As Michigan’s search for its next head coach reaches two weeks and counting, the end result remains a guessing game. Here we take a look at some of the names (in alphabetical order) most frequently mentioned during the search and lay out the arguments for why they will or won’t end up in Ann Arbor.
Jim Harbaugh – San Francisco 49ers
The Case For: Harbaugh remains the slam-dunk hire for Michigan. He transformed Stanford from a program that had not had a winning season in five years before he arrived to an Orange Bowl winner when he left for the NFL. Harbaugh’s stay in San Francisco will likely come to an end this year, making it a good time for him to return to his alma mater.
The Case Against: The ultra-competitive Harbaugh may not want to leave the NFL on a bad note. Many NFL insiders, including ESPN’s Adam Schefter, previously said they expect Harbaugh will remain at the pro level. Michigan has been patient so far, but it would have to wait two more weeks for the 49ers to finish their season before trying to sign Harbaugh. That puts the Wolverines in a bad spot while trying to build a recruiting class that is down to only six committed prospects.
Les Miles – LSU Tigers
The Case For: Miles has been mentioned as a candidate in each of Michigan’s last three coaching searches. He played for the Wolverines during the same era as interim athletic director Jim Hackett. He’s another native son who would excite fans because of a resume that includes two SEC titles and a national championship.
The Case Against: Miles told LSU beat reporters Monday night that he didn’t want to be quoted directly about the Michigan opening, but that he wasn’t considering leaving for Ann Arbor. He said neither he nor his agent has talked to the Wolverines. If Miles were to reverse course it wouldn’t be the first time a coach took a job after saying he wouldn't, but reports out of Baton Rouge are that he was adamant he wasn’t considering it.
Jim Mora – UCLA Bruins
The Case For: Mora’s early success in recruiting has helped UCLA become a force in the Pac-12 South during his three seasons as a college head coach. He spent the first quarter century of his coaching career in the NFL before taking three years off and eventually landing with the Bruins. He’s a strong second-tier option if Michigan can’t land its top choice.
The Case Against: Mora, a father of four, was happy enough keeping his family on the West Coast last year when he was reportedly offered a job at Texas. There’s nothing to indicate he would be any more swayed to leave behind what he’s building in Los Angeles to come to Michigan. His contract with UCLA extends through 2019 and his assistants would be shocked if he left now.
Dan Mullen – Mississippi State Bulldogs
The Case For: Mullen became one of the coaching world’s rising stars this season while leading Mississippi State to the No. 1 ranking and holding it until November. The former Urban Meyer assistant previously coached in the Midwest as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame and a quarterbacks coach at Bowling Green.
The Case Against: Mississippi State is working this month to extend Mullen’s contract in Starkville and keep him around. Athletic director Scott Stricklin said on Dec. 8 that he was optimistic that the two sides would reach a deal. Mullen told The Clarion Ledger he had not been in contact with Michigan as of Tuesday morning. He also said in October that he hopes to have shoveled his last driveway.
Sean Payton – New Orleans Saints
The Case For: It was a surprise when Payton’s name was one of many tossed out as possible candidates during the first two weeks of the search. He is a Midwest native who coached as an assistant in Big Ten for one season (Illinois) before moving to the NFL in 1997. He’s had a lot of success in nine seasons with the Saints, including winning Super Bowl XLIV, but is in the middle of his first losing season since 2007.
The Case Against: Payton’s salary is reportedly in the $8 million range, which would be almost impossible to match on the college level, even for a school like Michigan. He has spent almost two decades in the NFL and told reporters he has no plans to leave New Orleans.
Greg Schiano – Free Agent
The Case For: If Michigan is looking for a tough disciplinarian, Schiano fits that bill. He is largely responsible for building Rutgers’ program from a laughingstock to a top-10 team in his decade there. He has spent the past year traveling the country to hone his coaching philosophy and prepare for his next job.
The Case Against: Schiano struggled at his most recent job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where players complained he was too much of a micromanager. His year away from the game makes him a harder sell to Michigan fans who are hoping for a big name to join the program.
Bob Stoops – Oklahoma Sooners
The Case For: Stoops provides that big name after 15 seasons at Oklahoma. He has won 168 games, a national championship and multiple national coach of the year awards. The Sooners have grown stagnant in recent years, which leads some to believe that Stoops and Oklahoma would both be better off with a fresh start.
The Case Against: Stoops has a good relationship with the university leadership at Oklahoma and one of the largest annual salaries in college football. The Youngstown, Ohio, native has no problem recruiting talented players to Norman and it’s unclear if he would be interested in taking on a perceived fixer-upper like Michigan.