During Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon's press conference on Wednesday, he said that as soon as it ended the school's coaching search would begin. While many have speculated that the search has actually been going on behind the scenes on an unofficial basis for weeks now, Brandon said that's not the case, as he only made a decision about firing Rich Rodriguez on Tuesday night. Whether or not that's true is up for debate, but the point remains that Michigan is without a head coach and now has to begin a national search to find Rodriguez's replacement.
Jim Harbaugh's name was at the top of the list of candidates even before Rodriguez was officially let go. Harbaugh played at Michigan under Bo Schembechler and is now the head coach of Stanford, which went 12-1 this season. He is a natural fit and is someone the entire fan base could rally around if he wanted to come to Ann Arbor. This is the problem, though.
Harbaugh's stock as a coaching candidate went up so much in recent weeks that he has multiple teams from the NFL interested in him. It seemed as though he was set to become the San Francisco 49ers' new head coach on Wednesday after meeting with the team for five hours, but now the Miami Dolphins are apparently flying to California to make a last-second pitch. Interestingly, the Dolphins haven't even fired current head coach Tony Sparano yet, but team owner and Michigan graduate Stephen Ross apparently wants Harbaugh bad enough that he is willing to shell out a reported number of at least $7 million a season for him.
Brandon said during his news conference that he has spoken to Harbaugh numerous times in recent months and years and personally believes the Stanford coach is headed to the NFL. Further validation of this notion comes from Chris Mortensen's report that Ross talked with Michigan officials to make sure he didn't get into a competition with his school to land Harbaugh. Ross was reportedly assured that Harbaugh is not as interested in the Michigan job as Michigan is interested in him, which is why the Dolphins' brass is set to meet with him Thursday morning.
At this point it seems to be only a matter of time until Harbaugh takes a job with an NFL team, so it's probably safe to say he is off the list of candidates. What does that mean for Michigan? The list of so-called "Michigan men" that presumably would actually be interested in taking the job includes San Diego State head coach Brady Hoke, a former U-M assistant, and LSU head coach Les Miles, a former U-M player and assistant. It's been reported numerous times that Hoke would jump at an offer, and although it's unclear what Miles' interest in the job would be, speculation suggests he wouldn't have a tough time leaving LSU for Ann Arbor.
Coaches without Michigan ties that could be candidates is a long list of names thrown out there any time a job opens up at a major BCS school. TCU's Gary Patterson, Boise State's Chris Peterson, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Louisville's Charlie Strong have all been mentioned as possibilities to replace Rodriguez, but that's pure speculation and probably people getting their hopes up. This is why former NFL coach and current ESPN announcer Jon Gruden's name is thrown around with virtually every opening in both college and the pros. His name is brought up because there is an idea that he would jump at the chance to coach a Notre Dame or Miami (both the college and pro team) or Michigan, but he's still employed by ESPN and seems comfortable there.
With the coaching search just getting off the ground, the only two names out there that can reasonably be considered as candidates right now are Hoke and Miles because of their Michigan ties. The other names out there are stretches as far as I'm concerned. If the search drags on for more than a few days I'm sure you will start to hear reports about candidates without Michigan ties, and maybe one or two guys on that long list of names might even be linked to the job. Right now, though, it's all conjecture, which is the case for any coaching search like this.
Going forward, the thing that interests me the most, aside from who gets the job, is how fast this coaching search moves ahead. Brandon acknowledged the need to move quickly with time to recruit running out (signing day is in less than a month), but he also stressed the importance in finding the right guy for the job. It'd be great if a new coach could be in place by tomorrow and this transition could begin, but Brandon is going to take the time he needs to find the right man for the job.
One thing that is certain in a coaching search is that there will be no shortage of rumors and speculation, so get your popcorn ready and strap in tight, because this roller coaster ride is only getting started.