As we head into conference championship week, it is clear that the three "premier" head coaching vacancies that were available were Florida, Nebraska and Michigan.
Florida took a no-nonsense approach to then head coach Will Muschamp and fired him with two games left in the season. Although the record might not reflect as such, Florida is still a premier destination for any head coach prospect and was the first school to open the flood gates, so to speak.
One of the more surprising firings so far in the 2014 season was Nebraska's decision to fire Bo Pelini after coming off a victory over Iowa and capping off a nine-win season.
The struggles of Brady Hoke at Michigan have been highly publicized and, quite frankly, don't need to be rehashed. Hoke was relieved of his duties at Michigan on Tuesday and the process has begun immediately to find a replacement.
Three schools whose names resonate in the upper echelon of college football history, three prime positions for willing candidates.
Now, fast-forward to Thursday afternoon, two positions were suddenly filled. Thus, leaving the path wide open for one school in particular to make a move.
Both Florida and Nebraska announced that it had filled its head coaching vacancies with Jim McElwain from Colorado State and Mike Riley from Oregon State, respectively. McElwain, who had been negotiating with Florida for a few days, was more of the expected move. However, for Nebraska, the move to grab Riley was a bit of a surprise.
That leaves us with Michigan as the only big-name school with an opening thus far. With both Florida and Nebraska making moves and out of the way, what does this mean for the Wolverines?
Big name candidates are still available... If they want the job.
Jim Harbaugh, Les Miles or whomever else interim athletic director Jim Hackett has on his mind are still available. We all knew McElwain would be considered a popular candidate this offseason alongside Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, so it's not surprising to see one of them scooped up so quickly.
It was unclear whether or not Nebraska really wanted to make a splash with a big hire, but it apparently has its man with Riley. Although this hiring was a bit out of left field, it obviously helps Michigan out by keeping the big name out of the conference.
As stated before, no matter which direction Michigan goes here, the path to any of the big names is clear at the moment. As Hoke once famously said, Michigan's goals are "still in front of us."
Which brings us to my next point, is Michigan still the prime place to be?
I'm inclined to say yes, regardless of what the team was like a season prior. The fan base is massive, the facilities are prime and the athletic department is working with a massive budget every year thanks to the football season. I think potential coaches see what Michigan could be if it becomes a winner. The talent is certainly there, it is just begging for a winning coach to come in and fix it. It could be a very intriguing opportunity for someone with big goals in mind.
Also, let's be honest here, with a big budget comes potential pay raises for the head coach and the staff. A drop in the bucket, so to speak.
Michigan doesn't have to move quickly... But how long is too long?
If there's someone available and he is willing to listen, you swoop in and grab him. I wouldn't necessarily call either Florida or Nebraska's coaching search rushed by any means, but it certainly didn't waste any time identifying, and landing, its leading candidate.
Michigan is fortunate enough to be in a position where it doesn't have to rush. However, how long is too long to wait?
It could absolutely go the route it did with Hoke and hire him in early January and have the next coach scurry to attempt to resurrect a recruiting class. The first week or two in January should be the absolute cut-off date, pushing it any further into January would be extremely off-putting. Michigan is also fortunate to have a recruiting dead-period start on December 14th, so there will be a few weeks of not being able to contact recruits, so the Wolverines wouldn't be at a huge disadvantage.
The 2015 recruiting class will be small and will have not much more than 15 scholarship spots available. 2016 is the year where Hoke's first recruiting class are all seniors, which will almost double the scholarship limit from the year prior. Any left over scholarships from this cycle can, and will be, used for 2016.
If Harbaugh is the leading candidate for this position, and hasn't told Michigan no yet, then it would make sense to wait until January and make it a necessity. The NFL season ends December 28th, and Harbaugh isn't going to just get up and leave his team. So, in this scenario, being patient would have to be a must.
Michigan has to get this hire right
It goes without saying that Michigan needs to get this hire right, regardless of what Florida, Nebraska or any school does with a head coaching change.
However, the Big Ten could've possibly gotten a lot better on Thursday with Nebraska's hiring of Riley. That obviously still remains to be seen, but it doesn't take away from the urgency from the higher-ups at Michigan to get this thing right once and for all. With Michigan State looking like its here to stay, Minnesota thriving under Jerry Kill, Ohio State being Ohio State with Urban Meyer and so on, the competition is slowly and surely getting better.
Is the third coaching search the charm for Michigan? Things will start to become more clear in the coming weeks.