Coaching Hot List: The Already Established

There are a handful of names that have been bandied about as Michigan coaching candidates for weeks. Now that the job is officially open you can expect them to rise to varying levels of prominence. Jim Harbaugh is undeniably atop Michigan's board. Others that will be connected to the job (either through U-M's interest in them or their interest in U-M) are Les Miles,Butch Jones, and Greg Schiano.

**Breaking News!** 8:53 PM, December 4, 2014:

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Listed in Order of Prominence

Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco 49ers)


This is the man most fans and alums are clamoring for. It’s not hard to see why. Simply put, Harbaugh wins. The former Michigan standout has won everywhere he has coached. He led San Diego to a league title in only his second year on the job and did so again the following season. In his first year at Stanford he coached his team to statistically the largest upset in the history of college football with 24-23 road victory over top ranked USC. By year three he had Stanford in its first bowl game since 2001, and in year four the Cardinal finished with an 11-1 record with the only loss coming to national championship runner-up Oregon.

Harbaugh has been lauded for working with quarterbacks Andrew Luck, but his work in the pros with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick is what really brought the praise. Smith, who was the #1 overall pick in 2005, was universally considered a bust prior to Harbaugh’s arrival in San Francisco. Harbaugh helped revitalize Smith’s confidence, game, and ultimately his career. With Kaepernick there were questions about whether he could transition to being a pro quarterback due largely to skepticism about his skills as a passer. He is now considered one the NFL’s top signal callers.

The play of those quarterbacks were key ingredients in the immediate and sustained turnaround in San Francisco. In his first year the 49ers were 13-3, NFC West Division champs and made it to the NFC championship game. By year two Harbaugh had the 49ers in the Super Bowl. In year three he had his team back in the NFC championship game again.

At every stop Harbaugh turned things around and he turned them around quickly. Add to it the strong relationships and advocates he still has in Ann Arbor, his father's connection to interim athletic director Jim Hackett (Jack Harbaugh was on Michigan's coaching staff in the mid-seventied when Hackett was a player) and there is more reason to believe this to be a match made in heaven for the Maize & Blue.


Harbaugh’s reputation in NFL circles has taken a beating this year with multiple reports suggesting he is widely disliked by players in his own locker room. His in-your-face style might actually play better in college… if he actually opts to go back to college. Harbaugh has a year left on his contract with the 49ers beyond this one and there is scuttlebutt that rather than fire him at the end of the season like some reports are suggesting, the team might opt to trade him. On the other hand, if he has the 49ers back in the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year (they currently sit one game out of the wildcard and two games behind Arizona in the division), it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the organization look past the acrimony, or at the very least see what it can get for him. There definitely will be no shortage of pro suitors for a coach that seems to have the Midas touch. Oakland will be in the market, and that would prevent him from having to leave the Bay area. The Miami Dolphins, owned by Michigan alum/donor Stephen Ross, is another rumored possibility. He would surely be a hot commodity for any other pro team that comes calling, so the Wolverines would face a lot of competition for his services.

Then there are those unflattering remarks Harbaugh made back in 2007 how Michigan inadequately educates its athletes. That spawned a war of words with Lloyd Carr and Mike Hart. Carr and Hart shot back with terse retorts calling him “arrogant”, “elitist”, and “not a Michigan Man.”

Seven years and a number of subpar football seasons have passed since one more of the more visible disputes within the Michigan football family occurred. Time and losses have a way of healing wounds, but how healed this one is and whether it even makes a difference remains to be seen.

Bottom Line (UPDATED):

At this point Harbaugh is THE candidate. He is the candidate for whom there would be the least opposition. He is the candidate that is the most proven. He is the candidate that pairs being in the prime of his career with Michigan ties.

Some that know him in Ann Arbor insist he is interested in Michigan. And while there are negative opinions regarding his personality in NFL circles there are notable power borkers in Ann Arbor that believe the perception of him as being tough to deal with is over-stated (we'll get into who those power brokers are later). It's not likely to come down to interest on Michigan's part, the type of control he'd want, or money. The possibility of Jim Harbaugh returning will very likely come down to how willing he is to pass up pro opportunities. More specifically pro opportunities that offer both coaching and GM duties outright or a coaching situation where he has much greater say in front office dealings than he has in San Francisco. Time will tell if those opprtunities present themselves, and only he knows which one he finds more appealing.


Les Miles (LSU Coach)


“The Mad hatter” fielded a consistent winner first at Oklahoma State and now at LSU. A former player and coach under Bo Schembechler and clearly has modeled his coaching style after him. He employs a pro-style offense so an overhaul of the roster wouldn’t be necessary. Lastly he remains very popular is various former player and alumni circles.


Age is a hindrance as Miles will turn 61 years old next week. He has been on the receiving end of criticism on the recruiting trail, most notably for an over-signing incident that saw him eliminate three players. One of those players was a freshman that had been on campus for two months. While he still has support in Michigan circles, he has many more detractors than Harbaugh. Lastly his offenses have been criticized for being painfully anemic and/or predictable at times, though things have improved considerably since he brought on former Michigan (and NFL) assistant Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator last year.

Bottom line:

Miles might be the coach at Michigan now had word of his alma mater’s back channel courtship in 2007 not been embellished while he was in the midst of preparing the Tigers for a national championship. His candidacy was less viable after Rodriguez was fired back in 2010, and it is probably lesser now due in large part to his age. Still his Michigan roots make him one to watch. The most pressing question with him is was the rumored disapproval within the Michigan football family during previous searches fact or fiction. And if it was fact, has that disapproval since waned? It may not matter as Hackett has his own knowledge of Miles from their days as teammates at Michigan in the mid-seventies.


Butch Jones (Tennessee Coach)


In three year stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati Jones won two league championships during both stops. He is widely regarded as a bright offensive min and spent two years as an assistant working under former Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez. The Saugatuck, Michigan native has no direct ties to Michigan’s program himself, but worked the Wolverines summer football camp for years as a visiting staff member. Furthermore his staff at Tennessee has deep Great Lake State ties. His offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian was a graduate assistant in Ann Arbor under Lloyd Carr from 2000-2001, his defensive coordinator John Jancek is a Muskegon, Michigan native, his defensive line/associate head coach Steve Stripling coached Michigan’s defensive line from 2005-2007, tight ends and special teams coach Mark Elder was grad assistant at Michigan from 2005-2006, and four other staff members coached multiple years at Mid-American Conference schools in Michigan (mostly but not exclusively with Jones at Central Michigan).


Jones hasn’t been at Tennessee very long and hasn’t yet experienced much success. In year one he went 5-7, and he is slightly better this year at 6-6. So while he certainly is a proven coach, his isn’t yet a proven coach at the Power-5 conference level. His arrival at Michigan would also signal a move back to the spread, which would call for another roster overhaul.

Bottom line (UPDATED):

Jones is a Michigan guy without being a University of Michigan guy. He shot down any suggestion that he is in the running for the Michigan job a few months ago. "It's not even worth discussing,” Jones told the Tennessean. “No validity to it." That’s your typical deflective comment from a coach during a search. Still it wouldn’t be surprising if Michigan showed interest in Jones, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he reciprocated. Just ask current Big Teb Betwork analyst and former Michigan Wolverine Marcus Ray who was on Jones' staff at Central Michigan.

"Michigan is a dream job for Butch," said Ray. I worked for him. He looked me in my face and said I would work there and where Rich was the coach there."


Greg Schiano


Schiano turned lowly Rutgers into a consistent winner during his time there from 2001-2011. He recruited well and has tentacles in Florida and throughout the east coast. He and was reportedly offered the Michigan job back in 2007 before ultimately turning it down to stay in Piscataway. He has considerable NFL coaching experience on his resume and his teams feature pro-style offenses. That means Michigan wouldn’t need to overhaul its roster if Schiano was tabbed.


Schiano is another coach known for having a grating personality. That contributed to his failed two-year stint (2012-2013) as the headman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Some pundits also question his ability as a big game coach.

Bottom line:

Word is Schiano’s name is still respected in Ann Arbor, his style of play wouldn’t be a major deviation from the current norm, and he built RUTGERS into a respectable program. That said he has no direct ties to the state of Michigan or the program, he was unsuccessful in his most recent coaching job, his biggest success as a college coach coincides with the presence of Ray Rice, and he has been criticized for being abrasive. He is a respected coach, but he wouldn’t generate nearly the excitement that some of the other candidates on this list would.

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