(UHND) – Last year Notre Dame was one of the major players in the yearly coaching carousel in college football after firing Charlie Weis and luring Brian Kelly from Cincinnati. This year several Irish opponents for 2011 figure to be affected by the annual head coaching purges.
Pittsburgh, Notre Dame’s fourth game of the season, is already on it’s second coaching search of the off-season, Maryland just replaced the 2010 ACC Coach of the Year, Michigan figures to be on the verge of parting ways with Rich Rodriguez, and Stanford appears destined to be looking for a new coach with several suitors trying to court Jim Harbaugh.
If all plays out as expected, 25% of Notre Dame’s 2011 schedule could feature coaches in the first year at their respective universities.
For now, two 2011 foes will definitely be breaking in new coaches. Dave Wannstedt “resigned” at Pitt after posting a disappointing 7-5 record in a season in which the Panthers were expected to be serious contenders in the Big East. Pitt moved quickly to hire former Notre Dame assistant Mike Haywood as Wannstedt’s replacement; but after Haywood was arrested and charged with a felony for domestic battery, Pitt moved even quicker to fire him.
Marvin Lewis has been linked to the Pitt job despite still being employed as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, but for now their second coaching search in two months appears to be far from over.
Maryland, Notre Dame’s neutral site opponent for next season, decided to buyout 2010 ACC Coach of the Year Ralph Friedgen with one year remaining on his contract. The Terapins lured Randy Edsall away from Big East champion Uconn just a day after he led the Huskies to their first BCS bowl in school history.
The biggest coaching changes potentially affecting Notre Dame, however, are the ones that are yet to be made.
There aren’t many people left who think Rich Rodriguez will be back in Ann Arbor in 2011. The Wolverine defense was an absolute mess this year culminating in an embarrassing 52-14 dismantling at the hands of Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. Any support Rodriguez had left at Michigan almost certainly evaporated in the Jacksonville sun with each Mississippi State score.
Should Rodriguez be let go by Michigan, one of Notre Dame’s biggest rivals will be in search of a head coach for the second time in three years.
It’s no secret that Stanford coach and Michigan alum Jim Harbaugh would be Michigan’s top target. Harbaugh’s star may never be brighter at Stanford than it is right now. In just four years Harbagh transformed the Cardinal into a hard nosed, elite team. Their only loss this season came at the hands of Oregon – a team that is busy preparing to play in the National Championship game a week from Monday – and as I write this article, they are knocking on the door of adding to their 21 point fourth quarter lead over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
According to various reports, however, Michigan is going to have some stiff competition in their courting of Harbaugh. Both the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers are said to be interested in Harbaugh taking over their struggling franchises.
Right now no one knows where Harbaugh will end up, but most experts seem to think it’s a forgone conclusion that Harbaugh won’t be roaming the sidelines in Palo Alto next year.
Losing Harbaugh would be devastating for Stanford’s program. Harbaugh has the Cardinal playing at a top 5 level right now and is having more success on the recruiting trail than anyone has had on the Farm in a long, long time. It would be extremely difficult, if not darn near impossible, for them to find another perfect hire like Harbaugh turned out to be.
From a Notre Dame perspective, seeing Harbaugh leave Stanford would be a welcomed sight, but if his next stop is Ann Arbor, any benefit gained for the Irish would likely be short-lived. While the Michigan job would be a major undertaking, Harbaugh has proven at Stanford that he is more than capable of completely rebuilding a program and doing so under tight academic restrictions. In short, having Harbaugh at Michigan would be a major thorn in Notre Dame’s side both on the field and on the recruiting trail even if it took him a couple seasons to rebuild that porous defense.
Now, if the allure of the NFL takes Harbaugh to either Dener or San Francisco or some other NFL destination, and Michigan is forced to look elsewhere, things don’t look as bad for the Irish. Reports surfaced late last week that Brady Hoke would be a prime candidate at Michigan if Harbaugh went elsewhere or stayed at Stanford. While Hoke is a very good coach in his own right, he wouldn’t bring the “wow” factor that someone like Harbaugh would bring with him to the Big House.
If that scenario plays out, Notre Dame would really be a winner in this year’s coaching carousel. Most Michigan fans have felt that Harbaugh would almost certainly be there for them if the Rodriguez experiment failed. If he opts for the NFL, they will be left scrambling for a backup plan similarly to how Notre Dame did in 2004 after Urban Meyer picked the Gators over the Irish.
One thing is for certain. How this all unfolds will have a major impact on Notre Dame for 2011 and beyond. If Michigan is not able get Harbaugh they’ll be forced to move quickly to their other options or risk really taking a hit on the recruiting trail or possibly even consider retaining Rodriguez. As for Stanford, it looks like they will almost certain they will be forced to replace one of the greatest coaches they’ve ever had.
Stay tuned folks, it should be an interesting few days.