Dave Brandon is expected to meet with Rich Rodriguez at 2 p.m. Tuesday. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Flip back the calendar five weeks, to three days after Michigan had lost badly to Ohio State, ending a 7-5 season that was about as feeble as a bowl-eligible season can be for a team, certainly one from Ann Arbor.
What was clear then and stated then was this:Michigan needs to change football coaches. And that decision is compelling, no matter what happens in a bowl game against Mississippi State that isn't likely to reveal anything not seen during 12 weeks of the regular season.
Making the change, getting on with a new coaching administration, and allowing the existing staff to make potential changes in their families' lives, is paramount. Easing anxieties of recruits and players is just as important.
And so make that decision now, which, not coincidentally, is when most college athletic directors decide to release their existing coach and begin the business of hiring a new one.
That opinion wasn't shared by Michigan's new athletic director, Dave Brandon. He insisted no evaluations would be final until after Michigan had played its bowl game.
And so now we arrive at this point, at the alarmingly late date of Jan. 4.
Harbaugh is man for the job
Rich Rodriguez and his staff are -- at this mid-day hour -- still recruiting for Michigan. Jim Harbaugh, who almost by acclamation would have been a heaven-sent choice to run the Wolverines, is still the coach at Stanford.
The question, and it's important, is how much more inclined he might have been to take the Michigan job a month ago, before the past month's prolonged vigil and deeper disruptions threatened, if not injured, Michigan's football stock?
What exactly was accomplished, on the plus side, by waiting the past 30 days? What was achieved when every probability pointed to Rodriguez's departure and the need for Michigan to hire a new football general, barely a month before the all-important date at which recruits can sign?
Why was it not seen that acting quickly, cleanly, and in the interests of a football program rather than a bowl-game schedule, would not have been the more prudent path?
The bowl game would have taken care of itself, whether it was Michigan, or Stanford, whose team was left to carry on with its holiday assignments. The greater priority was to begin, immediately, the hunt for a new coach -- and to allow the existing staff a shot at beginning their new lives.
Harbaugh is absolutely the man Michigan needs. He matches up in every conceivable category. And he was that same supremely qualified man even before he took the Stanford job.
Exactly where Brandon and Michigan turn if Rodriguez, in fact, goes, and Harbaugh ultimately turns down U-M, is a nifty question.
Brady Hoke? Les Miles?
We'll see. Frankly, Brandon can -- and must -- do better than having those two men as his Plans B and C, if, in fact, those gents are on his short list.
Is it too late?
Brandon is an impressive man: smart, accomplished, genial. Spend an hour with him and you'll be convinced Mary Sue Coleman, the U-M president, knew exactly what she was doing when she hired him away from Domino's a year ago.
He has the capacity to bring in a coach who could be a counterpart to college football's Bo Schembechlers and Nick Sabans and Gene Chiziks -- men who were waiting to be discovered and unleashed. In fact, Brandon has an obligation to hire that kind of coach, all because Michigan has the status to draw that kind of coach.
But back, for a moment, to Harbaugh. No question, he has options, good options, in the NFL, and with his current job at Stanford. He could end up with a national championship in another year if he believes his quarterback, Andrew Luck, is willing to hang on for another season.
But what, again, might have Harbaugh been inclined to do a month ago, back when a free-agent coach (free to leave Stanford, that is) whose football life was shaped at Michigan, whose knowledge of U-M's history and legacy and potential always made this job such a natural fit for him?
What might he have said if Rodriguez were actually no longer the coach, rather than being tethered to a tenuous job for reasons that still aren't clear?
Or, did Harbaugh also understand something else that made Ann Arbor unlikely, a month ago, or in January? Brandon is a hands-on AD when it comes to football. He played on Schembechler's teams. He has been known to attend coaches' meetings, to be on the sideline, to even run onto the field with his team.
Would a man as independent and as single-minded as Harbaugh be inclined to take on such an assignment, knowing the security and NFL options he already has in his pocket? It may be that timing wasn't the factor for Harbaugh that it has become for Michigan.
Whatever the answer, better choices and outcomes would likely have been in Michigan's favor five weeks ago, rather than now, when prospects for a happy outcome for all parties were greater than they appear amid the flux that shouldn't have been part of this particular Ann Arbor football picture.
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