If Jim Harbaugh takes the Minnesota Vikings head coaching job, here are 5 candidates Michigan should consider if it really is a big deal
Who’s got it better than us? Apparently the Minnesota Vikings
Jim Harbaugh likes to be wanted.
At the immediate moment he’s about to go through the final interview process with the Minnesota Vikings for their head coaching job.
Considering they’re not about to cede the power he might want, this is hardly a done deal. This is all based on one giant IF.
Cheerfully ignore all of this if and when the guy is back doing his thing back in the college ranks.
However, if Harbaugh really is gone to the NFL – which we’ve all been waiting for since the moment he took the Wolverine gig – Michigan needs to act the part with its coaching search. It needs to be thinking really big-or-bust.
Take a moment and realize what’s happening here. For all the slings and arrows thrown Jim Harbaugh’s way, if he’s gone, he’s the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. The guy really was pretty good – he never, ever got enough credit for winning 71% of his games in Ann Arbor.
So if he’s off, Michigan needs a coach who can take that next step up.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, beating Ohio State is nice, but Michigan needs to beat Alabama, or whatever the hot SEC team is in each of the next bazillion years. Who’s that coach who can step in and win a national title?
Mike Hart? Maybe he’s the next Fielding Yost, but that’s a big risk to take on a guy with a running back coach resumé.
Matt Rhule? To be totally honest, I’ve never understood it. He did a great job turning around Baylor, but he’s always been a tad overloved and overappreciated by the coaching carousel community.
The guy had one very nice year with the Bears and parlayed that into the Carolina Panther gig. That’s going great.
Without looking or searching, I can just guess the retread-idea names being thrown out there if the Michigan job is available. They get used for every big coaching opening …
Let me take a flier … PJ Fleck, Matt Campbell, Luke Fickell.
Yeah, fine coaches all, but come on …
You got away with kneecapping Harbaugh’s salary and getting him on the cheap, but let me put it to you this way.
Little Brother up the road gave its head coach $97 million for ten years partially because he beat you twice. You need to pay your head coach at least that much.
So start with this premise. If Michigan State has that kind of jack to give Mel Tucker – who seems like he’s building up things to a whole other level – then that’s your starting point.
You’re the Leaders and Best, or something like that, right? Well then ten years, $100 million. That’s the going rate now to land an elite college head man, and even that might not be enough.
You don’t want that Ohio State win to be a one-off? You want to be more than a speed-bump if you get back to the College Football Playoff?
Pay your head coach. Find THE guy, and go get him.
Here are five coaching candidates you need to at least consider, Michigan – if Harbaugh leaves, of course.
Warning: I’m looking very, very pie-in-the-sky big here.
NEXT: Michigan Coaching Candidates: 5 coaches it won’t get, but needs to give it a try
5 Michigan Coaching Candidates: 5 coaches it won’t get, but needs to give it a try
Michigan won’t hire any of these five head coaches. It’s not doing its job, though, if it doesn’t give them a thought or a look, starting with the craziest of the crazy throw-at-the-wall idea …
5. Dabo Swinney, Clemson head coach
It’s not like the Clemson program is totally falling into the abyss, but things are changing, he lost a slew of his key assistants over the last few years, and it might be time for change of scenery – if he’s looking for one.
There’s a bit of a buyout problem, but it’s not like the payout is what it would be if he left for Alabama – which is probably his next gig whenever Nick Saban decides it’s time to do something else.
If Michigan was willing to go hard and make a massive ten-year commitment, it would be a pay raise for Dabo, and it would be the right Next Job Up if it’s not Alabama.
But no, Michigan isn’t getting Dabo Swinney. So to turn this to the land of the possible …
4. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern head coach
There were rumors and rumblings that Fitzgerald might be right for Michigan back with the job was open after the Rich Rodriguez era, but there wasn’t anything to them.
It might make more sense this time around.
Pat Fitzgerald will always be Northwestern through and through, but 1) he’s only making just over $3 million a year, 2) the writing is on the wall – forget about ever playing for the Big Ten Championship again if the Big Ten gets rid of divisions – and 3) it’s been a 16-year run in Evanston. He performed miracles, and now it’s time to see what he can do at a place like Michigan.
But we’ve done this before with Fitzgerald and it didn’t happen, so …
3. Dave Aranda, Baylor head coach
I spent years stumping for Billy Napier as the Next Big Thing head coach – he eventually was so good he got the Florida job. Now Aranda is my pound-fist-on-table-for guy.
He’s a rising superstar.
Fully aware that this could come back to bite me big, LSU should’ve grabbed its former defensive coordinator instead of Brian Kelly.
Lost in the bad 2020 was that it was 2020, and Matt Rhule sort of left when the cupboard was a bit bare. It was going to be a rebuilding year for Baylor no matter what.
After going 2-7, Aranda cleaned some things up, went 12-2 with a Big 12 title, won the Sugar Bowl, and finished in the top five.
He’s it. He’s the stock to buy low, because you’re not getting him in two years.
Now, if you really want to swing for the fences, Michigan …
NEXT: Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator
2. Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator
Really? The NFL doesn’t seem interested in making the offensive coordinator of that attack a head coach? Fine, Michigan, pay the guy and make him yours.
Now, Bieniemy isn’t without his red flags after off-the-field incidents from several years ago, but he’s Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator. That’s like being Dave Grohl’s drummer.
You don’t rise up into that job under that guy unless you’ve grown into the position, and if you’re really, really good at what you do.
He’s a shot-at-the-stars hire who’d bring the energy, the intensity, and the high-powered offense to the college game that every kid is going to want to play in.
You want the recruiting pitch? “I was Patrick Mahomes’ OC.”
However, getting Bieniemy would take a massive pitch and a giant commitment. He’s destined to be an NFL head coach, so …
NEXT: Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss head coach
1. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss head coach
My Jim Harbaugh Apologists Club meetings were on Tuesday nights, my Lane Kiffin Fanboy gatherings were on Thursdays.
Seriously, do you want to win or not, Michigan?
Do you want the guy who gets it? Gets social media. Gets NIL. Gets what it’s like to poke the bear and make the program up to the national attention and hype that Harbaugh was able to bring?
And again, do you want the guy who wins?
Even with the big contract at Ole Miss, you throw the nine-figure deal his way and he’s taking the Lane Train up to Ann Arbor.
Oh, what, you’re worried that he’s too Lane Kiffin?
He took Ole-freaking-Miss to 10-3 and a No. 11 finish that would’ve been better if his NFL quarterback didn’t get hurt.
He won two Conference USA titles in three years at Florida Atlantic. He appeared to be on the verge of recreating the monster at USC before the Reggie Bush penalties put the program in a coma. His one year at Tennessee was the program’s best in a six-season span.
He’s it. He’s Harbaugh times ten as a lightning rod, and with the offense you thought you were getting over the last few years. And …
Okay, fine. Michigan isn’t getting any of those five coaches.
I guess let’s see what Mike Hart can do.