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Potential Replacements if Jim Harbaugh leaves Michigan for the NFL


As was reported here by College Football Dawgs, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers this week about their vacant head coach position.


Who Replaces Jim Harbaugh? 

If Harbaugh decides to leave Michigan for the NFL, whether with the Chargers or any of the six other teams with vacancies, a new head coach will roam the Michigan sidelines for the 2024 season. Let's look at some potential options and why they may be a good fit...

 


Option #1: Sherrone Moore, Michigan Offensive Coordinator

The most obvious choice is current Michigan offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore. Moore was the acting head coach for four of the six games in 2023 while Harbaugh served two separate three-game suspensions. Moore led the Wolverines to a 4-0 record in those games. The players love Moore, as does Harbaugh. It is a good bet that Harbaugh will push Michigan brass to hire Moore to replace him.

 

Getting Moore as Harbaugh’s replacement would keep the roster mostly intact. Historically, promoting from within for top Power Five programs has had good results. Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State, Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, Chip Kelly at Oregon, Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma and David Shaw at Stanford have all had success taking over for big-time coaches. Shaw took over at Stanford when Jim Harbaugh left to coach the San Francisco 49ers in Harbaugh’s first stint in the NFL. Recent examples of successful promotions from within are Ryan Day at Ohio State and Marcus Freeman at Notre Dame.

 

The one possible knock on Moore is that he has never been a full-time head coach. Taking over for a three-game stretch while Harbaugh was suspended is completely different than running your own program. The responsibilities required by a head coach are far greater than those of an offensive coordinator, even one who stood in as head coach for six games.

 

If Michigan decides to hire someone with head coaching experience, there are three candidates I expect to be interviewed.

 


Option #2: Matt Campbell, Iowa State Head Coach

Campbell’s name was routinely mentioned in top Power Five coaching searches recently. However, his name has cooled off over the last three years as Iowa State has struggled. There were reports that Campbell was a target of, and may have interviewed with, Washington for their recent opening. Ultimately Arizona’s Jedd Fisch was hired by the Huskies. Campbell’s coaching style fits with the Big Ten as he is a defensive coach who emphasizes the run and clock control on offense. Campbell’s overall record as a head coach is 88-63 over 13 years, five at Toledo and the last eight at Iowa State. Four times in his career Campbell’s teams have won nine games at places where it is very difficult to win. The knock for Campbell will be that the Cyclones are 18-20 over the last three seasons. He is also under .500 in bowl games with a record of 4-5. Campbell has the pedigree and ability, but is he the one who can sustain the recent success of Harbaugh at Michigan?



Option #3: Chris Klieman, Kansas State Head Coach

Klieman was a highly successful coach at the FCS level before landing the Kansas State job in 2019. Klieman’s North Dakota State teams were a combined 69-6 in his five seasons as head coach, playing in five national championship games and winning four! In his five seasons at Kansas State the Wildcats are 39-24 with a Big 12 Championship and a 2-2 bowl game record. Klieman knows success and the Midwest, but does he know it well enough to convince the Michigan fan base he is a better candidate than the beloved Sherrone Moore? Klieman strongly professed his loyalty to Kansas State during the Washington coaching search. But Michigan is a much bigger job than Washington, can Klieman remain loyal to the Wildcats if Michigan comes calling?



Option #4: Brian Kelly, LSU Head Coach

Kelly has had success everywhere he has coached. Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Notre Dame and now LSU have all improved after Kelly took over. Kelly started at Grand Valley State where he comprised a record of 118-35-2 with six national championship appearances, winning two. He turned Central Michigan around in three seasons before moving on to Cincinnati where the Bearcats went 34-6 with two Big East Conference Championships. Kelly was hired by Notre Dame where his record is listed as 92-40 with a 4-3 bowl record and national championship appearance. Kelly had 21 wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, including a BCS bowl win, vacated due to academic misconduct. But there is no denying Kelly’s ability as a coach, specifically on offense. LSU’s Jayden Daniels, the 2023 Heisman Trophy winner, thrived in Kelly’s offense. The knocks on Kelly are his brusque approach and inability to win the big game. But Kelly, in my opinion, seems very out of place at LSU, a fish out of water. He has spent all but the last two seasons in the Midwest during his head coaching career. Kelly has the name, ability, and ties to be successful at Michigan, but does Michigan want to deal with the baggage Kelly brings?


Conclusion

No matter who replaces Harbaugh if he leaves, the new coach will have big shoes to fill. Michigan finally has the upper hand on Ohio State, winning the last three meetings. Add to that the national championship the Wolverines just won and you have a tall task ahead of whomever takes over. My gut feeling is that Michigan will promote Sherrone Moore, but in today’s college football world you just never know.

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