily lead to you being misinformed.

And because I know even a column seeking to clear up things that have been misconstrued can itself be misconstrued, let me lay out some things explicitly…

  • Any mention of retention chances for the current staff wasn’t done out of deference to it.  Deference would be the utter avoidance of discussing other coaching possibilities. It was mentioned to accurately reflect what it has been told and how it was operating heading into this week. At the point in which we hear that changes it, we’ll report it.

  • None if this meant to suggest that change is unlikely.

  • It also isn’t meant to suggest that if change does happen that the pursuit of Jim Harbaugh wouldn’t be an overwhelming possibility.

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