Wednesday, January 5, 2011

If not Harbaugh, then who?

We're all of the assumption that, public announcement or not, Rich Rodriguez is no longer the head coach at Michigan. And with all of the rumblings around the league that Jim Harbaugh is between Stanford and the NFL, Michigan is once again put in a pretty ugly situation re: their head football coach. The following is a collection of coaches that will either be mentioned in the coaching search or may be possible candidates should an extensive search begin. Not all of them are reasonable, but at the same time, neither was Rich Rodriguez when he came to Ann Arbor.

The Unlikelies

Gus Malzahn
Offensive coordinator, Auburn

Malzahn's name has been tossed about in nearly every coaching search this year because of the massive success of Auburn and their lightspeed offense. On paper, he doesn't appear to be much: a high school coach until 2006, Malzahn has rocketed onto everyone's radar because of not only the design of his offense, but the speed at which it plays. He was recently offered the Vanderbilt head coaching job (as well as speaking with Maryland about their vacancy) but turned it down in favor of a huge raise ($1.3 million a year) to stick around at Auburn.

Track record: Not much of one. As I mentioned, he was a high school coach as recently as 2005, and has since had brief stints as the Arkansas and Tulsa offensive coordinators before landing at Auburn.
Excitement level: A-. Malzahn is the kind of guy that's going to get a head coaching job eventually and likely make the most of it, not unlike Rodriguez himself who bounced around as an offensive coordinator before turning West Virginia into a legitimate power. Would it be nice to get in on something like that at the ground floor with the schemes and personnel to keep Denard and company in Ann Arbor? Yes. Is it likely? Who knows.
Likelihood: D-. Malzahn has already turned down head coaching positions this year and seems content at Auburn. Unless he was waiting for a big name like Michigan to offer him--probably not--he's staying put.

Gary Patterson
Head coach, TCU

Hot off the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, Gary Patterson is the only name in the country as hot as Jim Harbaugh. Since 2001, Patterson has turned TCU into a perpetual contender with seven 10-win seasons and the aforementioned Rose Bowl win. A defensive specialist, TCU's defenses have been consistently ferocious under his lead. This year, they finished first in both scoring and total offense. He is 1-1 in BCS bowls and 6-4 in bowl games overall. Patterson would be the kind of coup that Rodriguez was three years ago.

Track record: Patterson has been coaching the defensive side of the ball since 1982, bouncing around as defensive coordinator, defensive backs coach, and linebacker coach at programs like UC Davis and Sonoma State. He ended up as defensive coordinator at TCU in 1998 and took over as head coach when Dennis Franchione took the head coaching job at Alabama. TCU has basically been a powerhouse since Patterson took over.
Excitement level: A+. Patterson would be the biggest coup of anyone in the coaching search. Year in and year out, he fields incredible defensive teams and his offenses are usually pretty potent. This would be a huge get for Michigan and would hopefully calm the masses in Ann Arbor.
Likelihood: D+. Patterson has the cachet that Michigan needs in a head coach unlike Malzahn. And you have to think that eventually he'll move on from the relatively small TCU stage onto a bigger program. Coming off the Rose Bowl win might make him either excited to leave or anxious to continue the momentum in the program. I'm betting on the latter.

If Michigan weren't Michigan, Mike Leach might be in play here, but that's simply not an option. A black mark like his on the resume and you're not going to find yourself at the head of the Wolverines squad anytime soon. So....

The "Meh"s

Pat Fitzgerald
Head coach, Northwestern

Fitzgerald's name has been tossed around by Brian at MGoBlog as well as by other reasonable outlets. Fitzgerald is young, runs a spread system, and has helped turn Northwestern into a nominal power in the Big Ten (teams don't like playing them, anyway). Fitzgerald is working with the same academic hindrance that Harbaugh is at Stanford, so the team's success is somewhat amplified. He is, however, coaching successfully--and by all appearances, happily--at his own alma mater and hasn't made any rumblings about leaving. Fitzgerald would be an odd hire: a middling, in-conference coach that would be a distinct downgrade from Rodriguez. Pickings are slim, however, and so his name gets tossed onto the heap.

Track record: Fitzgerald was in the NFL as recently as 1997, so he obviously doesn't have much of a record to speak of. He spent time as a linebackers coach at some smaller schools until winding up at Northwestern in 2001 and taking over the head coaching position in 2006. Since then, his record has been, well, unimpressive, with his best season a 9-4 stint in 2008 that ended in an Alamo Bowl loss to Missouri in overtime.
Excitement level: C-. Fitzgerald is an unimpressive coach whose biggest attribute is his age. Otherwise, he brings little besides the potential to keep Denard on campus.
Likelihood: D. Fitzgerald seems content at his alma mater and Michigan has no real incentive to hire him.


Brady Hoke
Head coach, San Diego State

Hoke may be the most likely of all the candidates listed here to actually get the job. He spent 1995-2002 as the defensive line coach under Lloyd Carr, making him a big draw for some of the alumni and a terrifying prospect for anyone who doesn't want to see a Carr descendant return to the throne. When Michigan was going through this same song and dance three years ago, MGoBlog profiled Hoke and concluded thus:
Potential Catches: Potential "catches"? The whole damn thing is one big catch! Even in the realm of people who Michigan would approach after getting turned down by everyone -- EVERYONE -- there are vastly preferable candidates: Ron English. Mike Trgovic. Glen Mason. Jon Chait. Me. The Golden Retriever from "Air Bud: Golden Receiver." Mussolini, who is dead. Dick Vitale. Sigourney Weaver. Richard Nixon's penis. Sigourney Weaver's penis. [Ed. Lol, remember when Brian wasn't a big time star and could say stuff like this?] All of these people and organs don't have a track record that suggests they are a below average MAC coach. It is in this way they are superior to Brady Hoke.
Since then, Hoke has taken over as the head coach of San Diego State where he's led them to 4-8 and 9-4 records. He also had a 12-0 Ball State season in the mix there.

Track record: MGoBlog( explains most of it, sans the San Diego State stuff. Regardless, Hoke has had very little in the way of tangible success even at MAC schools and would appear to be an option only because he's pals with Lloyd Carr who apparently still runs things at Michigan.
Excitement level: D-. Honestly, I don't know a lot about Hoke aside from what you can glean from his end-of-season records. That and MGoBlog's explosive hate for him.
Likelihood: B. Hoke seems, like I mentioned, the most likely candidate right now if Harbaugh is off the table. He has the pro-style pedigree that the alumni have been clamoring for and the Old Michigan ties that would appease the people with the money. This does not, however, seem like a reasonable option for a successful football program.

The Out of Nowhere

Josh McDaniels
Previously: Head coach, Denver Broncos

I started joking earlier about Josh McDaniels being a candidate yesterday, and while he might not be in terms of the administration, his experience, cachet, and skills seem to jive with what Michigan is looking for. McDaniels began his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Nick Saban at Michigan State, so he's at least slightly familiar with the region and conference. After a year there, he went directly to the New England Patriots where he served in a number of positions, none more important than as offensive coordinator late in his tenure there (though he spent some time as quarterbacks coach as well). From there, McDaniels was hired as the head coach of the Denver Broncos and had a promising season in 2009 before falling apart and a wreck of a season in 2010 that was headlined by a bunch of quarterbacks (including Tim Tebow) that have no business starting in the NFL. 

Track record: Covered above, really. McDaniels has NFL experience, which is important to a lot of people, and a season in the Big Ten as a graduate assistant. He also spent time with the Golden Boy in New England.
Excitement level: B+. McDaniels has the brand name that people are interested in and a record of wild success as the offensive coordinator in New England (largely because of Tom Brady, but still...). Not to mention that McDaniels is the guy in the Broncos organization that really pushed to draft Tebow in the first round, implying that he's interested in the spread offense and college sensibilities.
Likelihood: C-. McDaniels has the name and NFL experience but little else that the administration is looking for out of their next coach. He would be an interesting hire and someone who is almost certainly looking to get back on the field, but ultimately, he probably won't end up in Ann Arbor.


If you're saying to yourself, "Who else is there?", you're not alone. There's not much. So barring something miraculous with Harbaugh or a coup the likes of which we saw three years ago (Gary Patterson?), Michigan is in a tough spot.


Anonymous said...

I find it kind of odd to see your excitement level for Malzahn so high and yet Fitzgerald so low.

Malzahn's track record is also VERY short in the collegiate ranks, and he has absolutely zero experience as a head coach.

(as an aside, I bet he would have more interest than you think. Its not so much that he's happy at Auburn, its that he's waiting for a better job than Vandy)

Fitzgerald has a track record as a head coach, and a pretty good one considering where he is at. By all accounts he is pretty impressive as a leader.

I also would not say that Stanford = Northwestern. Stanford has the huge recruiting base of CA, plus has the advantage of being in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

Quite frankly, the only "sure" thing is getting someone who has been a big time coach at a big time program, and those don't become available very often - not even for Michigan.

Chris Gaerig said...

My excitement for Malzahn comes largely out of speculation and the unknown. Malzahn looks like the kind of guy that could turn into Rich Rodriguez (how successful he was at West Virginia, anyway). Fitzgerald, while doing good work at Northwestern, has not been quite as successful as it seems. The team's final record under his control has been: 4-4, 6-6, 9-4, 8-5, and 7-6. He's done good work but hasn't shown much ability to sustain the program at a high level. Maybe that's because he's at Northwestern, but regardless, he seems a little like Rich Rod Lite.

Anonymous said...

Les Miles in the mix....

Anonymous said...

In re: Fitzgerald

Sustaining Northwestern at a +.500 record is showing the ability to sustain a program at a high level. Those might be the four most consistently successful year for NU since the Ara Parsegian era. They haven't reached the highs of the Barnett or Walker eras, but both of those coaches had craters that Fitzgerald hasn't had. His teams play hard and rarely get blown out (UW this year and OSU seemingly every year being the exceptions. Maybe the latter excludes him).

I don't get how he's RR-lite. In some ways, he seems the anti-RR young coach. He would address many of the "RR-fit" questions: he's well spoken, culturally midwestern, academically attuned, defensive minded. I think a lot of the fit stuff has been overblown, but it clearly matters to many.

Now, I don't think he's likely to come, he turned down ND last year and seems happy there, but he would be looking at quite a raise.

Chris Gaerig said...

I discussed the Fitzgerald thing with my brother earlier today who said basically exactly what you did here. I may have been a little down on Fitzgerald but I don't think much. True that Northwestern is basically a football black hole, but he didn't inherit the program the way Harbaugh inherited Stanford. The three years leading up to Fitzgerald's head coaching position at NW the team was 6-7, 6-6, and 7-5, so he wasn't taking over a bare cupboard. And by general NW standards, those three years could probably be considered sustained success. But the fluctuation in Fitzgerald's output (6-6 his first year, up to 9-4, and back to 7-5 this year) isn't all that promising to me.

I would be happy getting Fitzgerald because I think he's better than whatever Michigan is going to end up with (especially after Brandon's press conference today), but in terms of the overall excitement level and how I see him on a national scale, I'm not terribly impressed.

Lloyd Carr teams played hard, he was well spoken, and culturally, a perfect fit for Michigan. Schematically and on the field, he was out-thought and out-coached. Fitzgerald doesn't seem to have the Xs and Os acumen and pedigree that I want to see from Michigan's next coach. Players that work hard and a coach that's praised for how well he presents himself in public gets you 9-4 seasons. I want titles.

Lankownia said...

I support the anti-Fitzgerald sentiment. He really hasn't raised the bar at Northwestern. Since the 85 scholarship limit was implemented in '92, Northwestern has averaged about 3.5 wins per season in B10 play. This has been true for Barnett, Walker, and Fitzgerald. Those old enough to remember how hopeless Northwestern football was prior to the mid 90s are more likely to view Fitzgerald's consistent mediocrity an achievement, but the college football landscape has change and Northwestern has been decent for what now is approaching 20 years.

Furthermore, Fitzgerald is not an offensive mind of any note. Hiring him for the sake of his offense is like hiring Rodriguez because of the 3-3-5. Its Walkers offense (which is derivative from RR anyway) and Fitzgerald has just maintained it. Lets not forget he was never more than an LB or LB coach until Walker suddenly passed away and he was thrust in the HC position.


On another note, I wouldn't take MGoBlogs negativity towards Hoke too seriously. Brian is justifiably revered for his writing and influence, but he's been wrong - and often. Hoke's resume is pretty strong. Not only did he raise Ball State up from the bottom of the MAC to a 12-1 season, but he seems to be on the same trajectory at SDSU. We can see that the Mountain West is no pushover conference. SDSU went toe-to-toe (on the road no less) with TCU and Missouri this year and fell just short in each game. They went 9-4, won their bowl game, and are likely to be even better next year if Hoke doesn't arrive at Michigan. His resume is better than Harbaugh's pre-Stanford. His rise hasn't been as meteoric but he's more experienced and has a longer track record of consistent improvement.

Anonymous said...

I generally agree with the thoughts about not being too anti-hoke, he seems like someone who needed some time to become an effective head coach, but that game against TCU wasn't as close as the final score looks. TCU was up 20 points in the 4th quarter before pulling their starters. The Missouri game was legitimately a heart-breaker for SDSU, with Mizzou scoring a TD with under a minute left to win by 4.

On the other hand, SDSU lost to a terrible BYU team and gave up 2 TDs in the 4th to lose to Utah.

Anonymous said...

To correct the article above. Hoke played LB at college and coached Defenses, not offenses before becoming a Head Coach.

"Before becoming the head coach at Ball State, Hoke was the defensive line/associate head coach at Michigan. His career also included stops at Oregon State (defensive line), Toledo (outside linebackers), Western Michigan (DL, special teams), Grand Valley State (defensive line), and Yorktown High School (defensive coordinator, offensive line)."

Chris Gaerig said...

"[Hoke's] resume is better than Harbaugh's pre-Stanford. His rise hasn't been as meteoric but he's more experienced and has a longer track record of consistent improvement."

This is simply untrue. As a head coach, Brady Hoke's career record is 47-50. He floundered at Ball State for four years where his best record was 5-7 before going 7-6 and then 12-1. (Not to mention, he fluctuated significantly at Ball State before that 7-6 year: 4-8, 2-9, 4-7, 5-7.) In two seasons, he does seem to be turning around San Diego State, but it may be too early to make a real judgment on that. Harbaugh, meanwhile, was 29-6 at San Diego before being offered the Stanford job. And let's not forget, the Stanford job was not a good one: they were coming off of a one-win season and are, ya know, Stanford. So while Hoke has more experience, he hasn't really shown that he's very good at what he does.

Also, the turnaround at Stanford is not something we should expect from any coach, even one with a similar track record. What Harbaugh has done there is a singular feat that, expecting it from others is blindly optimistic. Brady Hoke's record, meanwhile, is more reminiscent of someone like Ron Zook. Except at MAC-level schools. Hoke cannot be Michigan's next head coach.

Chris Gaerig said...

Ah yes, defensive line. Must've been thinking of other things when I was writing that. Noted and changed, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention that, at USD, Harbaugh was coaching with a significant handicap in that schools that they played against had scholarship athletes while USD did not.

Lankownia said...

"Harbaugh, meanwhile, was 29-6 at San Diego"
San Diego isn't San Diego State - its not even Ball State. The level of competition is simply not comparable.

At Ball State, Hoke has shown that he can produce steady improvement over time. This to me is more impressive than a 3 or 4 year leap. Harbaugh hardly did better than RR in his first 3 years and without Luck at QB hasn't shown much. Theres a major element of chance/luck in all this, so fluctuations are to be expected. Furthermore, a MAC team's overall record is very dependent on who they schedule. Hoke's in conference wins went 3,2,4,5,5,8. Thats steady improvement. As I said, Hoke has a longer and steadier track record. Harbaugh has shown he can turn 1 win into 11 quickly. Michigan isn't starting at 1 win.

Lets not also forget that Stanford had some years of success under Willingham and it didn't translate to a higher stage either. It has a strong recruiting base, excellent weather, some tradition (e.g. Elway). Stanford isn't the moribund program people like to pretend it is.

I realize what Harbaugh has done is impressive, but the hotness from one year most of the time doesn't translate real well to being the hotness 3 years later. Just look back to our last coaching hunt (Schiano, Miles, Rodriguez). Harbaugh's had amazing success but its no guarantee of future results.

Chris Gaerig said...

Yeah, but you can say the same of Brady Hoke. Or any coach. Except Hoke hasn't even had amazing success. He has a sub-.500 win percentage and one good season. There is truly no case for Hoke.

Lankownia said...

"He has a sub-.500 win percentage and one good season" --- Same goes for Harbaugh at Stanford till this year.

I get the "its not enough for Michigan" argument. But what Hoke has done is impressive. Michigan fans seem to have a "no one is good enough" mentality where Harbaugh is the only viable candidate. Anyway, its clear that resume is a secondary concern here, or else RR would still be guy.

Chris Gaerig said...

Hoke isn't good enough for Michigan, that much is true. But there are a lot of coaches that are. They're just happy elsewhere, unfortunately. Without Harbaugh in a tractor beam, Michigan never should've fired RR.

Lankownia said...

"Michigan never should've fired RR" - on this I couldn't agree more. The point of firing your coach is to get a better coach. Michigan won't do that.

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