With Jim Harbaugh gone, what’s next for Michigan football?

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Even before Jim Harbaugh took the Michigan football job in December 2014, those in the national media couldn’t believe he’d leave the NFL to return to his alma mater. Every offseason thereafter (except following the abysmal 2-4 2020 campaign), Harbaugh was rumored to be returning to the pro ranks.

For the first five years of his tenure in Ann Arbor, it was ludicrous speculation, which Harbaugh decried as rival schools negatively recruiting. But after a surprising 12-2 season in 2021, he tried his hand at the NFL again, interviewing with the Minnesota Vikings, expecting to take that job. But it wasn’t to be. He returned to Ann Arbor, saying he would stay at Michigan for as long as the program would have him.

However, Harbaugh interviewed for the open Denver Broncos job following the 2022 season before returning, and he entered the carousel again in 2024, finally leaving to take the Los Angeles Chargers job. Harbaugh went 89-25 at Michigan with three Big Ten Championships, three wins over Ohio State, and a national championship.

With Harbaugh departing, what’s next for the Wolverines?

No need to search for a new head coach

Photo: Isaiah Hole

While many national pundits will include offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore in a list of names that include other outsiders, don’t expect the outsiders to get much of a look.

The job is almost certainly Moore’s, according to multiple reports, and that makes complete sense. Harbaugh has called him a superstar coach and lauded him as a likely head coach as soon as the 2024 season. As an interim or acting head coach in 2023, Moore went 4-0, beating Bowling Green, Penn State, Maryland and Ohio State — a pretty great record already.

Given how Harbaugh rebuilt the Michigan culture, it’s likely the brass in Ann Arbor will want continuity, which means running back as many current staff members as possible.

This likely will not be a search. An announcement of Moore’s hiring is likely as imminent as state hiring rules permit.

Staff retention and hiring

Photo: Isaiah Hole

This is where the situation gets tricky. Even with Moore likely getting the head coaching job. The Wolverines will want to retain as many current coaches as possible. However, Harbaugh will likely take some with him to the NFL.

The biggest rumored loss would be defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, who continued the revitalization of the Michigan defense that was started by current Baltimore Ravens DC Mike Macdonald. If Minter joins Harbaugh in Los Angeles, as expected, then the new head coach will have a decision to make: elevate a current staffer to coordinator or search for a new one. Either way, that lends to the other big question: Will the defensive scheme continue as is?

Michigan has a wealth of returning players on defense, including edge rushers Derrick Moore and Josaiah Stewart, defensive tackles Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant, linebacker Ernest Hausmann, safeties Rod Moore and Makari Paige and cornerback Will Johnson. With those players still in the fold, it would be ideal to continue running the same system, even more ideally with the same coordinator. If I’m the University of Michigan, I make an offer that Minter can’t refuse financially to continue coaching in the college ranks, knowing he’d be the best option for prolonged success. After all, Harbaugh has a great option outside of Minter: Vic Fangio, his former defensive coordinator at Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers who parted ways with the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday, as well.

Of equal if not greater importance will be strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert, who is as pivotal in Michigan’s recent success as anybody. Losing Herbert would be tantamount to losing Harbaugh again, so Michigan must do everything it can to retain him.

It would not be a surprise if Jay Harbaugh departs, joining his father in LA, but most of the other staffers could return. It wouldn’t be shocking to see quarterbacks coach Kirk Campbell elevated to offensive coordinator (a role he held in interim status in Week 1 in 2023) while Grant Newsome could be elevated from tight ends coach to offensive line coach — again, contingent on Sherrone Moore getting the top job. Given the uncertainty at the defensive coordinator post, that side of the ball might be more uncertain, but given the success of the unit, keeping the coaching personnel intact would be the wise move.

Keep the players

Photo: Isaiah Hole

As we’ve seen at Washington and Alabama, Michigan needs to do everything in its power to keep the players it already has.

The transfer portal window is officially open for 30 days for players to depart, and the worst-case scenario would be any kind of mass exodus from the program. Now, if Moore is given the keys to the castle, it’s less likely that we see a mass departure, but given the new age of name, image and likeness licensing (and unreported tampering), the Wolverines will need everything they have to keep their star players in town.

The offense would be less likely to lose players if Moore is hired given that’s the side of the ball he worked with, but after noting the many returning defensive players, any of the aforementioned players leaving would be a huge blow to what’s already a stacked roster.

To keep current players, it wouldn’t just behoove Michigan to hire Moore (as expected) and do everything possible to keep Minter from departing. It will need to actively recruit the entire roster, including the recent signees who certainly joined the program believing Harbaugh would be their head coach.

Attack recruiting with fervor

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Michigan just lost the substantial momentum it had by winning the national championship. While much of the staff has been out on the recruiting trail, including Moore and Minter, extending offers and making visits, once the new head coach is introduced, Michigan needs to emphasize what just happened in the last calendar year to entice those who have offers. That also includes the transfer portal.

Yes, it’s a different world with name, image and likeness ruling the sport and the University of Michigan isn’t playing the same game as much of the rest of college football. It’s not using NIL to induce commitments as it is getting that money into the hands of current players. There should be some revisiting of that strategy given the current stature of the sport, and the new head coach has an opportunity to help lead the way.

If the new coach is Moore, he’s already a voracious recruiter and has reeled in some of Michigan’s biggest commits since joining the program in 2018. Harbaugh was somewhat hands off when it came to recruiting, so having a head coach who’s a bit more invested on that front should pay dividends — especially considering Michigan’s recent success.

The ultimate goal

Photo: Isaiah Hole

The culture in Ann Arbor has changed and all signs point to the university brass looking to perpetuate that which has already been built. Yes, another coach could come in from elsewhere and have success, but Michigan has long been a place that has hired from within. When it didn’t (Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke — though the latter was a defensive line coach under Lloyd Carr) the program sputtered. Jim Harbaugh righted the ship, and it would be in the best interest of the program to keep things as close to the same as it’s been the past three years.

Much like Gary Moeller taking over for Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr taking over for him, continuity is key, especially considering the constraints in Ann Arbor. It was easy for Jim Harbaugh to get everyone on the same page, so to hire his protege would be something of a slam dunk.

With Harbaugh gone, it’s unlikely we see much of anything come from the NCAA investigations that have been hanging over the program’s head, no matter who the head coach is. The burgergate situation was particularly confined to the former head coach, although the Connor Stalions saga might continue to be a little more complex. However, with Stalions and Harbaugh both gone, it’s more likely than not that there will be very little the NCAA wishes to do in the aftermath of what had been a news-filled year.

Ultimately, Michigan should hire Moore, and it should do it sooner than later. And it appears it will. And once it has, Moore should hit the ground running, recruiting his staff, the current players, and then the field.

Michigan is in good shape after winning the national championship. If it makes the right moves, there’s no reason why it can’t be back there in the near future.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire