Reactions from Michigan recruits were mostly positive after offensive coordinator Al Borges was replaced by former Alabama OC Doug Nussmeier on Jan. 9.
Running back Damien Harris, however, was reportedly less than thrilled with the change, according to
Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com. The recruitment of ESPN's top-rated 2015 back had been done primarily by Borges, who was on the same Auburn staff as Harris' high school coach, Jon Clark, back in 2007.
Man..... I can't believe this about Coach Borges.— Damien Harris (@Damien_D1Harris) January 8, 2014
Nussmeier, knowing how important Harris' commitment is to Michigan's 2015 class, traveled to Berea, Ky. to meet with Harris personally in an attempt to assuage his displeasure. Despite spending time with both Harris and Clark, Harris has now joined fellow 2015 5-star George Campbell as the second noteworthy prospect to decommit from Michigan in the last five weeks.
So what does Harris' decommitment mean for Hoke and the Wolverines staff?
Replacing Borges was the right decision after the Michigan offense had been wildly inconsistent and failed to find an identity in 2013. The national media has already anointed Nussmeier as a stellar replacement, but making a coaching change is rarely without consequence.
While things like Michigan's tradition and facilities are important to recruiting efforts, a prospect's decision typically comes down to personal relationships. Borges was never highly lauded for his recruiting acumen, but Harris' decommitment highlights the importance of continuity on a coaching staff.
Do you remember when Jabrill Peppers said that he'd likely take additional recruiting visits because of rumors surrounding Hoke's job security? Well, Peppers' primary relationship at Michigan is with Hoke, while Harris' was with Borges. It wasn't a coincidence that athletic director Dave Brandon reaffirmed his commitment to Hoke just one day after Peppers made those comments.
It's understandable that he'd want to take a step back at this juncture, and the Wolverines are fortunate that they're still in the driver's seat for his commitment. Harris' mother Lynn reiterated that, telling ESPN's Tom VanHaaren (subscription required) that “Michigan is still his [Harris'] No. 1 school of interest.”
Signing a Running Back in This Year's Class Is a Must
For months, it seemed as if Hoke wasn't all that concerned with adding a running back to his 2014 class. That's no longer the case, as the Michigan staff has begun to pursue 4-star Minnesota-commit Jeff Jones and undeclared 4-star Marlon Mack. Both Mack and Jones, who are medium-sized backs with gaudy high school numbers, were offered by Michigan in Jan. 2014.
From a physical perspective, both Mack and Jones are commodities in college football. However, scouts have praised their vision between the tackles and they're both the downhill type of runners that Hoke tends to favor.
After Harris' decommitment, landing at least one of these backs has to become a major priority for Hoke. The Wolverines have strong talent at running back in freshmen Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith, but it's important for the Wolverines to build depth at this position in Hoke's pro-style offense. Now that Harris' future is uncertain, the Wolverines no longer have a committed back in their 2014 or 2015 classes.
Continue to Build a Relationship with Harris, and Keep the Fans Out of the Recruiting Process
Nussmeier's trip to Kentucky, which was his first as a member of the Wolverines staff, surely made an impact on Harris. Nussmeier and Hoke will now have to build new relationships with Harris after Borges' departure, but the two have both proven more than capable of doing this in the past.
Harris is the type of prospect who has the potential to breathe life into the Wolverines backfield in 2015. But, as Clark warns, landing Harris will take the cooperation of Michigan fans as well.
After Harris' decommitment was announced, Wolverines fans reportedly attacked the 16-year-old's decision. Clark said to ESPN's Tom VanHaaran (subscription required), “You have grown men who are way out of line [on Twitter], and Michigan fans better ease up or they're going to push him away from Michigan. The coaches aren't; the fans are."
Twitter and the age of social media gives fans unprecedented access to players at all levels of the game. It gives fans the chance to get to know athletes off the field and develop what to them feels like a personal connection. Although tweeting at prospects is considered an NCAA violation, most fans don't do so with malicious intent.
But there's no question that disparaging a 16-year-old who's trying to make the right choice regarding where to attend college and play football isn't okay. A few Michigan fans berated No. 6 overall recruit De'Shawn Hand in a similar fashion after he unexpectedly chose Alabama on Nov. 14.
@TheHand54 so much for academics right? I actually took your statement seriously. Just another athlete..— Vollmer, MD (@ajvollmer) November 14, 2013
Michigan certainly isn't the only school with a handful of overzealous fans, but these attacks via social media certainly don't help its recruiting efforts. Interest in recruiting has skyrocketed in the past decade, and that interest along with elevated access may prove to be a pernicious combination for the Wolverines.
Harris will continue to be a major priority for the Michigan coaching staff until national signing day in 2015. He's simply too talented to neglect. The good news for the Wolverines is that they're still in a strong position to land him, and Nussmeier's visit is a good start.
While Harris' decommitment is a tough break for Hoke, landing either Mack or Jones in the near term would soften the blow.