With Michigan limping out the gates to a 3-5 start to the season, the Brady Hoke era of Michigan football seems to be drawing to a conclusion. The Wolverines were bullied around the field in East Lansing on Saturday, dropping their sixth contest in the past seven again their once "little brother" in-state rival Spartans. Already on the hot seat before the start of the season, Hoke's teams have clearly regressed in each of his four years. It now seems likely that not even a miracle - or a win against Ohio State - could save Hoke's job.
Michigan Athletic Director, Dave Brandon, has said he will evaluate Hoke following the conclusion of the season, but Brandon seems just as likely to join his head coach on the unemployment line. With openings already at SMU, Kansas, Troy and Buffalo - and Florida figuring not far behind – the coaching carousel is just heating up. Faced with their third coaching search in seven years, It's probably time Michigan realizes Bo is not walking through that door.
So what does this all mean for Ohio State? Do the Buckeyes, and arguably the Big Ten, need Michigan to start being Michigan again? Conference perception and strength of schedule matter more than ever with the creation of the college football playoff, so seeing That School up North returning to competitive football might actually benefit the Buckeyes. The bigger question is can Michigan hire anyone to reinvigorate their program or have they sunk so low that The Game and rivalry has permanently shifted in the Buckeyes favor?
Let's take a look at some of the names being floated around for the job and how it might impact the Buckeyes.
"The big 3"
The names you most closely hear linked to the UM job. If any of these three say yes, Michigan needn't look no further:
Jim Harbaugh - The anointed savior of Michigan football. The son/former QB returning home to resurrect his alma mater from the depths of hell. There's no denying Harbaugh has proven to be a seriously elite football coach. He is comfortable in chaos, and a proven winner at both the pro and collegiate level. There are the obvious rumblings that his shtick might be running thin in San Francisco. Perhaps his task-master approach and demand for total control would be better suited for 18-22 year olds versus the millionaires inside an NFL locker room. Despite this, it's hard to believe there wouldn't be a long list of NFL teams (Raiders, Dolphins, Jets?) that would bend over backwards to let him run the show.
Threat level to OSU? High. He's the scariest candidate for a reason. He has played in and succeeded in The Game. He understands the rivalry. Much like he did with Pete Carroll when he got to Stanford, Harbaugh would set his targets immediately and directly on Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. He'd be so easy to hate. The war would be on.
John Harbaugh - The other Harbaugh brother. The older one. The one with the Super Bowl ring. While John doesn't possess his brother's persona or Michigan diploma, he did attend high school a parking lot away from The Big House and seems to have a full understanding of the culture in Ann Arbor. However, his last college coaching experience came 17 years ago.
Threat level to OSU? Medium. He might be the safer, more refined, less combustible Harbaugh choice. John's Super Bowl ring and pedigree would certainly grab the attention of recruits, but college football has evolved into a completely different monster in the past 17 years. Despite his frustrations with player conduct, and probably his franchise's handing of such, he seems better suited for the NFL.
Les Miles - If not for bad timing and Bill Martin's affinity for sailing, Miles would have been named Michigan's coach in 2007. He's the only candidate here with a national title and has proven he can win consistently in college football's toughest conference. Miles relationship with Michigan has sometimes been strained, but with Lloyd Carr no longer directly involved in the athletic department, that doesn't figure to be a stumbling block this go around. Miles has admitted he would have a hard time telling Michigan no.
Threat level to OSU? Significant, but short. Miles will turn 62 during the 2015 season and his age stands out as the biggest detriment to his candidacy along with a history of puzzling in-game decisions. He's shown the ability to dip into the midwest for a recruit or two, but might find it difficult to bring in SEC-level athletes in the north. Would Michigan be willing to deal with another search in five to seven years? Could Miles even be bothered to leave Baton Rouge at this point or did Michigan blow their chance?
"The now candidates"
The guys being mentioned with every vacancy in the country. They might be looking to move on now, while they still have the chance.
Dan Mullen - Currently in the midst of a dream season at Mississippi State. The former Florida Gator offensive coordinator seems comfortable in Starkville, but what's actually the ceiling there? Mullen has Pennsylvania roots that could ease his transition back into Big Ten country.
Threat level to OSU? To be determined. Mullen is an intriguing candidate and obviously very close to Urban Meyer, having served as an assistant to the Buckeye coach at three stops from 2001-2008. He's been spectacular in leading the Bulldogs to their number one ranking in the polls, but the remaining games on the schedule will give us a much clearer idea of where Mullen can take his program. He figures to be a leading candidate for Florida if/when they decide to go in a different direction.
Kevin Sumlin - In 1982, Texas A&M tried to steal away Bo Schembachler with the offer to make him the highest paid coach in college football. Maybe it's time for Michigan to return the favor?
Threat level to OSU? They better have the defense ready. Sumlin has proved to be extremely proficient in fielding an explosive offense. His system and personality connects with high school recruits and he has some midwest ties from his playing days at Purdue. However, he still hasn't won anything of note and appears to have taken a step back without Johnny Football. Texas A&M seems pretty committed here and it's doubtful that Michigan would be able to pull him out of Aggie Land.
Greg Schiano - He was offered the job in 2007 and said no, but hasn't exactly set the world on fire since then. He seems to have the admiration of elite football coaches like Urban Meyer and Bill Belichick, but we're talking about a guy with a 79-88 head coaching record.
Threat level to OSU? This is basically Brady Hoke 2.0. His tenure at Rutgers suggests he knows how to build a stable program, but if you can't win the Big East with any regularity, it's probably going to be tough to compete in the Big Ten.
Gary Patterson - Patterson deserves a ton of credit this year for actually showing signs of progressiveness and radically changing his offensive approach for the better. Has shown he is capable of fielding a team that can compete with the Big Ten's best.
Threat level to OSU? Probably don't have to worry about it. Patterson's legacy at TCU is pretty spectacular. The Horned Frogs struggled a bit stepping up in competition to the Big XII, but appear to have things pointed in the right direction. However, with no ties to the midwest and a healthy $3 million a year salary, it's going to be a tough sell to bring this guy to Ann Arbor.
"The wild cards"
If everyone else says no...
Bob Stitt - The offensive prodigy from Colorado School of Mines seems to be building a bit of a grass roots campaign amongst UM fans. He appeals to those desperate to find a off the radar diamond in the rough, a la Jim Tressel.
Threat level to OSU? You shouldn't laugh, it's not polite. Jim Tressel's do not grow on trees. If you want Michigan to stay awful this is probably your best best. He has zero experience at the FBS level, few ties to the midwest and hasn't won much of anything. Michigan might be better off hiring Dana Holdgerson if they want to move in this direction.
Tom Herman - An opportunity to weaken their greatest rival and add a bright young coach makes some Wolverine fans downright giddy. Herman figures to be in high demand in a number of openings this off season.
Threat level to OSU? Not a concern. Depending on the week, you might be able to find Buckeye fans who would help Coach Herman pack his bags for Ann Arbor. The MENSA man is definitely well on his way to leading his own program, but Michigan can be an awfully big spot to get your feet wet. He's not exactly tied to Urban's hip and OSU will likely deal with replacing him this year or in the not to distant future.
Jim McElwain- The Colorado State head man and former Saban assistant quietly has things rolling in Fort Collins. Could it be enough to parlay it into a gig with the maize and blue?
Threat to OSU? Probably more than we care to admit. McElwain has gone about his business much like the offense he directed at Alabama - with an emphasis on substance over flash. His CSU teams have gotten better every year of his tenure after a pretty morbid run under Steve Fairchild. He was an assistant at Michigan State from 2003-2005, so he knows the territory pretty well. We don't know much about him as a recruiter, but ultimately if Michigan's taking a look here it's because they've missed on their top choices.
Mark Stoops - Trying to succeed where brother Mike failed and become the second best Stoops head coach. He's provided Kentucky fans with a small, but entertaining distraction before basketball season.
Threat level to OSU? A tiny one. In year two at Kentucky, Stoops has his program improving and competitive in the SEC East. He's been a relentless recruiter and has stocked his roster with Ohio high school talent. The Youngstown connection and Stoops name don't hurt either. He might need to focus on getting UK to a bowl game before being considered a serious candidate to move up the coaching ladder.
As is the case in any coaching search, but probably more so here, this decision marks a pivotal moment in the direction of Michigan football. Failing here - after the embarrassment of Rich Rod and the apathy of Hoke - would seemingly all but bury Michigan as a relic of the past. Lest we forget, Minnesota can claim seven national titles, but no one thinks of the Golden Gophers as any sort of football powerhouse. Ohio State dominated the last decade and a half of the rivalry and at times it's impossible to think that could ever change. But the disaster of the John Cooper 1990's were not that long ago. A new coach can change everything.