It has been 14 days since Brady Hoke was fired as the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, and the clock continues to tick for interim athletic director Jim Hackett to find a replacement. The consensus thought had been that the frontrunners were San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and LSU head coach Les Miles, but the NFL coach looks to have separated himself as the most likely hire.
Hackett has been expected to make a serious run at both coaches. Having played for Michigan in the 1970s and served as a Michigan assistant coach from 1987 to 1994, Miles appeared to be a strong candidate for the job. However, the latest reports state that the 61-year-old isn’t headed to his alma mater.
Miles has had a long history of success, winning over 78 percent of his games at LSU over 10 seasons. Unlike Harbaugh, though, who is coming off a subpar season and is on his way out of San Francisco, Miles has no real reason to leave his current job. Michigan reportedly offered Miles more money to coach the team in 2011, but Miles turned it down to stay at LSU. Last week, a source told The Detroit News that Michigan had recently reached out to Miles through his agent.
On Monday, Miles declined to be quoted on the record, but indicated to reporters that he doesn’t have interest in leaving LSU and hasn’t been in contact with Michigan. LSU spokesman Michael Bonnette told the Associated Press that Miles has echoed those same sentiments behind closed doors, telling school officials that he doesn’t plan on going to Ann Arbor.
Coaches have changed their tune before. Nick Saban famously contradicted himself in 2007 when he adamantly denied interest in leaving the Miami Dolphins for Alabama only to take the Crimson Tide job weeks later. But it seems doubtful that Miles will leave Baton Rouge after turning down Michigan once before. Miles appears to be more focused on winning his next game, with the Tigers listed as 7.5-point favorites against Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, than on where he coaches next.
The recent reports about Miles’s future and the latest struggles of the 49ers have made Harbaugh the clear-cut favorite to replace Hoke. With the 49ers now out of playoff contention, Harbaugh’s days in San Francisco appear to be numbered. He has been rumored as a candidate with the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets, but neither team may be as appealing as Michigan, considering they are among the two worst teams in the NFL.
With the NFL season ending on Dec. 28, Harbaugh has about two weeks to weigh his options. When asked during Sunday’s postgame press conference whether he expected and wanted to discuss his future with 49ers owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke, Harbaugh quickly responded that he is “always available to sit down with the owner and the general manager, absolutely.”
But when the reporter followed by asking if he expected to have a conversation about returning to the team, Harbaugh appeared uncomfortable in acknowledging the subtle reference to his job security. “Yeah, at some point,” Harbaugh said, nodding. “I expect that.”
Despite San Francisco’s struggles, Harbaugh is still considered to be one of the best coaches in football. If he and the 49ers part ways, he would be the first name that pops up as a candidate on NFL’s "Black Monday." The 50-year-old would immediately bring credibility back to a traditional a college football powerhouse that has won at least 10 games just once in the last eight seasons.
Michigan might be the ideal destination for Harbaugh after a disappointing season with the 49ers, and given his success in reversing a new team’s fortunes. Harbaugh joined a Stanford Cardinal program that was coming off 1-11 season in 2007 and turned them into 12-1 program in his final year in 2010. The 49ers have gone to three consecutive NFC Championship games, including a trip to the Super Bowl, in Harbaugh’s three seasons, after finishing 6-10 in 2010.
Hackett will almost certainly not hesitate to wait until the 2015 if it means landing Harbaugh. At the moment, though, Hackett is playing the waiting game for perhaps another two weeks for a coach who chose not to take the job when there was a vacancy in 2011. Michigan is expected to also consider Gary Patterson of TCU and Dan Mullen of Mississippi State, two well-respected coaches.
Hackett may need to act fast to keep or gain recruits to a class that has just six commitments. In 2011, then-athletic director Dave Brandon waited just five days to name Hoke the successor to Rich Rodriguez, and Michigan would end up finishing No. 29 in Scout.com's team recruiting rankings. At the time, Brandon was firm that Hoke was not a backup choice after Harbaugh left Stanford for the 49ers and Miles stayed in Louisiana. However, Brandon did confirm at the time that he had discussions with Harbaugh and Miles “that were helpful and positive."
It will be interesting to see how the Michigan coaching job plays out. The more Hackett waits the more any choice other than Harbaugh will look like a Plan B pick.
An IB Times staff reporter contributed to this report.