Ok, so here we are in a coaching search on Jan. 6th, 3 weeks from signing day. Highly unusual, yes, but none the less there's no more wallowing allowed here. We've wallowed enough.
Now that this is actually happening, here's a rundown of names in no particular order that you've no doubt heard bantered about over these past few days:
Chris Petersen, Head Coach, Boise State
Gary Patterson, Head Coach, TCU
Kyle Wittingham, Head Coach, Utah
Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach, Stanford
Brady Hoke, Head Coach, SDSU
Dan Mullen, Head Coach, Mississippi State
Charlie Strong, Head Coach, Louisville
Pat Fitzgerald, Head Coach, Northwestern
Jon Gruden, former Raiders and Bucs NFL Coach, ESPN
Mike Trgovac, DL Coach, Green Bay Packers
Les Miles, Head Coach, LSU
KC Keeler, Head Coach, Delaware
While this list is in no way definitive, it seems to be the consensus around media-types with unnamed "sources" that the next guy will in fact come from this grouping. The bottom line is that unless David Brandon says it, take it with a grain of salt. As we saw with the "breaking news" that Rodriguez had been fired that turned out to be not quite true yet, Brandon is the end-all-be-all with this stuff. Anything else is hearsay.
Things Brandon Has Said
Given that Brandon is the Godfather of this whole thing, it's useful to start with things Brandon has actually said. First and foremost, Brandon has said that Jim Harbaugh is likely to go to the NFL. He believes, through discussions with Harbaugh himself, that the "NFL challenge" is what Harbaugh will pursue, and that interest from Michigan towards Harbaugh has been nonreciprocal. This has been confirmed by a secondary source in current Miami Dolphin's owner Steve Ross:
Furthermore, Ross had dialogue with University of Michigan officials to ensure that he would not be competing for Harbaugh's services with his alma mater, sources said.
Ross, who is one of Michigan's largest benefactors, was assured by a Michigan official that Harbaugh was not reciprocating interest in the college's now-vacant head coaching position.
For those of you still holding out hope that Harbaugh is going to be the guy, I believe you can safely stop. The one person you can listen to in this whole thing, David Brandon himself, has told you that it isn't going to be Harbaugh. This was then confirmed by Steve Ross, a huge Michigan donor and generally a "guy without a reason to intentionally hurt his alma mater."
Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach, Stanford
Another thing that Brandon has said is that he believes that this job is too big for somebody without major NCAA head coaching experience to take on. He's said this based on the unique recruiting process, etc. at the Div. 1 level. Read into "major" all you want, this likely eliminates any of those NFL guys you're secretly hoping for, as well as any current assistants that you believe could be on the shortlist. The next coach is likely going to be a current head coach of a Division 1 football program.
Jon Gruden, former Raiders and Bucs NFL Coach, ESPN Mike Trgovac, DL Coach, Green Bay Packers
Things Potential Candidates have said:
There are a certain number of other coaches on the list who have either flat out denied interest, or have denied being contacted. These include:
The last one doesn't have a definitive link, but Brian at Mgoblog has posted this, and I generally believe him.
An emailer from outside the Michigan fanbase who I've known a while is connected to one of those firms that conducts coaching searches and relates that Boise State's Chris Petersen "doesn't even return exploratory phone calls"—which is probably why he's never rumored to be a candidate anywhere outside of blogger lists. You can write him off if you haven't already.
If Petersen were interested in leaving Boise, I think we'd likely know about it by now.
Things nobody but gut-reaction and common sense have said
This leaves a list of a few mid-major guys, Dan Mullen, Charlie Strong, and Pat Fitzgerald. As the rumor-mill-swirls had it that Gary Patterson and the TCU crew were ready to light out to a bigger opportunity over these past few years. Kyle Wittingham has had the same rumors swirl about him, but both programs are set to join and immediately compete in BCS-qualifying conferences next year (TCU in the Big East, and Utah in the PAC-10). This is nothing but my own gut, but I think both guys are likely to stick it out at their programs to see how they fare in the Big Boy Leagues. I mean, Patterson and TCU are set to own the Big East next year. Why get out now?
Gary Patterson, Head Coach, TCU Kyle Wittingham, Head Coach, Utah
In the case of Charlie Strong, he's got one year of head coaching responsibility under his belt at Louisville. This barely qualifies him under "Stuff Brandon has said." However, his head coaching responsibilities have been loooooong overdue as school after school passed on him in favor of, um, more pale coaches. I'm not sure if that's the real reason, and probably worth whole other post, but the bottom line is that Charlie Strong had been openly and candidly courting head coaching positions while churning out vicious Florida defenses year after year. When Louisville gave him his shot, he immediately took it and remains extraordinarily loyal to that school:
"He [Louisville AD Tom Jurich] gave me the keys to his program and I owe him a lot, and I would never ever chase a job and I am totally committed to this job here," Strong said. "I can't see myself — when you talk about character, when you talk about respect, you talk about sacrifice, I don't see myself walking out on a program in one year to go chase another job."
That leaves with...Hoke, Mullen, and Fitzgerald. Hoke will obviously come, and probably won't cost a fortune to get. Mullen and Fitzgerald might not come, and would probably take a fortune to get. The good news (and file this under "stuff Brandon says") is that Michigan is willing to pay a fortune to get the right guy. Evidence points to Hoke not being the one and only. Brandon has said he'll open the pocketbook, despite the fact that everybody knows that Hoke would likely take market value similar or lower than Rodriguez's current salary. Additionally, and I'm getting this from Mgoblog's post earlier, Brandon alledgedly has told the players that the coaching search would encompass a larger group than just "one of the usual suspects" and that if indeed the usual suspect were hired, it would be because he earned the job.
We'll take a deeper dive into these three's resume (we've already got Hoke done) over the next few days. As always, this stuff is fluid and developments will likely change this entire post by the time I hit publish. I love coaching searches.