Harbaugh College Football's Next Alpha Dog?

Will Jim Harbaugh continue to chase a Super Bowl in the NFL or will the former Michigan quarterback return to Ann Arbor to become college football's next alpha dog? National director of scouting and college football analyst Brandon Huffman with his thoughts on Harbaugh and Michigan and several other suitable candidates on the Wolverines' radar out west.

Michigan's coaching search is spanning the entire country following Tuesday's firing of Brady Hoke after just four seasons in Ann Arbor.

The biggest fish resides in San Francisco though as Jim Harbaugh continues to lead his 49ers on a playoff push in the NFL but it's clear the Wolverines have and will target the former Michigan quarterback to inquire about his interest in returning to the big house.

Next to Harbaugh, several names appear on the west coast, some appearing likely to receive interest and others maybe on the outside looking in.

National Director of Scouting and Scout's own college football analyst Brandon Huffman joins me for an unedited Q & A to discuss the the likelihood of Harbaugh ending up at Michigan, Jim Mora Jr.'s role in the Wolverines' search, and several other candidates that have emerged on the radar.

Kyle Bogenschutz: The guy everyone wants to talk about when it comes to Michigan and this job is Jim Harbaugh. He’s still out there on the west coast coaching the 49ers, he coached at Stanford, San Diego, he has family out there. One, fit wise it seems to be a great fit as a former Michigan football player, two is there a scenario where you think a guy would leave the NFL in an almost unprecedented way and go back to college?

Brandon Huffman: I think of two extreme cases where you look at some of the ex-NFL coaches that are in college and most of them got to college because they got fired in the NFL. But I think two specific cases that are kind of similar to Harbaugh, when Al Groh left the Jets after a year to go to Virginia to be the head coach which, I believe is his alma mater and I know his son played there, and then obviously when Nick Saban willingly left the Dolphins because he realized the college game was where he better fit. In the Groh scenario, that’s the similarity that it was his alma mater. In the Saban scenario, it’s the, I really dominated in college and Harbaugh has obviously done well in the NFL, far better than Saban ever did in the NFL, but he also was in the midst of really dominating in college I think when he left to go to the NFL. So, it’s one of those things where I think Harbaugh could really be good in the NFL, he’s showed it, he’s been to a Super Bowl, he’s been to three conference championship games. But he could be the absolute alpha dog in college football. With his competitiveness and you never know because his brother won a Super Bowl, Pete Carroll having won a Super Bowl, there’s probably that drive that he needs to win a Super Bowl, but I also think he thinks he could go win numerous national championships in college and that’s why I think, aside from the obvious, he’s a Michigan alum, it’s he was in the midst of building something really special at Stanford which David Shaw benefited from, before he left, and that was with tough academic standards to work with.

Kyle Bogenschutz: You mentioned David Shaw, he took over for Harbaugh at Stanford. He’s a name that’s maybe further down the list and not necessarily as prevalent as others, do you think Shaw wants to stay at Stanford, would there be any interest in leaving there and maybe what do you think the fit would be between he and Michigan if they ended up talking?

Brandon Huffman: I think Shaw would be an awful pairing with Michigan. Stanford’s his alma mater too so you have that whole angle played up, his dad had coached at Stanford as well. I think if Shaw were to leave he would go to the NFL. I don’t think he would leave his alma mater for another school. I think if he were to leave Stanford it would probably be for the NFL. I just don’t see him fitting well at Michigan. Personality wise, I think he’s a good fit in the bay area because it’s a pro sports area more than it is a college area and I think he plays better in that. But I think with the spotlight on Michigan being that it is and him not being a huge fan of the media, I just don’t see that being a great fit for him.

Kyle Bogenschutz: Former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, now the offensive coordinator with Andrew Luck and the Colts, what do you know about him and maybe any interest he might have again in the college game and the type of system that he likes to run?

Brandon Huffman: I think Pep Hamilton is a fantastic coach. He’s fantastic in Indianapolis, he was fantastic at Stanford. Obviously Harbaugh was the one calling the offense when Shaw was the offensive coordinator but Pep had a big part in the development with Andrew Luck and obviously the Colts thought enough of him and his relationship with Luck that they brought him to Indianapolis and I think Stanford’s offense has sputtered since Pep Hamilton left. You could look at it one of two ways, he’s a very good offensive coordinator and play caller and would probably do well as a coach but you can also look and see how bad Vanderbilt was this year with Derek Mason who was the defensive coordinator at Stanford. You almost wonder your system works in some cases and some guys are better suited as coordinators rather than being head coaches yet. I think in Pep Hamilton’s case, he’s been a coordinator but I think he would need to be, and you’re seeing with Derek Mason, that maybe they should have started out as head coaches at smaller schools rather than going to a power five school right off the bat.

Kyle Bogenschutz: Another guy on the west coast and probably just behind Harbaugh when it comes to names would be Jim Mora Jr. His agent Jimmy Sexton has been contacting Michigan trying to get his name out there, what do you know about him? Obviously USC is trying to have resurgence out there, is there a chance he would want to leave UCLA, if an NFL team goes to the Los Angeles area, UCLA would kind of be third fiddle. What do you think about Mora being a fit and how interested he could be in Michigan?

Brandon Huffman: I think there’d probably be some interest in Michigan but here’s a guy that turned down Texas last year, turned down his alma mater Washington for a second time to stay at UCLA. I know he has two kids that are college students in LA that started college in LA since he got the UCLA job, and then he’s got two younger children. I just don’t see him leaving UCLA for a college job. What I do envision him leaving is if the right NFL job came open, I could see him going back to the NFL, much like Pete Carroll where you had a little success in college, obviously Carroll had more success in college, but I could see Mora figuring I got fired twice, the second time I didn’t really get a good chance, had one year and it was a bad team that I inherited and I got fired. I could see him saying I’ve done well in college, it was great, and I’ve got a good fall back plan without trying the NFL one more time. After turning down Texas and everything they have resource wise and money wise, recruiting base wise, and then turning down his alma mater for the second time, I just don’t see him leaving for a college job next. I think he’d go back to the NFL.

Kyle Bogenschutz: Another guy who back in 2010 was around right before Michigan hired Brady Hoke, was Kyle Whittingham at Utah. He denied that he interviewed for the Nebraska job and whether he did or didn’t, it’s clear that he has definitely made overtures to Michigan. As far as him, he’s been at Utah for a while, been able to build his program, do you think the next step could be close in his future?

Brandon Huffman: I do and honestly I could envision a scenario where he’s taking a better job as soon as this year. I think he’s a fantastic coach. A lot of people early on thought that he was just benefiting from Urban Meyer’s success but Urban was only there for two years and Whittingham, in his fourth class with a number of underclassmen, went undefeated, won the Sugar Bowl, beat Alabama. He’s helped with the transition to the Pac-12 which was a little bit tougher because the rest of the Pac-12 had gotten so much better, especially the Pac-12 South, which is the second best division in college football I think. Whittingham went 8-4 this year, lost some key players to injuries, to have them on the brink, if they had not lost to Arizona State in overtime, Utah would’ve won the Pac-12 South and they were very competitive this year despite having some injuries. He was a guy that I recommended when Josh Harvey asked me about Nebraska, I said Whittingham should be the guy. Gary Andersen’s got Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship and he was Whittingham’s defensive coordinator. Whittingham’s won a Sugar Bowl, I think he’s been to eight bowl games or nine bowl games, won three or four conference championships. Utah has not had a lot of advantages in terms of recruiting, when they were in the Mountain West they had to compete with all the power five schools that tried to come in and take those guys. I think Whittingham has kind of done everything he can at Utah and he’s helped with that transition. In the right situation, he would be a fantastic coach at Michigan. Like I said, I thought Nebraska would be a good fit for him, he’s a defensive minded guy, would hire an offensive coordinator that would do really well for him. Look at some of the coaches he’s worked with, he was Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator, Dan Mullen was the offensive coordinator at that time, Gary Andersen was his defensive coordinator so he’s had some really good hires too.

Kyle Bogenschutz: I want to make sure I ask you this cause you’re all the way out on the west coast, not out here and people still always say that Michigan is still nationally relevant, this is still an elite job out here though they haven’t been in the national title discussion since 2006. In your mind, you talk to recruits, other coaches, is Michigan still an elite job and what are your feelings on that?

Brandon Huffman: There’s no question it is. And just to kind of prove a point out here on the west coast, you look at USC. USC dealt with sanctions, they dealt with Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian has just been okay there and they still brought in a top 10 class last year. They still have been able to recruit, it’s not the same time when USC dominated. Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin aren’t Pete Carroll, they’re never going to get a run like that and yet USC is still relevant nationally. There’s a reason in a sense that Brady Hoke became kind of a punching bag over the last year and a half by the national media. It’s the same reason that Mack Brown, despite even more success than Brady Hoke ever had, became kind of a punching bag, when you’re at one of those premiere blue blood programs, 7-5, 8-4 is not good because the expectation at a national power is you don’t go 7-5 or 8-4. I think the way Brady Hoke got beat up by the media shows that they’re still relevant nationally because it wasn’t just regional media that was saying he’s doing a bad job, it was the entire country and national media. I think there’s eight or 10 jobs that are like that, when you lose, the whole country is paying attention. If UCLA loses to Stanford, nobody cares. If USC loses to Stanford, you have a whole region that’s celebrating and mocking in a sense and that’s where I think Michigan is. Michigan State loses to Oregon, nobody talks about it. Michigan goes and loses to Northwestern or Minnesota, everyone’s talking about it.

Kyle Bogenschutz: Covering things closely from a recruiting standpoint on the west coast, what have your impressions been of the job Michigan has done recruiting out there?

Brandon Huffman: Obviously Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, did a good job of recruiting the west coast. I thought Brady did a good job of recruiting the west coast early on. In the 2012 class he got Erik Magnuson and might’ve been a couple others but I remember him recruiting eight to 10 guys that went to what might’ve been the Notre Dame game, but they brought a good chunk out. And then it seemed the last couple years he stopped recruiting the west coast. With Michigan, because they have good talent in the state but not a lot of depth, whoever gets hired can recruit the west coast. Because if it’s one of those west coast guys, they will recruit the west coast just like Hoke did for those two years. The real key is Michigan going to recruit nationally or regionally? That’s the way you can tell if your recruiting is on the uptick is if you’re a national recruiter rather than a regional recruiter.

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