Away We Go
As predicted, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon relieved Rich Rodriguez of his duties as head football coach yesterday. Brandon cited Rodriguez’ lack of success over his three year tenure as a primary factor in his decision. In particular, Rodriguez’ record against his rivals, or as Brandon put it, the “red letter games” against teams like Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. Having dispensed with Rodriguez’ dismissal, Brandon then addressed his approach for hiring a successor. Brandon stated that while he understood the need to replace Rodriguez quickly, he would be motivated by making sure he got “exactly the right person to come in and be successful.” So here we are. Back where we were three years ago. If you recall, it was a pretty bumpy ride the last time Michigan looked for a new head coach, and the past week’s events seem to indicate that we’re in for the same experience. While you’re sure to hear a bunch of names thrown into the mix, here are the guys I would call (in order of preference) if I were Dave Brandon. But before I move on, I should note that Jim Harbaugh is (regrettably) not on the list. Between his (Jim) brother John saying he’s not coming to Michigan, and Brandon acknowledging the same in his press conference yesterday, it’s safe to say that he will not be Michigan’s next head football coach.
1. Dan Mullen
The current head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs and former offensive coordinator for the Florida Gators has put together an impressive resume. As the steward of the Florida Gators’ offense over the course of 4 years, Mullen flourished, helping the Gators win a national championship. As the head coach of the Bulldogs, Mullen has compiled a 14-11 record in two seasons, including a 52-14 walloping of our beloved Wolverines in this year’s Gator Bowl.
Pros: He runs a similar offense, so there wouldn’t be a huge adjustment period. He appears to be a solid recruiter and he has worked well with quarterbacks in the past (Tim Tebow and Alex Smith).
Cons: The ink is not yet dry on a new 4-year contract extension. So leaving for Michigan now might present a similar set of circumstances as three years ago when Rodriguez departed West Virginia with a big buyout hanging over his head. Also, defensive “prodigy” Manny Diaz has just been hired away from the Bulldogs to be the defensive coordinator at Texas
2. Jon Gruden
Jon Gruden would be a nice consolation prize for those of us that clamored for Harbaugh. As a coach in the NFL, he was one of the most successful during his tenure, with a record of 100-85 that included a Super Bowl win in 2002 with the Tampa Bay Buccanneers. As a coach of the Oakland Raiders prior, he helped build a great team that made it to the AFC Championship game and then the Super Bowl the next year. While he currently serves as an analyst and commentator for the worldwide leader, he continues to be rumored for a wide variety of jobs in both college and the NFL. Most importantly, he’s a high energy guy with a high football IQ and he has a passion for the game that is rivaled by few.
Pros: While he has limited college experience, he could achieve the same type of recruiting success as former NFL-to-college coaches such as Dave Wannstedt, Bill Callahan, and even Chan Gailey. Where he would be different is that he was a highly successful coach in the NFL, whereas the others were not. He would also be the sort of high-profile hire that would rally the fan base.
Cons: He’s a pro guy so there could be a steeper learning curve than desired. Babysitting 18-22 year olds would be quite a change from life in the NFL. Also, while he’s constantly mentioned as a coaching candidate, he seems more content working in television; and that’s assuming Brandon would actually consider him.
3. Gary Patterson
All you have to do is watch how Patterson’s team performed against the mighty Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl to know whether the guy can coach. While some predicted the Badgers would roll, TCU proved that even with smaller but more athletic players, you can still be physical. As the head coach of the Horned Frogs, Patterson has assembled a powerhouse program in the Mountain West Conference, boasting a 98-28 record over the last decade. While Patterson took over a program on the rise, his predecessor Dennis Franchione never achieved anything close to what Patterson has done.
Pros: You wouldn’t be exaggerating if you said Patterson was the best coach in America. He’s figured out how to do more with less, proving that he can hang with the big boys. At 50 years of age, he’s just old enough to be content staying at Michigan; something we couldn’t say about Harbaugh. And he runs a similar offense to Rodriguez so there wouldn’t be a huge adjustment period.
Cons: Like Gruden, he’s routinely mentioned as a candidate for coaching vacancies. However, he’s never given any indication that he’s interested in leaving TCU. Further, he has no Midwest ties; something that Brandon mentioned as a desired attribute for the next coach.
4. Brady Hoke
Among the many names being mentioned as Michigan’s next coach, Brady Hoke is no doubt the redheaded stepchild. Indeed, no name has drawn more ire amongst the Michigan faithful as Hoke. This, despite the fact that he has put together a not-too-shabby resume. Many think that the only reason that Hoke is being mentioned as a candidate is because of his relationship to the program, as a defensive line coach under Lloyd Carr. But that would be ignoring the fact that he’s taken two perennial losers to levels unseen prior.
Pros: He’s the only “Michigan Man” on the list. He’s also a terrific coach. Anyone that can take the Ball State Cardinals to a 12-1 record, thus achieving the best record in school history, knows how to coach. He’s done the same thing with the San Diego Aztecs, taking over a moribund program and turning it around in two years.
Cons: He lacks the “it” factor. With a 47-50 record, he doesn’t move the needle like the others on the list, nor many that have been mentioned elsewhere. Further, he has few (1-10) wins against ranked opponents.
You might read this list and think “that’s it?” Well, if you consider all the factors that are at play in this decision, Brandon’s focus is likely pretty narrow. In yesterday’s press conference Brandon stated that he is looking for an individual that possesses the following characteristics
- Midwestern ties
- Previous head coaching experience
- A capacity to adapt to the skill set of his players
- An understanding of what Michigan football is and it’s standards
This immediately eliminates guys like Boise State’s Chris Peterson, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham (and probably Gary Patterson), and any high-profile assistant coaches. Regardless, it will be pretty interesting to follow the process; doubtless we’ll all be sitting on pins and needles.