by JDCam 1.2.15
In early December I penned an article criticizing Nebraska’s lack of ambition in their hiring of Mike Riley and appealing to Jim Hackett to continue to bring back the revival of the BIG10 with a huge hire at Michigan, boy did he deliver.
On Tuesday Michigan introduced Jim Harbaugh as their new head coach. Slam dunk, high five, drop the mic.
I don’t know that Hackett could have made a better hire. Harbaugh is a coach who has enjoyed success at the lower and elite college level as well as a remarkable run of consistency in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. Harbaugh even appeals to a particularly hard to please minority of Michigan’s snooty self-righteous alumni base who after the Rich Rod experiment failed continued to assert that Michigan could only be led by ‘A Michigan Man’ (remind me of how Rich Rod did at Arizona this year, compared to your Michigan Man, Brady Hoke?)
Harbaugh’s credentials are unquestionable professionally, geographically, hell even genetically. Harbaugh’s father Jack coached at Michigan. Jim himself attended Pioneer High School, literally a stone’s throw from The Big House. Harbaugh was the starting QB for legendary coach Bo Schembechler for three seasons, highlighted by a 1985 Fiesta Bowl win over then-powerhouse Nebraska and a top 2 finish nationally. Harbaugh went on to have a successful 14 year NFL career spanning stops with 4 NFL franchises.
Harbaugh’s coaching career has been truly impressive. In his first head coaching opportunity with the University of San Diego he went 7-4 in his first year, followed by consecutive 11-1 conference winning seasons. In his first major head coaching position with Stanford, Harbaugh guided the Cardinal from 4-8 in 2007 to 12-1 with an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech in 2010.
Most remarkably perhaps, Harbaugh did not slow when he entered the NFL ranks. In his first 3 seasons in the NFL Harbaugh made at least the NFC Championship game on each occasion and despite losing to the Giants in 2011 and the Seahawks in 2013 made the Super Bowl in 2012 – ultimately losing out to his brother John and the Baltimore Ravens. Even with the 49ers mediocre season in 2014 he went 44-19-1 in 4 seasons, a remarkable accomplishment in a challenging division.
Harbaugh is a proven winner at every level and it could be argued there has never been a coach that has made a more seamless and successful transition between college and the NFL. Yes Pete Carroll won a Super Bowl in 2014 but also had tough years with the Jets and Patriots and had two losing seasons in Seattle before the emergence of the dominant Legion of Boom defense which propelled their 2014 Super Bowl run.
Harbaugh won’t come cheap. His contract is valued at $35 million over 7 years (compared to around 6 years and $18 million for Hoke), yet it may end up being a bargain for Michigan, re-awakening this sleeping CFB giant, their increasingly distant fans and alumni base. After a successful first two seasons at the helm for Michigan, Harbaugh’s predecessor, Brady Hoke, amassed the 6th ranked recruiting class in the nation in 2013 (ESPN insider required) with 15 players ranked in the ESPN 300. After an extremely disappointing 7-6 2013 season Michigan’s class ranking dipped to 18th, with a noticeable drop in recruits (just 16, compared with 27 the previous year). Their 2015 class doesn’t even rank in the top 40, while Penn St, Wisconsin, Michigan St and Nebraska all feature. Who could possibly be surprised by this, after an excruciating 5-7 record and failing to qualify for a bowl game for just the third time since 1975.
Harbaugh could instantly change this. His track record as a college and professional coach, his experience working with the quarterback position and his dogged winning mentality may well influence many of Michigan’s remaining top targets. Don’t be surprised if Michigan’s 2015 recruiting class is salvaged to the tune of a top 20 ranking.
While Harbaugh will have instant impact at Michigan he will certainly have catching up to do. Since being hired in 2012 after the Jim Tressel debacle Urban Meyer has laid the foundation for Ohio State to be a perpetual national powerhouse. Meyer has cemented Columbus as the destination of choice for outstanding recruits to play in the Midwest, with recruiting classes consistently in the top 10 and boasting countless blue chip players. Anyone who doubts Harbaugh’s ability to go into Urban Meyer’s stomping grounds in Ohio and land top targets need only listen to his Tuesday introduction to the press. Harbaugh really believes in Michigan and what it represents. There is no more effective salesman than someone who truly loves what they are selling.
Harbaugh’s hire affirms not only the growing relevance of BIG10 programs profiles, particularly with regard to the quality of their coaching. Harbaugh joins Urban Meyer as the highest profile of the BIG10 coaches, with Mark Dantonio following close behind. Habaugh interestingly, joins a conference in which an increasing number of head coaches are heading up their alma-mater (Harbaugh, Chryst) or, as Meyer does a major program that is geographically meaningful to them (Meyer was born in Toledo and attended Cincinnati). These trending geographical roots add not only to these coaches ability to recruit strongly in their own backyards, but also to the storied rivalries of the BIG10.
Interim AD Jim Hackett deserves a huge amount of credit for his hire of Harbaugh. The BIG10, being pioneers of the ‘conference TV network’ still leads all Power 5 conferences in revenue, with 12 of its 14 teams expected to pull in approximately $45 million annually through the 2017/18 season under their new TV deal. Hackett knows well that spending some of this massive revenue on a big name coach is a worthy investment which may pay dividends for years to come in Ann Arbor. Originally Hackett offered Harbaugh $8 million per year. Harbaugh already showed he has his priorities in order by turning down that paycheck to allow assistant coaches to make more money, an area the BIG10 falls alarmingly short in compared to the SEC and PAC12.
Harbaugh’s homecoming to Ann Arbor, despite its fanfare has been classy and understated. There were no brash promises; Harbaugh would not be drawn on statements to Michigan’s rivalry programs. Harbaugh is playing a smart game, tempering expectations in Ann Arbor. Don’t be fooled if the Wolverines ascend back to greatness ahead of schedule.