Michigan needs a new head coach. Jim Harbaugh will be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, according to a league source. AthleticStarting the first job in Ann Arbor for the first time since 2014.
Harbaugh led Michigan back to glory, ending his run with a national championship, three straight Big Ten championships and three straight wins against Ohio State. Having done everything possible, he returns to the NFL in search of that elusive Super Bowl.
Considering who's on the staff and what happened last season, this may be a very quick search, but it's enough time to squeeze in a job profile.
How good is a Michigan job? What names can be in the mix? Here are the factors to keep in mind.
Michigan is a national championship program
For years, Michigan didn't look like a program that could compete at the top of the game. It had the history, the boats and the best players, but it didn't have the talent to compete with the SEC's best like Ohio State was able to. Harbaugh hit the ceiling during his tenure, first at Ohio State and in bowl games and then in the CFP semifinals.
That has completely changed now. Harbaugh burst through every ceiling and showed that this program no longer has limitations. The Wolverines won it all and produced some of the biggest draft classes in the country. They can produce and win better than anyone in a given season. There is nothing more or limitations here.
It will be a bit of a rebuild, but there are strong pieces in place
The Wolverines have several star players returning to accomplish what they did in the 2023 season. Now they are gone. Quarterback JJ McCarthy, Blake Corum, wide receiver Roman Wilson, guard Zach Ginter, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, defensive end Mike Sanristle and cornerback Josh Wallace are among the players headed to the pros.
That's a lot to change for any team. Harbaugh said before the season that this Michigan team could set a record number of NFL draft picks, and that seems possible.
But returning players include running back Donovan Edwards, tight end Colston Loveland, defensive end Mason Graham and cornerback Will Johnson, all current or potential stars, though it's always possible more players could exit the portal after the coaching change. On the other hand, Michigan could find more players through the portal now or in the near future, especially at quarterback, once its coaching situation is finally resolved.
It is one of the best resourced programs in the country, but can it compete with NIL recruitment?
There was never a shortage of resources. According to Sportico's database, the Wolverines ranked 11th nationally in football spending in 2021-22. All facilities are available.
But what made Michigan's national championship run so surprising was that it made the team without dwelling on the tippy-top of the recruiting rankings. From 2020 to 2023, the Wolverines' recruiting classes ranked 10th, 13th, 9th and 17th in the 247 sports composite rankings. They were ranked 14th nationally in 247Sports' team talent rankings last season. Winning a national championship without a top-five recruiting class or the fastest quarterback hasn't happened in recent history. The Wolverines became one of the best developmental programs in the country and turned good players into NFL players.
Is that growth sustainable without Harbaugh? Or should Michigan, Georgia, Alabama and Ohio recruit at the state level? The Buckeyes, clearly motivated by Michigan's three straight wins and national title, added several top recruits and transfers over the past week. Head coach Ryan Day has said in the past that Ohio State needs to move up in the NIL. They seem to have. Michigan has never been at that level. Maybe replace it with a new trainer. Or maybe it isn't.
What names can be in the mix?
This search begins and ends with the obvious Offensive coordinator Sharon Moore. It's not often that a school with two top-10 wins has an assistant. Moore beat Penn State on the road and Ohio State in Ann Arbor while Harbaugh sat out Big Ten suspensions for sign stealing and early scouting. His win over Ohio State as Michigan's head coach is a resume point that no one else can match. He is loved by his players, he can keep the culture and pace going, and he has coached quite a few games. He was Harbaugh and Michigan's pick the second time Harbaugh was suspended, and he'll be an easy pick here unless anything from the Connor Stallions scandal directly implicates Moore. To date, we haven't seen it.
If Moore doesn't get the job for whatever reason, defensive coordinator Jesse Minter and running backs coach Mike Hart could also be internal options.
Sharon Moore attended her Michigan exam. Where does his story go from here?
Kansas head coach Lance Leibold He has attended several jobs, including in Washington, thanks to the amazing work he did in Lawrence, and he knows the Midwest as a Wisconsin native. The boy wins. The 59-year-old took over a winless Kansas program and won nine games in his third season, beating Oklahoma to finish 23rd this season. He won two MAC Division championships in Buffalo and produced several NFL players before that. He went 109-6 with six Division III national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater. The biggest question is whether he can add to the top of the game. He signed Deshaun Warner, a top 70 recruit, to Kansas.
Kansas State head coach Chris Kleiman Has won 27 games over the past three years, with a Big 12 championship in 2022 and consecutive top-20 finishes. The 56-year-old previously won four FCS national championships at North Dakota State. Like Leibold, Kleiman hits a lot. But like Liebold, can he recruit at a top-10 level?
Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Mongan And Defensive coordinator Mike McDonald Can be options. Both could be future NFL head coaches, so they may not want to go back to college football, but Mongan directed Georgia's offense on its way to back-to-back national championships in 2021 and 2022, and he's had a great job as a head coach at Southern Miss. Ten years ago. McDonald was Michigan's defensive coordinator in 2021 (when they lost to Monken and Georgia in the CFP), before returning to the Ravens to run that defense. The two apparently have a working relationship with John Harbaugh in Baltimore.
Mike McDonald lets the Ravens defense do the talking
Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell Felt like a natural fit for several Big Ten jobs, but he's staying at Ames. The 44-year-old Ohio native brought Iowa State its biggest win in a century, winning the Fiesta Bowl and finishing first in the Big 12 in 2020, but he's 18-20 and his name isn't exactly hot in coaching circles. That was a few years ago. We also don't see him coaching and recruiting at a Power 5 job with high expectations.
LSU head coach Brian Kelly The name came up as an opportunity a few weeks ago. Perhaps coincidentally, LSU saw a change and expansion of the Tigers' staff. After Baker turned down several big jobs, Kelly hired Missouri defensive coordinator Blake Baker as the highest-paid assistant coach in college football ($2.5 million). Kelly hired defensive line coach Bo Davis from Texas with a high salary. Kelly spent two decades at Michigan and always seemed like an extraordinary culture fit at LSU to replace Ed Orgeron, but the moves LSU has made in recent weeks make such a move by Kelly seem highly unlikely.
want Wisconsin head coach Luke Fickell Interested? Lifetime Buckeye has bought $8 million to leave Wisconsin. Long removed from his 6-7 interim head coaching job at Ohio State in 2011, Fickell went 57-18 in Cincinnati, won at least 11 games three times and reached the College Football Playoff in 2021. If it was a year ago, it would make all the sense in the world. But being new to Wisconsin and coming off a 7-6 debut season last fall, it's unlikely from either end.
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson It has been successful at many levels of the game. Clausen is 63-61 at Wake Forest since 2014, including six winning seasons in the last eight years, including an 11-3 record in 2021. He previously had success coaching at Bowling Green, Richmond and Fordham. At Wake Forest, Clawson had one of the toughest jobs in the Power 5, recruiting and developing players like Sam Hartman and Kenneth Walker III before they transferred elsewhere for their final seasons.
(Top image: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)