Big Ten: Michigan Wolverines

Jim Harbaugh landed his first commitment as Michigan head coach on Saturday when 2015 defensive end Reuben Jones tweeted his decision for the Wolverines. Jones had decommitted from Nebraska prior to his visit and is now on board for Michigan.



New defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin used his ties to the state of Florida to go and get Jones, who is only commit No. 7 for the Wolverines in the 2015 class. Michigan has room for roughly nine more prospects and still has plenty of needs to fill, so there is still plenty of work ahead.

Jim Harbaugh’s seven-year contract at Michigan ensures him a raise to more than $6 million annually after his fifth season and an evaluation by school officials to keep his pay in line with market value, according to the document released by the school to ESPN’s Darren Rovell and other media.

Harbaugh is to earn $5 million in each of the first three years of his deal -- a $500,000 base salary and $4.5 million in additional compensation for contracted TV and radio appearances and an apparel agreement, among other items.

The contract calls for a 10 percent raise to $5.5 million in January 2018 and another 10 percent raise to $6.04 million in January 2020, pending the market-value review.

The total value of the deal is $38,069,000.

If Harbaugh leaves Michigan for other employment, he must pay the university the remaining pro-rated amount of his $2 million signing bonus. For instance, if he takes an NFL job after four years, he will owe the school $857,142.

Other terms of the contract provide Harbaugh with:
  • The joint responsibility with the athletic director to schedule games. The final decision rests with the AD.
  • The use of two automobiles.
  • $4,000 of apparel annually from Michigan’s official outfitter (currently adidas).
  • Use of a private viewing box for his family and guests at Michigan Stadium and 16 additional tickets to home games.
  • Private air travel for all recruiting purposes and up to 25 hours of additional flight time for personal travel. First-class commercial airfare for all other football-related travel.

The contract allows for a salary pool of $4-5 million for his assistant coaches, with 10 percent raises after the third and fifth years of Harbaugh’s deal.

Harbaugh’s incentives include payment of $125,000 for winning the Big Ten East Division, $250,000 for a conference title, $200,000 for a New Year’s Six bowl appearance, $300,000 for a berth in the College Football Playoff and $500,000 for a national championship.

Additionally, he will receive $50,000 if named Big Ten coach of the year, $75,000 as national coach of the year and up to $150,000 for the academic performance of his players.

The contract was dated Dec. 28, 2014, and signed by Michigan athletic director Jim Hackett and president Mark Schlissel. Harbaugh was introduced in Ann Arbor on Dec. 30.

Big Ten morning links

January, 23, 2015
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Wrapping up the first full week since August without college football. Just 30 more weeks until the games start again:

Oregon State coach Gary Andersen confirmed, in an interview with Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, that he left Wisconsin last month in large part over frustration with the school's admission standards.

No surprise there, though it was interesting to read Andersen's explanation and the matter-of-fact nature with which he -- and Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez -- spoke about the situation.

"I don't expect anybody to understand it," Andersen told Dodd in reference to making the move to Oregon State. "I don't expect any one person to look at me and say, 'I get it.' But I get it."

Alvarez offered no apologies or even a suggestion that Wisconsin would relax its standards.

Sounds like Andersen and Alvarez were at odds to stay over admissions. The blowout loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game likely provided the push Andersen needed to act sooner rather than later. And Oregon State, after Mike Riley's move to Nebraska, found itself in the right place at the right time to land the coach.

As a result of Riley's decision to leave Corvallis, Andersen, Paul Chryst at Wisconsin and Pat Narduzzi at Pittsburgh all landed in positions to better succeed on their terms ...

The quarterback situation at Michigan is tenuous, with little experience of note among the four quarterbacks on the roster. In fact, Shane Morris, the most experienced of the bunch, is known best for his place at the center of a controversy last September as he returned to play against Minnesota after suffering a concussion.

It appears that Jim Harbaugh is interested in adding another QB to the mix. The new U-M coach, according to reports, visited 6-foot-7 signal caller Zach Gentry in Albuqerque, New Mexico, this week, and Gentry looks set to set visit Ann Arbor this weekend.

Gentry, rated 118th in the ESPN 300, has been committed to Texas since May. (Texas, for what it's worth, is trying at the same time to flip No. 1-rated QB Kyler Murray from his pledge to Texas A&M.)

As for Gentry, it makes great sense for him to consider Michigan. Harbaugh's work with Andrew Luck at Stanford speaks for itself. The coach, a successful QB at the college and NFL level, will be a recruiting force with the nation's top quarterbacks for as long as he remains at Michigan. Meanwhile, Texas represents much more of a crapshoot for Gentry ...

As you may have heard, this happened over the past couple days at Pitt and Penn State.

Fun stuff. In spite of the prevalence of mediocre teams in the state of Pennsylvania, it's great to see the old rivals sparring on social media. Nothing brings out the feistiness in college coaches quite like recruiting, by the way.

Let's allow this episode to mark the start of an unofficial countdown to the renewal of the PSU-Pitt rivalry. They'll play for the first time in 16 years in September 2016 at Heinz Field, then in 2017 at Beaver Stadium, followed by a repeat of the home-and-home arrangement in 2018 and 2019.

The arrival of Narduzzi at Pitt comes at the right time for this. He is, of course, familiar with the Nittany Lions as former defensive coordinator at Michigan State. And with excitement on the rise at both schools, no better time exists than now for a little stoking of the flames.

And how about Herb Hand, the Penn State offensive line coach, with a barrage of Twitter barbs? We won't make more than a quick reference to the 44 sacks for which his position group was largely responsible in 2014. You can bet Pitt fans will take note -- now and for the next 19 months.

Around the rest of the league:

Daily Social Roundup: UCLA checks in with Iman Marshall 

January, 22, 2015
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Wednesday marked the two-week point until national signing day and coaches were out in force on the recruiting trail, with UCLA's visit to No. 4 overall prospect Iman Marshall leading the headlines.


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Big Ten morning links

January, 22, 2015
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I took a few days off shortly after the national title game for a mini-vacation, so that helped delay my football withdrawal. But now reality is starting to settle in: we won't have any more college football games for a long, bleak eight months.

Yet when the 2015 season finally does kick off over Labor Day weekend, we will be immediately welcomed back with a slate of fascinating games. Last year, we had the delicious Wisconsin-LSU opener to look forward to, along with some minor curiosities like Rutgers-Washington State, Penn State-UCF in Ireland and Ohio State-Navy. This year's opening slate will be even better.

It will all begin with an absolute blockbuster of a Thursday night. TCU will play at Minnesota in what looks like the biggest nonconference game of the Jerry Kill era. Our Mark Schlabach ranked the Horned Frogs No. 1 in his way-too-early 2015 Top 25 (and, no, I have no idea why he didn't put Ohio State at No. 1, either). At the very least, TCU figures to be a Top 5 team when it comes to TCF Bank Stadium, offering the Gophers a chance to make a major early statement.

That same night, we get the debut of Jim Harbaugh as head coach of Michigan, which will play its first-ever Thursday night game at Utah. The Utes have beaten the Wolverines the past two times they played them, including last September, and opening at Rice-Eccles Stadium won't be easy. But everyone will want to see Harbaugh on the Maize and Blue sidelines for the first time.

Those games set the table for a strong Saturday which includes Wisconsin and new head coach Paul Chryst going up against Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Badgers will be heavy underdogs, but Ohio State showed it's possible for a Big Ten team to bully big, bad 'Bama. We'll also get Mike Riley's first game as Nebraska head coach in an intriguing matchup against BYU and Northwestern seeking a rebound season that will begin by hosting Stanford.

The icing on the cake arrives on Labor Day night, as the defending champion Buckeyes go on the road to Virginia Tech. The Hokies were the only team to beat Ohio State in 2014, and Lane Stadium should be total pandemonium for this one.

The Big Ten changed the narrative and greatly bolstered its reputation during bowl season. The league will get a chance to continue that momentum right away in the 2015 season, even if it feels a million miles away at this point. ...

Speaking of scheduling, Michigan State added BYU to its future schedules for 2016 and 2020 on Wednesday. The Cougars replaced Eastern Michigan on the schedule for the Spartans, which is a win for everybody. Athletic director Mark Hollis has been committed to scheduling at least one strong nonconference opponent per year, and Oregon comes to East Lansing in Week 2 of 2015 to complete a home-and-home.

Future Spartans' nonconference schedules in 2016 and beyond (the dawn of the nine-game Big Ten slate) will include Notre Dame (2016 and '17), Arizona State (2018, '19), Miami (2020, '21) and Boise State (2022, '23), along with BYU. That's smart, aggressive scheduling in the playoff era, and in the years when Michigan State plays both BYU and Notre Dame in addition to nine Big Ten contests, it will have to be ready for a season-long grind.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten:

Big Ten morning links

January, 21, 2015
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Tuesday brought an end to questions about the final spots on the coaching staffs at Michigan and Nebraska.

Both are now full, though at Michigan, the addition of Mike Zordich as secondary coach and Jay Harbaugh as tight ends coach came as no surprise. Nebraska, more than two weeks after Mike Riley unveiled additions to bring his staff to eight, tabbed a receivers coach, Keith Williams, from Tulane.

An official announcement is forthcoming after Williams, 42, spent time Tuesday in Lincoln.



The highlight of the Jay Harbaugh hire came as the head coach’s 25-year-old son revealed that his dad once poured Gatorade on his cereal.

Excuse me, what? Way to set the bar high on your first official day, Jay; we’ll definitely expect more where that came from that in future interviews.

Fact is, Jim Harbaugh could have hired daughters Grace, Addie or Katie, ages 14, 6, and 4, respectively, to fill a spot on this staff, and Michigan fans would have leapt with joy. Such is their level of excitement with Harbaugh, as it should be.

And that’s no knock against Jay, 25, who worked for his uncle, John, the past three seasons as an offensive quality control coach for the Baltimore Ravens. The young Harbaugh looks like a fine pick, especially paired with Jedd Fisch and Tyrone Wheatley on the offensive side and veteran special teams coordinator John Baxter.

If Jay brings a fraction of his father’s enthusiasm, he’ll be a big hit on the recruiting trail.

Back to Jay Harbaugh. It’s interesting that he worked on Riley’s staff at Oregon State as an undergraduate assistant for four years. Not surprising, though, that Jim’s son got his foot in the door with Riley.

The Riley-Harbaugh connections run deep. New Nebraska running backs coach Reggie Davis came to Riley from Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers.

And oh, yes, Harbaugh played on Riley’s San Diego Chargers in 1999 and 2000.

When Nebraska and Michigan meet again in 2018 -- if both coaches last that long and they don’t meet first in a Big Ten title game -- it’s going to feel a little like a family reunion.

Around the rest of the Big Ten:

East Division
West Division
ESPN 300 receiver Van Jefferson is no longer committed to Georgia and the news was definitely disappointing for the Dawgs. So who’s in the driver’s seat now for the one of the best receivers in the country?


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Offseason to-do list: Michigan

January, 20, 2015
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The reality of the offseason is setting in, and we're examining what each Big Ten team must accomplish in the coming months to be ready in early September.

Next up, the Michigan Wolverines under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh.

 1. Manifest man-ball: Harbaugh's philosophy and that of his predecessor, Brady Hoke, aren't dramatically different. Hoke wanted to play physical, punishing football, but for various reasons it never happened. Offensive line play must be the primary focus for Harbaugh and his staff, as they shape a group filled with decorated recruits but one that hasn't scared anyone the past few years. The question marks at quarterback accentuate the need for at least a serviceable rushing attack. Harbaugh will get the players eventually, but how quickly he develops the inherited personnel at offensive line and running back will indicate how quickly Michigan turns things around.

2. Identify a quarterback: Offensive line is Harbaugh’s chief challenge, but quarterback isn’t far behind. The competition under center will be wide open this spring as two-year starter Devin Gardner departs. Junior Shane Morris and senior Russell Bellomy both have some game experience, although they're not particularly memorable. Redshirt freshman Wilton Speight, at 6-foot-6 and 234 pounds, is a very intriguing prospect. Alex Malzone, an early enrollee, also is in the mix. There are no Andrew Lucks walking through the door, but Harbaugh and assistant Jedd Fisch must identify who provides the steadiest hand for Michigan’s offense going forward.

3. Find playmakers on defense: Lost in the malaise of Michigan's 2014 season was a defense that held up fairly well, especially against the run (15th nationally in rush yards allowed per game, 12th in yards per rush allowed). But the Wolverines' defense flew under the radar, in part because it rarely made noticeable plays. Only two FBS teams generated fewer takeaways than Michigan’s 10. New defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin must identify and develop the difference-makers on defense beginning this spring. Cornerback Blake Countess (six interceptions in 2013) has shown the ability before, and cornerback Jabrill Peppers will be in the spotlight after a difficult freshman year. Who emerges at linebacker to replace standout Jake Ryan? Can Michigan find a pass-rusher that strikes fear in opponents? Durkin must address these and other areas in the coming months.
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ESPN 300 tight end Chris Clark is down to Michigan and UCLA as his final two schools, and plans to announce his decision on signing day. The No. 4 ranked tight end only has a few weeks to make up his mind and weigh out the positives and negatives for each school.

There are similarities and differences, pros and cons of each school that stick out to Clark. To help wade through what he could be looking for, here are some of those aspects Clark will consider when making his choice.


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Big Ten morning links

January, 20, 2015
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A week ago, the Big Ten was waking up to a national championship.

1. Defensive end Noah Spence couldn't take part in Ohio State's title run after being declared ineligible from the team because of two failed drug tests. But Spence's college career will continue at FCS Eastern Kentucky, his father told me Monday night. A first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013, Spence had eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss with the Buckeyes. But the first of two failed drug tests sidelined him for the Orange Bowl, and the second effectively ended his Buckeyes career.

The good news: Spence is doing well, according to his father, Greg, and "continues to be open and receptive to all of the guidance that has been provided professionally and non-professionally in regards to those areas of concern." He considered entering the NFL draft and received projections in the third to fifth round, but ultimately elected for one more year at the college level to mature both on and off the field. Greg Spence repeatedly praised Urban Meyer and the Ohio State coaches and athletic department for standing by his son during a trying time.

"He's extremely excited to play football again as well as grateful for another opportunity," Greg Spence said.

Best of luck to Noah Spence at EKU. He's an incredibly talented player. Here's hoping his story takes a positive turn and results in an long NFL career.

2. Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour on Monday night apologized for a recent tweet that characterized the #409 displays worn by Lions teams as "inappropriate and insensitive." Barbour told WBLF-AM radio in State College that the restoration of Joe Paterno's wins total is a moment to celebrate for Penn State fans. She also defended hockey coach Guy Gadowsky, who had been criticized after his team wore 409 decals during Friday's game.

"I don't want him to beat up about this," Barbour told WBLF. "He also got killed by the advocate's side of this, and I think just as we have to understand and be sensitive to the victim side, there also has to be some understanding of why we would celebrate."

Barbour also said Paterno would be honored "over time" but that Penn State would need to be "deliberate" in figuring out the right approach. This is delicate ground for Barbour, who can use her status as an outsider to her advantage in trying to strike the right chord with PSU fans but also project the right image nationally. It's still not an easy task.

3. An early signing period is coming closer to reality as a committee has recommended a 72-hour period in December when prospects can sign with colleges. The early period would begin with the class of 2016, and would coincide with the current signing period for junior-college players. Former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen supported this schedule when we talked in the spring, and it makes sense to give long-committed recruits a chance to make things official.

Still, the more important piece for Big Ten teams -- and the one league coaches should push -- is earlier official visits. A small window in May or June when Big Ten teams could pay for recruits and their families to visit campus would be huge in expanding the league's recruiting reach. The SEC coaches seem united on everything. Why don't the Big Ten coaches stand together and make their voices heard?

Time for the division dish ...

East Division
West Division

And, finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers should invite Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes at every game. It sure worked Monday night.
What a month for the Big Ten.

It began with a better-than-expected result on New Year's Day, typically a gloomy afternoon for the league. Then Ohio State won the national championship, the Big Ten's first crown since the 2002 season. More good news arrived Sunday as the Super Bowl XLIX matchup was set, featuring two quarterbacks from the Big Ten.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a Michigan product, will make his sixth Super Bowl appearance. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who played his final college season at Wisconsin, will attempt to become the first quarterback to win Super Bowls in consecutive seasons since Brady in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

It's the first time two starting quarterbacks who played for Big Ten schools will match up in a Super Bowl.

(This is the point where some grumps yell about how Wisconsin can't claim Wilson. Nice try. He was a very good quarterback at NC State. He became a national awards candidate and an All-American at Wisconsin under the tutelage of Paul Chryst. Wilson always will be a Badger. End of discussion).

Another Big Ten product, Garry Gilliam, figured prominently in Seattle's wild comeback in the NFC title game. The former Penn State tight end, who moved to tackle later in his career, caught a touchdown pass on a fake field-goal attempt, putting the Seahawks on the scoreboard.

Here's a full list of the Big Ten's Super Bowl XLIX connections:

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Active Roster
Injured/Reserve
Coaches
  • Head coach Pete Carroll was an Ohio State assistant in 1979
  • Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell played quarterback at Wisconsin, leading the Badgers to a Big Ten title in 1993 and a Rose Bowl championship
  • Running backs coach Sherman Smith was an Illinois assistant from 1992-94
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Active Roster

*-Did not play in Big Ten, as school joined conference later

Injured/Reserve
Practice Squad
  • Justin Green, cornerback, Illinois
  • Eric Martin, linebacker, Nebraska
Coaches
  • Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1999-2000
  • Tight ends coach Brian Daboll was a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1998-99

Big Ten morning links

January, 19, 2015
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Happy Monday to all, especially those in New England and Seattle. Two Big Ten quarterbacks matching up in Super Bowl XLIX. Good times.

1. Many Penn Staters celebrated Friday as Joe Paterno's wins total was restored to 409 -- most in college football history -- following a settlement in the lawsuit brought by two Pennsylvania state officials against the NCAA. Some current Lions athletes chose to join in, including the men's hockey team, which wore "409" decals on its helmets during Friday's game against Michigan State.

But athletic director Sandy Barbour didn't agree with the public display. When a Twitter follower criticized the "409" decals, Barbour replied that it was "inappropriate and insensitive" and had been corrected. Penn State's men's basketball team had planned to wear "409" T-shirts in warm-ups before Saturday's game against Purdue but did not in the end.

Barbour is in a tough spot, and I see both sides to this. Penn State athletes have the right to free expression. If they want to tweet #409 or celebrate Paterno's restored wins total, that's fine. But for university-sponsored teams to conduct unified displays could offend Jerry Sandusky's victims. There were too many sports metaphors tossed around Friday, by Pennsylvania Sen. Jake Corman and others. The settlement and the wins restoration made sense. The over-the-top celebration did not.

Barbour again took to Twitter again Saturday night, saying she was "thrilled" that the football wins are once again recognized and that Penn State must "continue to use our platform to raise awareness and support for child abuse victims."

2. As expected, Mark Dantonio's assistants received raises after Michigan State recorded its second consecutive top-5 finish. The departure of longtime defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who took the head-coaching job at Pitt, freed up funds to boost salaries for the remaining staff members. Narduzzi had been the Big Ten's highest-paid assistant with a salary of just over $900,000.

Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dave Warner is now MSU's highest-paid assistant at $387,230, and will continue to be the most second-guessed, according to Mike Griffith. Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel, promoted to co-defensive coordinators after Narduzzi left, will each earn $378,230. Those are nice pay bumps, but when you look at what coordinators at elite programs make, Michigan State's staff is a real bargain.

Elsewhere ...

West Division
East Division

And, finally, Flavor Flav rocked the clock at Penn State's basketball game and took a picture with James Franklin. Hype!

Roquan Smith recaps Michigan visit 

January, 18, 2015
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Before the Under Armour All-America game, Michigan wasn't even in the conversation for No. 29-ranked Roquan Smith. The linebacker prospect caught wind that Michigan hired Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin for the same position and immediately added the Wolverines to his list.

Smith quickly scheduled a visit to Ann Arbor and took the official visit this past weekend.

"I enjoyed it; it's more than just football up there and the education is second to none," he said. "It's a great environment and the alumni are all over. It's also a place where you can grow up as a man and player on the field."

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Best of the visits: Big Ten

January, 18, 2015
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We are in the final contact period before signing day, which means official visits are upon us. This weekend was an important one for the Big Ten, as plenty of top targets were on campuses. The visiting prospects took to Twitter and social media to document their trips.

Here is a look at the visits from the eyes of the recruits:

It wouldn’t be a visit weekend without cookie cakes, so to kick this post off properly, Northwestern commit Simba Short shared his cookie cake spread while on his visit to see the Wildcats.


Cookie cakes are the way to any recruit’s commitment.

Michigan State doesn’t have much to fill in the 2015 class, but linebacker Anthony McKee is one prospect the coaches would still like to land. McKee took a visit to see the Spartans this weekend and is slated to make it out to Wisconsin and Minnesota as well.


Maryland only had a few official visitors on campus in commit Adam McLean and Oseh Saine, who committed on his visit this weekend.


Offensive lineman Quarvez Boulware also committed to Maryland this weekend, but he came up on an unofficial visit.

McLean took to Twitter to show off the entertainment side of his visit at a restaurant.


While the Terps gained the most from their visit weekend, there is no denying Michigan had the biggest prospects on campus.

The Wolverines hosted ESPN 300 prospects Roquan Smith and Chris Clark as well as South Carolina commit Damon Arnette and defensive end Shelton Johnson.

Smith is the No. 29-ranked prospect in the country and became immediately interested when Michigan hired defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. The Wolverines vaulted into his top list, and Smith set up this visit to see what Michigan has to offer.


Smith will decide on signing day, and as of right now Michigan will be on his short list for that decision.

The Wolverines are also on the short list for Clark, who was committed at one point. He has UCLA and Michigan in his top two and still has a visit to see the Bruins next weekend before deciding.


The two uncommitted prospects were joined on the visit by a few Michigan commitments, including safety Tyree Kinnel.


The visit was just as important for Kinnel as the uncommitted prospects because Kinnel got a chance to help recruit, but he also got the opportunity to build a relationship with the new coaching staff in person.

Penn State’s big visit weekend won’t be until next weekend, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an exciting weekend for the Nittany Lions. Coach James Franklin posed with Flavor Flav at Penn State's basketball game. Flav later tweeted he has a cousin on Penn State’s basketball team.


Illinois had a good opportunity to get a few 2016 prospects on campus as it waits for a few big 2015 visitors next weekend. Offensive lineman Nik Urban made the trip and tweeted he was too small for his car, a problem most offensive linemen likely have.


Iowa also hosted a 2016 target in running back Toren Young, who took to Twitter to express his feelings on the visit.


Minnesota still has a few big 2015 targets left in this class, and one was on campus this weekend in defensive tackle Jamal Milan. Milan still has a visit to Illinois on Jan. 23 and will make his decision on signing day between the Gophers, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa State.

==To The Airport  for my official visit= at the University of Minnesota ==(=

A photo posted by @bigmanmal on

Michigan has yet to announce its full 10-man coaching staff under new coach Jim Harbaugh, but it’s already clear that the Wolverine sideline will have a professional slant in 2015.

Among the eight hires Michigan has made official so far, including strength and conditioning coach Kevin Tolbert, six of them have experience as an NFL coach. Two others who haven’t been announced but are already on the recruiting trail for the Wolverines (running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley and tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh) also come directly from pro locker rooms.

When the full staff assembles in Ann Arbor, Michigan is expected to have 43 total years of NFL coaching experience. The staff will also have at least three members who played in the league for more than a decade. Their combined backgrounds should create some instant credibility with the current Wolverine players and a hard-to-duplicate advantage during the next few weeks of recruiting.

[+] EnlargeGreg Mattison
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIGreg Mattison is one of several members on Jim Harbaugh's staff with deep NFL experience.
“They can sell that those guys have been there before,” said ESPN recruiting analyst Tom VanHaaren. “They know how to get there, and they can help get those prospects there. That definitely factors in for a lot of kids, especially if it’s a well-known coach.”

Thursday marked the first day that college coaches could visit prospects on the road since Harbaugh was hired in early January. He and his coaches have less than three weeks to fill out a recruiting class that right now has only six committed members, the lowest number of any Power 5 team. VanHaaren said initial reaction from recruits has all been positive and expects that to continue when prospects start to visit campus this weekend.

A lot of that positivity is thanks to name recognition. Harbaugh is in a unique position among NFL coaches who return to the college game because he wasn’t fired from his job with the San Francisco 49ers; he had success there. High school seniors saw him in the Super Bowl two years ago and most still know about the job he did at Stanford before leaving for the NFL.

“Every recruit knew who Jim Harbaugh was. It was a big splash,” VanHaaren said. "When Michigan hired Brady Hoke four years ago, the first strike again Hoke was that no one really knew who he was. That’s not the case this time around.”

Some of Michigan’s coaches have found a way to incorporate their NFL experience into recruiting pitches. Michigan defensive line coach Greg Mattison, for example, often shows recruits highlight film of star players like Terrell Suggs or Ray Lewis from when he worked as the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator. He explains to the recruits that Michigan wants to use them in its defense in some of the same ways. That visualization resonated with many of the players that Mattison has helped bring to Ann Arbor in the last four years.

Recruiting is often seen as a sticking point for coaches jumping from the NFL to the college game. Will they want to put in the energy to court high school kids? Are they adept at evaluating talent so early in the stages of development? Coaching veteran Frank Verducci said that angle is overplayed.

“If you’re personable and you enjoy meeting people that’s half the battle in recruiting,” he said.

Verducci, currently at Northern Iowa, has worked in the NFL, CFL and college football during his 30 years as a coach. In 2009, he joined the Notre Dame staff after more than a decade in the NFL. He said the biggest challenge in returning to recruiting was getting up to speed on the technology kids use to communicate. Most of Michigan’s staff has been away from the college game for less than five years and should have less of a learning curve in setting up their Instagram and Twitter feeds.

Verducci said overall the way you interact with players is a bigger difference between the two jobs than the way you acquire them. He compared to the pro level to more of a democracy and college to a “benevolent dictatorship.”

“You’re much more of a mentor [in college],” he said. “You’re trying to not only show them how to play football, but you’re dealing with everything from freshmen in their first semester away from home to seniors who are getting ready to go into a life and a career without football. You try to mentor and guide those kids much more than a guy in the NFL.”

Ultimately, he said, the same ability to teach, communicate and motivate are what makes a coach successful on any level. An NFL background may give Michigan’s coaches an initial benefit of the doubt among current and prospective players, but they have to continue to earn their credibility like anyone else as time goes on.

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