Tag: Jim Harbaugh

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Does Harbaugh to Michigan really matter for Notre Dame?


Michigan is in the process of finalizing their deal to make former San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh their head football coach. After a mutually agreed upon divorce that feels like a satire on the life and times of Silicon Valley high society, Harbaugh will return to his alma mater to take on the reclamation project of returning the Victors to victories.

Give Michigan brass credit. They went all in on securing Harbaugh, spending the past few months orchestrating the hire of a NFL coach who up until this season had done nothing but win football games at a historic pace.

But for all the flowy wordplay that’ll be dedicated to the hire, a few things require stating:

1. Let’s not kid ourselves, this is about money. Nearly $50 million to a coach from a state that just had its biggest city go through a bankruptcy. This is a bank-breaking, logic-defying deal.

2. Michigan just guaranteed that money to a coach who nearly got traded last year, a fairly emphatic statement on just how difficult Harbaugh is for bosses, colleagues and a work environment that had only seen success with him at the helm.

3. The brand of football that Harbaugh’s team played took a significant step backwards in 2014, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick going from transformative player to serious question mark in one calendar year.

With that out of the way, let’s get serious. This is a grand slam hire.

Replacing Brady Hoke with Jim Harbaugh is like swapping out that finger-painting from your five-year-old nephew with a Jackson Pollock original. So while it might have pushed college football a few steps closer to the apocalypse with the financial implications, it’s a deal nearly every Michigander is celebrating for good reason.

Now on to Notre Dame. While the two schools haven’t found the time to reboot their rivalry after the Irish pounded one of the first nails into Brady Hoke’s coffin this September, the Harbaugh hire hasn’t gone unnoticed by Domers.

Harbaugh’s move to Ann Arbor could change the gravitational force in Midwestern recruiting. It’ll give Michigan a head coach that can walk into the same living room as Brian Kelly and Urban Meyer and come out looking like the most accomplished of the three.

In the coming days, we’ll find out how Harbaugh plans to build his coaching staff. If the Michigan brass was willing to roll out $8 million for the guy wearing Walmart khakis, what are they willing to give his assistants? Expect some big names to come soon, as the coaching staff will storm out of the gates hoping to salvage the 2015 recruiting class.

Does that mean taking dead aim at some Irish recruits? Of course. And that has some Irish fans expecting the worst. (That seems to be the default setting.)

But while the Irish used to look at Stanford’s defense as the archetype, Brian VanGorder is recruiting to a different mold. That means some overlaps, but hardly a hunt for the same lumbering and lanky edge players that the Cardinal terrorized Notre Dame with.

Offensively, Harbaugh’s first order of business is finding a quarterback. The last time people thought Shane Morris was the answer was when YouTube clips of his junior year in high school were stuck buffering on Internet Explorer. But for better or worse, there aren’t too many similarities between Brian Kelly’s preferred offensive system and the one Harbaugh’s running.



For all the talk Hoke made about a power-running, Michigan offense, Harbaugh’s actually established it. But at Stanford, he found Andrew Luck. In 2009, Harbaugh and Luck went 8-5, turning Toby Gerhart into a Heisman Trophy finalist. The head coach rode a 12-1 2010 to the NFL, turning down the Wolverines to create the mess he’s now cleaning up four years later.

Harbaugh’s hiring has certainly shaken up the Big Ten. While Urban Meyer has managed to get his team into the College Football Playoff, the rest of the conference has shown itself to be second rate. Harbaugh will begin his climb to the top in a conference that’s never been shakier.

With no football to be played until September, Michigan is the king of this offseason. That means no more picking on the guy at the office from Detroit, who will spend the next nine months with a little more pep in his step — because Michigan actually landed their man.

Harbaugh’s return to the college scene adds another A-Lister to a part of the country where most are running from. But until the two teams restart their rivalry on the field, it should be business as usual for Notre Dame football.


Brandon learns coaching lesson the hard way

021110_SPT_Womens vs MSU_MRM

After two offseasons of chaos, all is quiet under the Golden Dome. But the same can’t be said for life at the Big House, where the sloppy firing of head coach Rich Rodriguez has put Michigan fans into a fury that only had one way out: hiring Jim Harbaugh.

Now that Harbaugh actually called the press conference and picked a hat, the villagers can riot. Harbaugh was the perfect fit — the “Michigan Man” roots, and the perfect confluence of football cred, Q rating, and a great season at Stanford turning him into the greatest coaching candidate anyone in the modern media’s history (meaning their memory stretches no more than nine months) has ever seen.

How great is Harbaugh? Consider: He had a losing record (17-20) at Stanford heading into this season. In 2007, the year Harbaugh put the Cardinal on the map with their shocking upset victory over mighty USC, he lost eight games, including one to Charlie Weis’ Irish squad, the worst in Notre Dame history. In 2008, the year the Irish swooned down the stretch to a .500 regular season finish that nearly cost Weis his job, Harbaugh lost again to Notre Dame. Last season, led by a near Heisman-winning running back and facing a dead-Weis walking, Stanford won the season finale in the final minutes before losing their bowl game — finishing the year with an 8-5 record, the same as Brian Kelly’s 2010 squad.

The point of this isn’t to bury the man, but to point out that his 11-1 season isn’t the norm, but the confluence of a program building at a perfect time in the Pac-1o, now free from Trojan reign.

Captained by an elite quarterback, a solid defense and a veteran roster, Harbaugh’s star is at its brightest because he took a school known primarily for academics (but far from a football pariah) and turned it into a one-year wonder and BCS game winner. (But even that doesn’t say much when you consider Virginia Tech won a mediocre ACC,  lost to I-AA James Madison, and the Pac-10 conference champion beat Stanford by three touchdowns.)

But why get carried away with facts and context? I’m willing to concede that Harbaugh is the most attractive candidate out there. Glossy NFL playing career? Check. Coaching bloodlines? Check. Program builder? (Begrudgingly) Check. Rock star personality? Check-plus.

And therein lies the problem for Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon. In his first real tour of duty in major sports, Brandon is tasked with firing Rich Rodriguez after an abrupt three years and bringing in a replacement that’s only going to be viewed as a success if it’s the one man everybody in football wants to hire: Jim Harbaugh.

Comparing Brandon’s search to the one Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick conducted a year ago shows a contrast Michigan fans might not be too happy about. On November 27th, Michigan lost to its arch-rivals by 30 points, losing for a seventh consecutive year to Ohio State. The next Monday, Brandon released a statement:

“I have 27 sports, and I evaluate the performance at the end of the season,” Brandon said. “It’s the appropriate time to do it. It’s when the coaching is over and you can sit down and focus on what we’ve learned. That’s the way to do it.”

Those statements were before Michigan fans suffered through hand-holding to Josh Groban, a 38-point defeat to the fifth-best team in the SEC West, and the crumbling of a recruiting class that were among the first to scurry from a sinking ship. When Brandon made the decision to fire Rodriguez, 39 days had passed. A true eternity to let your football program hang in the balance, and now, with no real end in sight. All because “that’s the way to do it” at Michigan.

Mirror that process with the end of the Weis regime. On Saturday, November 28th, Weis and the Irish loss a hard-fought battle to Jim Harbaugh’s Cardinal 45-38. The next day, Weis met with Swarbrick. On Monday, Swarbrick announced that Weis wouldn’t return, beginning a national coaching search. Ten days later, Brian Kelly was hired. That was December 10th, 55 days before National Signing Day.

Now, with less than four weeks to go before prospects sign their letters-of-intent, and days before early-entrants enroll in schools, Michigan football, the pride of the state, is lost as sea, with the only life raft in sight one that was just snatched up by 2003 Notre Dame graduate Jed York.

This is Dave Brandon’s Urban Meyer to Florida moment, and the plane just left the runway without the one guy the state of Michigan needed to have.

Now Brandon soldiers on, with the recruiting clock ticking to midnight, offensive personnel tailored to Rodriguez’s system, defense personnel masquerading as eleven matadors, and a coaching search that will welcome a silver medalist into a burning Big House.

All because “that’s the way to do it.”

Welcome to college football, Dave Brandon.

With season over, let the recruiting games begin


It’s that time of year again. When college football fans read into the clothing choices of four-star recruits or the hats that parents of recruits are wearing around the US Army All-American Bowl. For those of you that swill the recruiting Kool-Aid, it’s the most wonderful time of year.

For the first time in… well — a long time, the Irish enter the home stretch of recruiting on a serious roll. Four straight victories, culminating with a beat-down of the Miami Hurricanes after dispatching the USC Trojans for the first time since Bob Davie. Adding to the intrigue is the downward slide of some key Irish rivals.


Michigan’s in a recruiting free-fall thanks to athletic director David Brandon’s refusal to either cut Rich Rodriguez lose or give him a vote of confidence, a decision that likely won’t be made until Jim Harbaugh decides what he wants to do.

Harbaugh’s decision is likely between two “dream jobs” Michigan — his alma mater — and the San Francisco 49ers, a local team that has plenty of Notre Dame ties. Team president Jed York, a 2003 Notre Dame graduate, could take great pride in not only scoring the hottest coach on the market, but also sticking it to the Wolverines, whose fanbase would revolt if they lost out on Harbaugh, waited until all the other top-programs filled vacancies, and had to reach for a guy like Brady Hoke, a coach whose resume isn’t close to Rodriguez’s.

Harbaugh’s decision to leave Stanford after the season could also be good news for the Irish when it comes to recruits like Amir Carlisle and Troy Niklas, two guys that have Stanford at the top of their list but would likely lose interest if Harbaugh leaves town, which is all but a foregone conclusion right now.

Stanford and Michigan aren’t the only place where a coaching change could help the Irish. While Florida is officially bringing on Charlie Weis to install a pro-style offense, it didn’t stop Ohio native Chase Hounshell from decided not to enroll early at Florida and instead open up his recruitment to the Gators and Irish. He may not be in the rarefied air of some other recruits the Irish are chasing, but he’s a big bodied offensive line prospect with great offers at a position where the Irish are thin.

Meanwhile, the Irish didn’t just beat up Miami on the field last week, they’re taking dead aim at Anthony Chickillo, an outside linebacker/defensive end prospect that is the Hurricane’s top-rated commitment. Chickillo would be a third generation Hurricane if he eventually signs with Miami, but he’s considering taking a visit to South Bend at the end of January, and Tony Alford is on the case for Notre Dame.

With the US Army All-American Bowl and the Under Armor All-American Bowl both on tap for the next week, nearly a dozen Irish commitments or targets are matched up with some of the top players in the country, and will be making their college decision soon. Notre Dame is still after, and looks in a strong position to sign Ishaq Williams (his dad was reportedly wearing a Notre Dame hat this week) and Brennan Scarlett from San Antonio and Savon Huggins and Amir Carlisle in Orlando.

If you like it, the next two months will be some of the most hectic on the college football calendar. If you don’t, plug your ears, steer clear of the message-boards, and I’ll do my best to keep you up to speed. Either way, for the first time in a long while, Notre Dame is in a position of strength going into the home stretch of recruiting, and head coach Brian Kelly and his staff are ready to take advantage of the momentum.