There's more than wins. There's more than losses. Football is just a game, and the country is littered with examples - from Joe Paterno, to Kosta Karageorge, to Ben Roethlisberger, to Jameis Winston, to Jovan Belcher, to Brandon Gibbons - that it is too important.
But it can be done well. Athletics and education can co-exist, and the path to reaching for one's best in this can be the same as so many other Olympic competitions, pickup games at recreation centers, pro sports around the world, and college competitions in everything from student government to ping pong. College football can be anything and everything it wants to be.... and Michigan can lead, if it has a vision.
If reports are true, Michigan's athletic department is handling the start of their coaching search very poorly. But since reports aren't the most reliable or three-dimensional images of a department, we'll simply talk about one thing - about the most important thing. The candidates.
To start this conversation on a note where it has not yet gone, let's peruse the professional ranks. Getting a head coach from the NFL is difficult, as the pros are considered the greatest challenge and the greatest reward. But coordinators at that level are more apt to listen to a $3 million job offer; they're likely to be under the radar, and yet it's possible to evaluate their talent very well. Then, it becomes a matter of interviewing, seeing how philosophies and schematics line up, and talking to others who have worked with that candidate.
First is a name Michigan fans know very well - Jim Schwartz. The longtime Tennessee Titans coordinator and 29-51 head coach at Detroit has the schematic knowledge, coaching relationships, recruiting potential and understanding of football programs to be a great hire. He is fiery, confident, and fairly young at 48. It would probably take a salary in the range of $5 million to interest Schwartz.
The 5,000 songs on his iPod and experience with Bill Belichick are both home runs on the recruiting trail.
Of course, it's always possible Schwartz is married to the NFL. It happens. Luckily, there are a number of other intriguing names who have many of the same benefits as Buffalo's DC. One is Dan Quinn, the Florida Gators DC from 2011-12 under Will Muschamp and the current Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator. He's been featured in MMQB, and excels at reaching his players, motivating them and then putting them on the field in positions to succeed. Quinn is just 44.
Then there is Pat Shurmur, who was born in Ann Arbor, went to Michigan State, and is now serving as Chip Kelly's offensive coordinator at Philadelphia. Just 49 years old, Shurmur has experience as an offensive line, tight end and quarterbacks coach, and he helped mold Donovan McNabb and tight end Chad Lewis into NFL stars.
Another candidate worth calling is Aaron Kromer, who served as New Orleans' head coach during Sean Payton's suspension, and is currently serving as Chicago's offensive coordinator. He has been involved in molding some dominant offensive lines at New Orleans, winning Madden awards for it in 2009 and '11. He is a Super Bowl champion, and very well-respected.
Kromer is the number one coach Bears fans have to look at as getting a head coaching spot should the team continue its success. That's not a bad thing necessarily, but it does say a lot about how respected he is as an assistant and how important he is in the success of the Bears' offense.
Then there are the college assistants - guys like Pat Narduzzi, Kirby Smart, and Tom Herman. There's a little less splash in hiring a college assistant, and that also translates to recruiting. Still, top assistant coaches are the bulk of the next generation's great college coaches.
In particular, Michigan would want to inquire what these candidates would try to do on the other side of the ball. College is littered with teams who excel at the particular side of the ball that their head coach does: Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks have been impaled by their defense at key moments, as have Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers. Will Muschamp - as promising an assistant as there could be - failed because of what he couldn't do on the offensive side. Successful teams are often those whose coaches have a partnership with someone on the other side - Urban Meyer hiring Chris Ash, Mark Dantonio bringing in Dave Warner, or Nick Saban hiring Lane Kiffin to stay atop the college football world.
It's a bit safer, though more rare, to find a premier coach already on the market. Ole Miss signed Hugh Freeze to an extension this week, keeping him in Oxford and assuring that their athletic department won't be stuck searching through a weak crop of proven entities. Some have brought up Todd Graham, a nomadic and largely successful guru who's brought Arizona State to new heights. Graham has insisted he's found a home, but he also has a checkered past of keeping his promises. A move to Michigan would only exacerbate those feelings of distrust.
Dan Mullen is probably the most popular name on the coaching market, if indeed he's on the market at all. His history with Florida suggests he won't fancy a return, but would he be interested in leaving a top-10 team behind for Michigan? He, like Jim Harbaugh, seems to have gotten successful to a point that Michigan would be a step down.
No, the exigent instinct to hire a Michigan Man, or else the most Successful Man, is simply not there for Michigan this time around, and that may be a blessing in disguise for a program that needs to understand it has to look forward. Michigan's in a situation where it must rebuild its stature among football's elite; that requires seeing ahead of the curve, and grabbing the next Kevin Sumlin, the next Jim Harbaugh, or the next Dan Mullen. Chasing today's success is proving difficult; hopefully, the backup option works much better.
Hitting the Links Is A Pioneer
With an 11-1 season, Urban Meyer now ranks among the top ten winning percentages of all time.
This is a fantastic plea for less apathy within the Big Ten. With that said, I think there's a balance between unrealistic expectations and cold, hard, smart realism - with a dash of brand building in there as well. Minnesota has won games under Jerry Kill, but it's also cultivated an identity with its "Brick by Brick" approach. That makes it easier to maintain, build and tweak even during coaching changes.
Some have made a case that Meyer should have won, but Kill is entirely deserving in his own right. Before the season, most fans expected a regression, but instead this team has taken noticeable steps forward, in everything from athleticism and talent to recruiting. For a team with as many two-star athletes as Kill has, competing for the Big Ten West is no mean feat.
No arguments among the individual awards, while the media selections are consistently better than the coaches' teams.
Despite the challenges of finding the right coach, expectations are as high as they've ever been.
The Pac-12 North was really Oregon and the Somebodies, while Utah, USC, UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State all finished with winning conference records and won 8 games. Only Colorado (2-10, 0-9) did not.