Michigan is aggressively pursuing current San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, offering the Michigan alum an annual $8 million salary, according to NFL.com. With Harbaugh considering staying in the NFL, with one year remaining on his contract and a trade to the Oakland Raiders or the New York Jets heavily speculated, Michigan athletic director Jim Hackett is in need of other options.
Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen is expected to be on Hackett's short list of candidates should Harbaugh balk on returning to Ann Arbor. However, Mullen recently denied any link to Michigan’s vacancy to The Clarion-Ledger after the Bulldogs’ practice Tuesday, and stressed that his agent has only spoken to Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin about a contract extension. Mullen also stated that he is squarely focused on the Dec. 31 Orange Bowl date with Georgia Tech.
"To me I have even more on my plate," Mullen said. "Mississippi State has always been great to me and my family. We love it here. I'd imagine it'd get worked out."
The 42-year-old is considered a hot commodity in college football and therefore a logical possibility for Michigan, a storied program that suffered through difficult seasons under Brady Hoke and his predecessor Rich Rodriguez. Mullen, who had previously served as offensive coordinator at Florida, had been mentioned as a possible replacement for Will Muschamp in Gainesville, though there was no report of the school reaching out to him.
The Wolverines are in need of a major turnaround, and Mullen has proven capable of reversing a program's fortunes. Mississippi State had just one winning season under Sylvester Croom, and hired Mullen in Dec. 2008 with the hopes of returning the Bulldogs to respectability. By Mullen's second year, Mississippi State was a nine-win team and would go on to have five straight winning seasons and a 46-30 overall record with three bowl victories. In 2014, he led the Bulldogs to their best record (10-2) in 15 years, and guided the team to their first No. 1 ranking in history after ripping off three straight victories over ranked SEC rivals LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn.
Mullen wouldn’t comment on negotiations over a possible contract extension, but he’s likely to get a raise from $3 million per season to $4 million, roughly the same amount Ole Miss’s Hugh Freeze and LSU’s Les Miles receive, according to The Ledger. Michigan is capable of paying much more for a top head coach.
After Harbaugh and Mullen, the number of high-profile candidates has dwindled. TCU head coach Gary Patterson recently signed a two-year extension that locks him up until 2020, according to ESPN. Miles, a Michigan alum, has long been tied to a return to Ann Arbor and though he refused to go on record with reporters, insisted neither he nor his agent have had contact with Michigan and that he would turn down any offer. There has been no other report of Michigan showing interest or reaching out to another candidate.
Hackett is under pressure to find a top candidate, and find one soon. The Wolverines have just six committed recruits. Michigan won just five games in 2014 and hasn't beaten rival Ohio State since 2011.
Throughout the season, Michigan’s athletics program has faced significant scrutiny from alumni and current students, with an estimated 1,000 students rallying to fire athletic director Dave Brandon in late September. Brandon would resign on Oct. 31, and Hackett took over as interim director. In November, Detroit News reported Hackett is likely to take on the role full-time.