Michigan fans have been keeping a close eye on Coach Jim Harbaugh and a possible flirtation with the NFL since the start of the year, because this is different.
When his name was previously tied to NFL jobs, Harbaugh, who just completed his seventh season, jokingly referred to “jive turkeys” and dismissed any interest in fighting for the league. But Harbaugh, who was unavailable to the media after the Orange Bowl game on New Year’s Eve, did not publicly dismiss the speculation.
Along the way, Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald decided after one season to take over as defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. So here we are in February, and it seemed time for a mailbag. Here we are:
►Question: How much of a surprise was Mike Macdonald’s move and who could replace him? Also: how many Skyline Chili will you have on hand for Sunday’s game? — @ asortiz3
►Answer: The one thing that surprised me about Macdonald leaving Michigan after a year to return to the Ravens, this time as defensive coordinator, is that it happened a year earlier than I thought. Macdonald had signed a three-year contract in Michigan, and I thought he would stay here at least two years. But when that Ravens job opened up, the points were tied for Macdonald to return to work with head coach John Harbaugh. Plus, college work is recruiting drudgery, and it makes for such a different life than working as an NFL coach.
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As for replacements, former Michigan linebacker Larry Foote, linebackers coach with the Tampa Bay Bucs, is on Jim Harbaugh’s list. People here know Foote, and I can’t help but think back to 2000 after Michigan fell 32-31 at Purdue, when Foote was so emotional and took responsibility for the Wolverines’ loss. Of course, it wasn’t his fault, but that’s the type of leader he was a player. Foote has been in the NFL for a long time, starting with his 13 seasons as a player, and he could have opportunities to move up to an NFL coordinator position, especially if Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich gets a job. head coach. Would Foote be a perfect fit for Michigan? Absoutely.
Since we’re not aware of Harbaugh’s slate of nominees, let me throw out one name — Jesse Minter. He was first-year defensive coordinator last year at Vanderbilt after four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens (there’s that John Harbaugh connection again) and his name was thrown around last year as someone Macdonald could bring in in Michigan. Coincidentally, the 38-year-old Minter was a graduate assistant (2007-08) under Brian Kelly in Cincinnati where Michigan’s new defensive line coach Mike Elston was also on staff. But given that Minter was on Macdonald’s staff in Baltimore, there would be some continuity in terms of the defensive scheme if he were to take over in Michigan. Also, Minter was a guy who couldn’t wait to get back to the college game, so that suits him well. Anyway, food for thought, and I don’t see this hiring happening until the NFL jobs are settled.
But speaking of food, and your second question, Tony, I have some Montgomery Inn ribs and Graeter ice cream as the Bengals pre-game on Sunday.
►Q: Discuss the pros and cons of hiring a new DC internally versus a big name outside of the current staff. — @Thruline1970
►A: By intern, you probably mean Elston, who recently joined the Michigan staff as defensive line coach after 12 years at Notre Dame, and defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale. According to Clinkscale’s contract, as long as the wording meant “regular season” and not “overall,” he qualified for a bump to co-defensive coordinator this year because the team finished in the top 25 with fewest passing yards allowed during the regular season. (Michigan was No. 27 after the national semifinal). I’m not sure there are any downsides to elevating either of those two coaches to defensive coordinator, but Harbaugh has a good enough track record to look outward and make his hires.
►Q: Many losses especially in defense. Will it hurt for the search for a new coordinator? – @hawk48025
►A: Considerable experience is gone, that’s for sure. But Macdonald has rotated a lot of young players, so while I don’t see Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo or Dax Hill yet, he’s done a good job of development. With that in mind, I don’t think that would deter anyone from taking the job.
►Q: With Macdonald’s departure and a focus on bringing younger coaches into the program in 2021, do you think Harbaugh will seek a younger coach again to fill the role? — @MarcCarmanSr
►A: That was definitely the trend last year, Marc, and it’s something the players brought up repeatedly starting in spring training, because they felt they could get along better. The injection of youth into the coaching staff permeated the team and gave Harbaugh a boost. My hunch is that he will go this route again.
►Q: Which court is the ball in at this point? And what color is the elephant in the room? — @TheBlockhams
►Q: What’s the most likely reason Jim Harbaugh’s “situation” seems to be taking so long to resolve? — @M_O_Davis
►A: The simplest answer is this: Harbaugh was interested in potential NFL opportunities, so until those were eliminated, he was in no rush to sign a revised contract with Michigan. A year ago, he felt pain when he signed an extension that halved his salary. He’s always ready for competition and maybe the addition of the incentives generated that competitive fire in him, but cut his base salary from $8m to $4m – despite last month’s comment that he would train for free – had to be a bit of a gut punch. My understanding is that this latest unsigned deal won’t put Harbaugh in the financial district of those big deals like Mel Tucker and James Franklin received. So, for me, the ball seems to be in sporting director Warde Manuel’s court. And the color of the elephant? It’s your department, since you’re the artist, Blockhams.
►Q: What does JH say to these young people he is currently recruiting? Whether or not he is in Michigan next year, but still commits to UM??? Must be a hard sell! – @MIScott68
►A: Sure, and don’t think the rookies didn’t ask. I spoke to one of the assistants a few weeks ago and asked if the rookies ask him about Harbaugh’s status. He said, surprisingly, no, because he finds they tend to get more attached to the assistants who recruit them. That said, Harbaugh isn’t one to play games with rookies and was candid with them when asked.
►Q: What does the purse tally look like between all the guys who declare for the NFL and the transfer portal? How young or how old will a team be next year? — @TonyBooYay
►A: By my count, Tony, they’re a handful short of getting the scholarship. It will be interesting to see what maneuvers there will be and what portal entries are to come. A lot of experience has left the team, so from my point of view it’s a young team. Also, last year I kept thinking that someone like Blake Corum didn’t really finish his freshman year until the middle of last season. After all, Michigan only played six games in 2020, and someone like him missed six regular season games and the experience that goes with it. What I mean is that even though Corum is entering its third season, in some ways it feels more like its second year ending.
►Q: Which players have stood out in scouting squads and in bowl practices that we can expect to see step up to the next level this coming season? — @VauntedJT
►A: Touted is a great question, but with Orange Bowl practices closed and virtual press conferences, there hasn’t been much communication on that front. That said, you probably know the guys who should make significant jumps next year like Mike Morris, Junior Colson, Rod Moore, Andrel Anthony.
►Q: How do you see the QB play situation next season with Cade/JJ? — @JimMWeber
►A: Won’t this competition be fun to watch? Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy are incredibly confident in their abilities and although McNamara has bigger resumes, McCarthy feels pretty good about his game and the opportunities he had last season. McNamara did a very good job leading the team last year, but McCarthy’s advantage is pretty obvious. Regardless of who wins the starting position, the replacement must adopt the “one game away” from playing mantra. Quarterback coach Matt Weiss last year was quick to say McNamara was the starter coming out of spring training. Will they make statements this spring? We will see.
►Q: What specifics do you know about the NIL UM program and can fans donate to the cause? Football is expected to sell MI-made craft beers at home games to fill budget gaps. What is their position? — @mid_nite_72
►A: Mid_nite, you asked a bunch of questions (thanks). Look, I think the way you donate to the NIL cause right now is to buy things like player jerseys sold at M Den, because they get a good chunk of the money. As for the beer, it’s a good idea, and although he hasn’t been asked about it recently, Manuel said no to selling alcohol at the stadium.
►Q: Michigan football played its last game in Florida. This is where @umichsoftball opens its season in two weeks. Five wins or zero losses in the opening weekend? — @griffinhickman
►A: The only game that will be a problem for the 13th-ranked Wolverines will be No. 5-ranked Florida, so I suspect Michigan will come home 4-1.
►Q: What Cincinnati jerseys did you receive from Homefield last week? 🙂 — @hooverstreet
►A: I didn’t get any new shirts, but I got a great Bengals hat and socks, and put all the Bengals stuff from my youth on display. It’s going to be a tough game, but you know what they say in Cincinnati: Who Dey!