Rich Rodriguez must know by now that he has just coached his final game at Michigan. After all, athletic director David Brandon had publicly stated that he would evaluate the head football coach position after the season, which ended yesterday. Most (including me) have thought all along that Brandon’s thought process on this was a little odd. Certainly 36 games (15-21 overall, 6-18 conference) should have been enough for him to determine Rodriguez’ fate. Instead, Brandon held true to an evaluative process that would leave coaches, recruits, and players in limbo for several weeks. Well now the wait is over. Michigan has just suffered another drubbing, this time at the hands of an 8-4 team that — at least on paper — appeared to be on similar footing as Michigan. Yet the Mississippi State Bulldogs soundly defeated the Wolverines 52-14. Given the poor display of the football team, after nearly a month of preparation, Brandon has no choice but to part ways with Rodriguez and bring in some new blood. Considering Brandon’s reputation as a savvy leader, I predict that he will fire Rodriguez and name current Stanford coach and former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh as the next Michigan head coach, as soon as early next week. My reasoning is simple.
As discussed previously, we can discard the notion that the outcome of today’s game would have any bearing on Brandon’s decision. It’s difficult to see how one game could carry the same probative weight as the 36 games prior. We can also discard the notion that Brandon intends to bring Rodriguez back. Logic would dictate that a reasonable guy like Brandon wouldn’t let his stated purpose of waiting after the bowl game to decide Rodriguez’ fate get in the way of giving his head football coach a crucial vote of confidence. A vote of confidence would make it easier for Rodriguez to bring in the type of recruits that are needed to build championship teams. That leaves two other reasons for him waiting until after the bowl game:
- Brandon needed to get his ducks in a row so that he could ensure that he had Rodriguez’ successor (probably Harbaugh) already lined up; or
- Brandon didn’t want any distractions (like a coaching change) getting in the way of the football team’s preparation for the Gator Bowl.
While option two may be the case, I suspect Brandon knew after the Ohio State blowout what Rodriguez’ fate would be. So he decided to wait to make a decision so that he could ensure that he had a successor lined up. Since Stanford was invited to play in the Orange Bowl on Monday, Brandon probably figured that it would be prudent to give both teams (Michigan and Stanford, respectively) a chance to prepare for their bowl games without all the drama. Naturally, this is all conjecture. So one might wonder how I arrived at the decision that Harbaugh would be the next coach. There are several reasons why. I won’t name them all but here are a few.
First, Harbaugh has the type of pedigree that makes most Michigan fans salivate. He comes from a family of coaches. His father Jack coached under legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, and his older brother John is the head football coach for the Baltimore Ravens. Second, Harbaugh grew up in Ann Arbor, was a ball boy for the Wolverines, then played quarterback under Bo eventually becoming one of the greatest players in the history of the program. Finally, as a coach, he was successful as the head coach for the University of San Diego. From there he went on to Stanford where he took over a 1-11 team and in his fourth year has them poised to play in the school’s first ever BCS Bowl. Among his many highlights as the head coach at Stanford, Harbaugh knocked off the vaunted USC Trojans twice, including a win during his first year, despite being a 55-point underdog. Could anyone imagine Rodriguez pulling off the same feat?
One last thought: does Harbaugh want the job? It’s a fair question. After all, he may be the most in-demand football coach in America. Yet, I suspect he really wants this job and I’m fairly certain he doesn’t intend to stay at Stanford. In fact, Harbaugh was asked recently about comments that were made by Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby who had stated that Harbaugh intended to sign a contract extension. Harbaugh replied that perhaps the AD had “misspoke”; not exactly a ringing endorsement. Some have suggested that he wants an NFL job. But ESPN’s Adam Schefter discussed this issue on the radio last week. According to Schefter, most of the “smart people” in the NFL believe that Harbaugh is headed to Michigan.
So there you have it. He’s there if we want him. I’ve heard several folks suggest that maybe Rodriguez should be given another year. My belief before today’s game was that Harbaugh was too good a candidate to pass up, and not just because of his past but also his accomplishments. In the wake of today’s crushing defeat, it is now imperative that a coaching change be made. While some might argue that Harbaugh may be a bit brash, Harbaugh has the sort of moxie we need. As a quarterback for the Wolverines he once guaranteed a victory over the rival Buckeyes in Columbus, then delivered. I suspect that story has not fallen on deaf ears; least of all Dave Brandon.