Is it time for Michigan to move on from Jim Harbaugh?
It's been a question for years now, but it's time to actually take this seriously. Is it time for the Michigan Wolverines to move on from Jim Harbaugh? Michigan's had its fair share of struggles over the past few years, but this year is reaching a level that's concerning. If it turns out that it's time, we'll take a look at candidates who can replace him.
First off, this answer depends on what you're expecting out of Michigan and Harbaugh. If you're expecting national championships, then you've probably been on the "get him out ASAP" train for a long time. However, if you want Michigan to compete for championships and produce 10 wins seasons (obviously this year is different), then you might not be there yet. Though the answer for either scenario could be the same.
Michigan's now 3-9 against their biggest rivals, Michigan State and Ohio State, in Harbaugh's tenure. While a win over the Buckeyes could save him this year, he already has a loss to the Spartans in 2020. The hype surrounding this team every offseason doesn't help matters, and wins like the one the Wolverines produced over Minnesota in the first week only escalate the insanity. Again it depends on how you look at his tenure, because he's 48-19 as the Wolverines head coach. He's also 1-2 this year, with losses to Michigan State (lost to Rutgers the week before facing the Wolverines) and Indiana. So if you're trying to combat that argument, you'd have to look at his best wins.
There are some examples of Harbaugh's success against good teams. You could use the 2019 beatdown of #8 Notre Dame. There's also the three consecutive wins over ranked Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State in 2018. It's not hard to find good wins for Harbaugh, but the only problem is there always paired with bad losses or losses that show how far they have to go. Again, it's all about perspective.
His teams have never done worse than 8-5, and he's produced three 10-win seasons in his time in Ann Arbor. Will he ever take the Wolverines above that 10-win ceiling? Right now it doesn't look like it, so Michigan fans have to ask if they want to let him go and take a risk on someone else that might be able to. There's no guarantee that it will work, and you're giving up some stability if you let Harbaugh go.
So let's say that Wolverines fans have had enough and Michigan decides to let him walk. Who is a candidate to replace Harbaugh? You'd have to think it's someone that can elevate Michigan's program from it's current level, which is pretty high despite these frustrations. Ari Wasserman, a college football writer for The Athletic, provided a list of coaches that he thinks would improve the program.
Again, these aren't in any order, but let's dive into the options. Brent Venables has been on top of the list of coordinators due for a head coaching position for years, but he seems to be happy in Clemson running the defense. Would he elevate Michigan's program? We're assuming that all coaches under Harbaugh are being let go too, meaning current defensive coordinator Don Brown is gone. Brown hasn't been a problem, but rather the steady force that's kept Michigan in games. So Venables would still have to bring someone in to address the offense.
Fickell and Campbell are hot commodities with their work at Cincinnati and Iowa State, respectively. Fickell turned down the Michigan State job this past offseason, so would Michigan really be a job he wants? Campbell makes sense, as he's already proven he can elevate a program after doing so at Toledo and now with the Cyclones.
I'm not sold on Hafley just yet like others might be. He hasn't even been at Boston College for a full season yet, so let's give it time. It's just like Michigan State hiring Mel Tucker after one season at Colorado in which he went 5-7. I just don't like taking that risk and don't think Michigan would take it either.
Bob Stoops would only return to college football for the right job, and I'm not sold that Michigan is that job. Mark Stoops flipped Kentucky's program from a bottom feeder in the SEC to a competitor, so that's an intriguing option, but not one I'm convinced Michigan would jump at to elevate the program.
PJ Fleck is a wait and see option. While the Gophers had a phenomenal season in 2019, they've stumbled out of the gates this year. According to those around the program, next year is supposed to be the year Minnesota breaks out, and it will be nearly all of Fleck's guys running the show. If that's the case, and Michigan holds off one more year without improvement, Fleck's going to cost a pretty penny, but it might be worth the wait.
Chris Petersen retired for a reason, and Michigan's not enticing enough to bring him out. Jason Candle still has work to do at Toledo after taking over for Matt Campbell, so he wouldn't be on Michigan's list now, and Mel Tucker is not someone I'm hiring until he produces something worth noting.
There are other coaches that I think Michigan would look at if a vacancy opened up, but I just don't see Michigan moving on from Harbaugh now. Yes, it's frustrating to start 1-2 against your rival who's down this year and an Indiana team that's normally not good at football, but what are you willing to give up? The grass isn't always greener on the other side, and it might be a case where Wolverines fans would learn that they had it good. The season isn't lost, though there's plenty to fix, so it's probably best to wait it out for now.
And who knows? Maybe an Ohio State win is in store this year. Not likely given what we know so far, but that would change the outlook on this season. Which also tells me everything I need to know about how fans feel about what Harbaugh's doing here.