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Michigan's coaching search is perilous, but necessary

Update, December 2: Brady Hoke is now gone, as is Dave Brandon.

Original, September 29: Brady Hoke didn't become a terrible coach overnight. He didn't wake up one morning having forgotten every coaching lesson.

Hoke is still the man who led Ball State to its first bowl game in more than a decade in 2007, then brought the Cardinals to the BCS' doorstep with a 12-0 start in 2008. He's still the coach who inherited San Diego State, which had one winning season in 12 years, and had the Aztecs winning nine games in Year 2. Hell, he's still the guy who inherited a shaken roster from Rich Rodriguez at Michigan and improved the Wolverines' win total from seven to 11. He is meant for a rebuilding job, one that starts with low expectations.

Maybe Brady Hoke would be a good Kansas coach, in other words. But depending on how you view the present tense, he either is failing or has failed as Michigan's. It was clear for many before the Wolverines got drubbed at home by Minnesota in front of quite a few empty seats; it was undeniable afterward.

I don't say that because Michigan lost to Minnesota at home; teams get upset at home. I don't say it because the Wolverines were outgained by 202 yards and lucky to lose by 16. I don't say it because (announced) attendance was 102,926 in a stadium that holds a few grand more than that. And I don't even say it because of the controversial Shane Morris incident, in which Morris appeared concussed but was sent back into the game when backup Devin Gardner had his helmet knocked off.

I try to avoid the Internet Pile-On, and one is happening for Hoke right now as it pertains to Sunday night's Morris statement. The Internet responded with one giant "Yeah, right," and that's fine. He could be lying through his teeth, and if it turns out that Morris had a concussion, and that information was not taken into account by the coaching staff, then Hoke should be fired on the spot.

But even if Hoke is telling the truth, Saturday was still the moment his demise became inevitable. Because Saturday was the day that Michigan players lost all hope.

The body language of Wolverine players was something you rarely see. Michigan is getting used to failing offensively; after all, in losing nine of their last 13 games, the Wolverines have scored 14 or fewer six times. But having watched a few of those awful games (and more that were no better than decent), I'm not sure I had ever seen so few players looking straight ahead. After every play, almost every player was looking either up at the sky or down at the ground.

When Minnesota took a 10-7 lead at the end of the second half, the game was over, and everybody seemed to know it. They still picked Morris up after he got knocked down on every play, and they looked like they were trying. But they had no idea how they were going to succeed. And in starting Morris in the first place -- deciding that Devin Gardner, who has spent the last season and a half running for his life, was the problem that needed fixing, despite Morris looking awful in spot appearances -- Hoke proved that he also has no idea how to fix Michigan's problems.

One could make the case that Michigan should dump athletic director Dave Brandon before worrying about Hoke, of course. But even if Brandon retains his job as ticket sales decline, he still understands Six Sigma doctrine, which is based around continuous efforts producing predictable results. Hoke's results have been predictable in all the wrong ways. So Brandon or no Brandon, Hoke isn't going to be Michigan's coach in 2015.

We don't know if Brandon (or some interim athletic director) will let Hoke play out the string, as Brandon recently suggested. We don't know if Brandon will get queasy and dump Hoke sooner, to get a jump on other schools that might have job openings. But we know he's probably gone. And the list of possible replacements is top-heavy.

The obvious

Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco 49ers head coach)
John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens head coach)
Les Miles (LSU head coach)

There isn't even technically a Michigan Head Coaching Search yet, and it's already taken on a strange vibe: Harbaugh(s), Miles, or Bust.

As we'll see below, Jim Harbaugh and Miles are virtually the only remaining branches of Michigan icon Bo Schembechler's coaching tree who are also proven head coaches. It's been more than 20 years since Schembechler coached at Michigan, and trees tend to wither. But Miles (a Schembechler lineman in the 1970s and line coach in the 1980s) and Harbaugh (a Schembechler quarterback in the 1980s and a Schembechleresque irascible personality) are going strong for the LSU Tigers and San Francisco 49ers, respectively, rocky 2014 records aside.

It will cost all sorts of money to get them to Ann Arbor. Depending on what you believe, Miles was close to taking the job when it was open in 2007, and Jim Harbaugh was long tied to the opening in 2010 before it went to Hoke. But after the last two hires didn't work, there might be plenty of desperation (i.e., spending). We'll see if it's enough.

Then, of course, there's this:

Michigan is interested in Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh as a potential replacement for embattled coach Brady Hoke, NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday. Rapoport cited high-ranking Michigan sources that the Wolverines would prefer John over brother Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers coach who once quarterbacked the Wolverines, because he is viewed as more of a long-term option.

Rumors are rumors, but perhaps Michigan might want the less cranky Harbaugh, even if he's only a secondary branch on the Bo Tree.

San Fran tiring of Harbaugh?

The successful power-five coaches

Art Briles (Baylor head coach)
Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State head coach)
Jim Mora (UCLA head coach)
Dan Mullen (Mississippi State head coach)
Gary Patterson (TCU head coach)
Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M head coach)

If Michigan isn't willing or able to pay the $5 to 7 million per year that it might take to draw a Harbaugh or Miles to Michigan (or if Michigan is willing but can't land any of those three anyway), then the school will want to aim for a successful high-level coach, Michigan ties or no Michigan ties, right? Maybe?

Though Sumlin and Gundy are both technically members of the Bo Tree (Bo > Dave McClain > Glen Mason > Sumlin; Bo > Miles > Gundy), both are tied far more to other regions of the country, as are the other names above. Whether that should matter is not the point; it might matter to a school full of Michigan Men.

Outside of secondary branches, there are few Michigan ties here; hell, there are minimal Midwestern ties outside of Sumlin's time at Purdue and Minnesota and Mullen's short time as a Notre Dame graduate assistant. There's also minimal reason to think any of these men would be interested, other than $$$$$$$$$.

But $$$$$$$$$ is a pretty decent reason.

The hot, young assistants

Tom Herman (Ohio State offensive coordinator)
Philip Montgomery (Baylor offensive coordinator)
Chad Morris (Clemson offensive coordinator)
Jake Spavital (Texas A&M offensive coordinator)
Ed Warinner (Ohio State offensive co-coordinator)

You will see these men mentioned for every single opening in the next four months. None of them is a defensive coach, and none has ties to Michigan other than the "Ohio State" thing. But they will still be on every initial list of candidates.

The Schembechler tree, primary branches

Cam Cameron (LSU offensive coordinator)
Les Miles (LSU head coach)
Ron Vanderlinden (Air Force linebackers coach)

Most of Schembechler's direct coaching descendants rode off into the sunset, voluntarily or involuntarily, a while ago. If we're looking for direct Bo ties, then we either go with Miles, Cameron, or Vanderlinden. The last two are 24-81 combined as head coaches for Indiana (Cameron), Maryland (Vanderlinden), and the Miami Dolphins (Cameron). None of those jobs was the Michigan job, but still.

Miles or bust.

The Schembechler tree, secondary branches

Jimbo Fisher (Florida State head coach)
Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern head coach)
James Franklin (Penn State head coach)
Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State head coach)
John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens head coach)
Jim Herrmann (New York Giants linebackers coach)
Fred Jackson (Michigan running backs coach)
Butch Jones (Tennessee head coach)
Greg Mattison (Michigan defensive coordinator)
Mike Mularkey (Tennessee Titans tight ends coach)
Bo Pelini (Nebraska head coach)
Rex Ryan (New York Jets head coach)
Mark Snyder (Texas A&M defensive coordinator)
Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers head coach)

If you want to stretch the definition of Michigan Man to anybody who coached for somebody who coached for Bo, then you've got some interesting names. Gundy, Jimbo Fisher, and Bo Pelini are former Miles assistants, Pat Fitzgerald and James Franklin coached under Vanderlinden once upon a time, Jim Herrmann was Lloyd Carr's defensive coordinator, etc.


Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

After the top three, the realistic names aren't inspiring. But you can't control that when you're looking for a coach. After Harbaugh, Harbaugh, and Miles, the list gets blurry. Of all the non-Michigan Men above, I would think that Gundy would fit pretty well, and Sumlin really does have ties to the Midwest, even if he has no reason to leave Texas A&M.

Last week, in attempting to figure out how and why my play-by-play measures didn't hate Michigan as much as the eyeballs did so far in 2013, I said this:

On a per-play basis (in a system that counts turnovers simply as non-successes until drive data is factored in after seven weeks), they are good enough to rank 19th in the country, just one spot behind a team that beat them by 31 points and 11 spots ahead of a team that beat them by 16. But in ways similar to 2011 Texas A&M and 2011 Notre Dame, they're figuring out ways to make their failures count double, and it seems they (and their fans) know the failures are coming before they happen.

Seven of the next eight conference games are winnable, and eight are losable. We'll see if Hoke can figure out how to turn promise into reality, or if, like Texas A&M in 2011, it will take a new coach and a new quarterback to translate decent stats into good results.

When stats and eyeballs disagree, ensuing games usually force one to conform to the other. For Michigan, it was the former. Saturday proved Michigan will need both a new coach and a new quarterback to live up to whatever potential it has left.

But determining that is the easy part. Now we wait to see what a staid program and a stubborn athletic director can do about the hard part ... if they've even gotten through the easy part yet.