Brady Hoke’s days in Ann Arbor are over. His fourth, and final, year at Michigan had its share of humiliating defeats, and controversy. In the first three weeks alone, the Wolverines suffered their worst loss to Notre Dame (an embarrassing 31-0 shutout), a loss to Minnesota for only the second time in the last 24 meetings, and a third loss in September for the first time in the program’s proud 135-year history. No wonder the Wolverines tried giving away tickets to anybody who bought $3 worth of Coca-Cola as a way to fill the stadium.
Hoke’s hold on his job got even more tenuous after letting quarterback Shane Morris stay in the Minnesota game an extra snap after a vicious blow to the head, and then later allowing Morris back on the field when his replacement had to come off for one play. Video of the incident shows a wobbly Morris appearing to struggle to stay upright after the hard hit he took, and Hoke’s questionable-at-best player management in an era of heightened concussion awareness was simply the straw in a season that’s unacceptable to even the most patient of Michigan fans.
The Wolverines finally pulled the plug on the Hoke era in early December, so here are five candidates who Michigan will likely take a long, hard look at to be the school’s head football coach in 2015. What names would you add to our list, and which man do you think should be the No. 1 target? (Coaches are listed in alphabetical order by last name.)
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is a logical fit for Michigan’s head coaching job. Harbaugh has had a great deal of success at the college and professional levels as a head coach: His last four years on the sideline have resulted in an Orange Bowl win at Stanford and three straight conference championship game appearances for the 49ers. Lately, however, things haven’t been so rosy by the Bay, with reports of players unhappy with Harbaugh and no longer wanting to play for him, so the timing of a potential move might make sense.
Harbaugh is a Michigan man through and through, starring at quarterback for the Wolverines in the mid-’80s before embarking on a 14-year NFL playing career. In his 1986 senior season, Harbaugh was a Heisman finalist, beat Ohio State, and took UM to the Rose Bowl: All three of those achievements have been rare commodities in Ann Arbor in the recent past.
If Michigan decides it wants a Harbaugh as its next head coach, the Wolverines actually have two attractive options. John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens coach and brother of Jim, may make just as much sense to take over the maize and blue next season. Although not a Michigan alum like his younger brother, John graduated from high school in Ann Arbor, while his dad was an assistant coach to Bo Schembechler at UM.
This Harbaugh has a Super Bowl title to his credit, having defeated Jim’s 49ers in the 2013 game, and, according to one report, would be the preferred option of Michigan brass, at least from that particular family. John has a .650 winning percentage with the Ravens, but the recent off-field issues in Baltimore related to the Ray Rice situation could make Harbaugh interested in a fresh start if the Wolverines were to come calling.
As long as Les Miles is coaching football, his name is going to be at or near the top of Michigan fans’ wish lists for a head coach. The 2007 national champion has been to a dozen straight bowl games (first with Oklahoma State, then at LSU since 2005), and was linked with the Wolverines’ opening first after Lloyd Carr stepped down, then again when Rich Rodriguez was fired. (In 2007, ESPN actually reported that Miles had taken the Michigan job, although he obviously ended up staying at LSU instead.) Is the third time the charm for a possible Miles-Michigan marriage? Miles was an offensive lineman at Michigan in the ’70s and served two stints as a Wolverines assistant coach: 1980-1981 and 1987-1994. So he probably knows how the grass — er, turf — in Ann Arbor tastes.
This name might be a difficult one for Michigan fans to accept, because hiring the defensive coordinator from in-state rival Michigan State would serve as a near-admission of the way “Little Brother” has recently dominated the series between the schools. The Spartans have beaten the Wolverines in five of the last six seasons, and Pat Narduzzi’s defenses have held UM to an average of just 15 points per game in those contests. Narduzzi is in his eighth year as MSU’s defensive coordinator and directed the top defense in the Big Ten each of the past three seasons.
Under Narduzzi, the Spartans finished second in the nation in total defense a year ago, and it’s obvious Narduzzi’s chance as a head coach will be coming sooner rather than later. Would Michigan be willing to swallow its pride and concede that an assistant at its rival is a better option than its own current boss? If so — and that’s a big “if” — the 2013 Frank Broyles Award winner as the best assistant coach in the nation could be a logical fit for the school just 65 miles or so down the road from his current residence.
There might not be a hotter coach in the country right now than Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, and college football’s all-time winningest program has to at least take a look at the biggest possible names available. That list starts with Sumlin, who has won 37 of his last 44 games (first at Houston and most recently with the Aggies), coached a Heisman winner in Johnny Manziel, and — most impressively — is 5-0 this season despite Manziel having moved on to the Cleveland Browns.
Sumlin is a native of the Midwest, having grown up in Indianapolis, played linebacker at Purdue, and coached on the Minnesota and Purdue staffs in the ’90s. Two big questions remain, though: Would Sumlin leave the SEC for the Big Ten, and will Michigan be willing to open the checkbook if that’s what it takes to steal away the current “it” coach? Thousands of empty seats at Michigan Stadium (assuming those people aren’t just merely Pepsi drinkers?) say throwing millions at Sumlin would still ultimately be a financially prudent decision in the long term.