ANN ARBOR — With belief building that Jim Harbaugh will accept an NFL job, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon has apparently begun reaching out to other head coaching candidates.
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg reported Thursday night that Michigan expressed interest in Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald but that Fitzgerald will stay put at his alma mater.
Clearly not averse to pursuing a coach from within the Big Ten, Brandon may have the chance to raid the league's newcomer. Someone with knowledge of the situation predicted in a conversation with The Blade that Nebraska's Bo Pelini would entertain overtures from Michigan if they were to come. The person did not know whether Brandon and Pelini have spoken.
Nebraska, 30-12 in three seasons under Pelini, will join the Big Ten in 2011.
And yes, Pelini is a former Ohio State captain. For obvious reasons, that could hurt his case. But Brandon said that in replacing coach Rich Rodriguez he wants to find someone with knowledge of everything that makes Michigan unique. Pelini would have that perspective, only from a rival's viewpoint.
Pelini reportedly turned down the Miami (Fla.) job this offseason.
Other thought-to-be candidates are Louisiana State's Les Miles and San Diego State's Brady Hoke. Miles was Pelini's boss at LSU, and many believe that had Miles accepted the Michigan job in 2007 it would have been Pelini hired to replace him. The potential drawback of hiring Miles is that, at 57 years old, he may not be planning to coach much longer. One of the benefits of pursuing Miles is his strong recruiting ties in fertile areas, the south and Midwest.
SEC coaches generally don't come north for jobs, but Miles was close to accepting the Michigan job in 2007 and has not publicly ruled out interest this time around.
Hoke, a former Michigan
defensive assistant, would not serve as the glamorous choice many of the school's faithful are hoping for. Still, he has inherited messes at Ball State and San Diego State and flipped both programs around.
Brandon said a desirable candidate will have: head coaching experience, possibly with recruiting roots in the Midwest, familiarity with Michigan's culture and traditions, and a plan for improving the Wolverines' dreadful defense.
Pelini and his brother, Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini, are regarded as strong defensive minds, and Hoke's orientation into coaching came on the defensive side of the ball too.
Other candidates who seemingly fit Brandon's criteria are Missouri's Gary Pinkel who has now been a head coach 20 years — 10 at Missouri and 10 at Toledo — and Boise State's Chris Petersen and Texas Christian's Gary Patterson, non-BCS coaches who have won BCS bowl games.
Whoever Michigan chooses will likely get a significant pay increase from the $2.5 million made by Rodriguez. Brandon is said to have offered Harbaugh a salary of $5.2 million but he denied doing so. Nonetheless, if Brandon wants Harbaugh — and by all accounts, he does — it's apparently going to cost him a lot of money. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, a Michigan alumnus whose name is attached to the university's business school, has reportedly offered Harbaugh a deal worth $7.5 million a year. It would be the highest salary in the NFL, and as an added bonus, Florida does not have a state income tax.
As of Thursday night Miami had not fired head coach Tony Sparano.
Most would be surprised if Harbaugh returned to Stanford, although Thursday's announcement that star Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck will forgo the NFL draft and return for his junior season may entice Harbaugh to delay other pursuits for at least a year.
As for Michigan's old coach, some close to Rodriguez believe he will take a year off before returning to coaching in 2012. Two openings in the Big East, where Rodriguez has experienced success, have yet to be filled. One of them, Pittsburgh, is the rival of Rodriguez's alma mater, West Virginia. Already disdained by many at West Virginia, Rodriguez may find that taking a job with the enemy would cause just as much stress as when he was at Michigan.
The other opening is at Connecticut.
Rodriguez had this to say Thursday in a statement released to the media:
“I am proud of the dedication and commitment exhibited by the coaching staff and student-athletes who have represented the University of Michigan football program over the last three seasons. While I am disappointed to depart Ann Arbor before we were able to reach the level of success we had in our sights, I am confident that the players who remain have the potential to do great things and to return the Wolverines to greatness. I would like to thank our fans and our student body for their tremendous support. There is great passion for Michigan football and I have made lifelong friends through this experience.”
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