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.