For nearly four decades Michigan football fans spent their time basking in the penthouse. The Wolverine faithful enjoyed countless Big Ten championships, 33-straight bowl-game appearances and a swagger even the Buckeyes couldn’t match.
Today, the program is in disarray, struggling for a single victory to merely become bowl eligible.
While improving offense has scored enough points, it's been totally overshadowed by perhaps the worst defense in Michigan’s proud history.
Sure there have been plenty of excuses. The team has been crippled by injuries, plagued by academic casualties and divided by questionable coaching.
Consensus says that Greg Robinson should be replaced as defensive coordinator. Some say Rich Rodriguez shouldn’t be far behind, while others favor allowing him to complete the final year of his contract.
The 2011 season should see the offense practically intact. And the defense will have another year’s experience.
Michigan did get a break Thursday, as the NCAA finally completed a 14-month investigation into the football team's misuse of practice time. The NCAA placed Michigan on three years probation, affirmed the self-imposed reduction in practice time and ordered Rodriguez to attend a rule's seminar. Rodriguez also faces a public scolding and censure.
Basically, Michigan received a slap on the wrist, but nothing really changes in Rodriguez's job situation. The failure to win another game certainly will. Just in case the worst happens, we’ve recently completed a nationwide search for his immediate successor.
Everyone knows the top two candidates—Les Miles and Jim Harbaugh. We’d like you to follow along while we introduce another eight. I’m sure you’ll find a few surprises.
Trgovac was a highly-effective middle guard for Bo Schembechler from 1977-80, starting the final three years and earning all-American honors his senior year. He’s had extensive college and pro coaching experience beginning at Michigan as a graduate assistant in 1984 and 1985.
Before moving on to the NFL, Trgovac had stops at Navy and Notre Dame. He then joined the Carolina Panthers in 2002 before coaching the DL at Philadelphia, Green Bay and Washington.
Trgovac served as defensive coordinator for the Panthers from 2003-2008. After winning the NFC South with a 12-4 record in 2008, Carolina was spanked 33-13 by Arizona. Trgovac took a disproportionate amount of blame and bolted to the Green Bay Packers. He would bring defensive discipline to the Wolverines, which has been missing for a long time.
9. Al Golden, 41, HC, Temple Owls
Before taking over the struggling program at Temple in 2006, Golden served as defensive coordinator at Virginia from 2001-2005. Golden’s initial Temple team won only once, but his following teams won four, five and nine times, going to a bowl game in 2009.
In the EagleBank Bowl, Temple played UCLA tough for three quarters before falling 30-21.
Golden has continued the good work this season, as Temple is 7-2 and tied for first in the MAC East.
Considered a defensive wizard, Golden improved Virginia’s defense every year, allowing just 17.7 points per game in 2005. Golden also served as Joe Paterno’s recruiting coordinator in 2000. Despite his young age, Golden has been a head coaching candidate at UCLA, Cincinnati and Tennessee.
8. Gus Malzahn, 45, OC, Auburn Tigers
Malzahn handled the offensive coordinator chores at Arkansas and Tulsa before joining Auburn a season ago. After struggling in 2009, the Tigers jumped out of the gate 9-0 this season and are currently ranked second in the nation.
Under Malzahn, the Tigers run a no-huddle spread option very similar to Michigan’s. Denard Robinson wouldn’t miss a beat. Of course, hiring someone away from a national championship contender would be difficult, but not impossible.
Malzahn also has recruiting ties to the fertile South, where many of Michigan’s current players are from. The pipeline would continue.
7. Mike Bellotti, 59, ESPN (Oregon)
It wasn’t that long ago that Mike Bellotti’s Oregon Ducks refused to be outdone by Appalachian State. Michigan might have been bruised by the upset loss to the Mountaineers, but it was crushed by Oregon 39-7 the following week. That 2007 squad might have been Oregon’s best, until QB Dennis Dixon was injured and Oregon faltered down the stretch.
Bellotti, who ran a familiar offense, was the head coach at Oregon from 1995-2008. He compiled a commendable 116-55 record and was a Michigan-like 6-6 in bowl games.
After he retired in 2008, he tried the athletic director thing for awhile before jumping into the TV booth, most likely looking for another coaching job.
6. Rod Broadway, Grambling State College
Broadway played on the defensive line for North Carolina before earning ACC honors in 1977. He enjoyed the assistant’s role for 22 years at such stops as East Carolina, Duke and Florida before reviving North Carolina Central’s program beginning in 2003.
Before moving on to Grambling, Broadway led Central to a pair of CIAA titles while accumulating a 33-11 record.
Grambling, of course, is known as the home of the late Eddie Robinson, who put the school on the national map by posting 408 victories in a long and fruitful career. More than 200 of his players saw action in the National Football League.
Broadway has started his own trophy case, winning both the SWAC and BCC championships in his second season.
While a hire from a small school like Grambling might be considered unconventional, we’d be getting a solid football coach.
5. Greg Mattison, 60, DC, Baltimore Ravens
Mattison, who replaced Mike Trgovac at Baltimore in 2009, also coached at Michigan from 1992-96 and held the DC position in 1995-96.
He was also a recent co-DC at Florida before moving on to the Ravens.
The Ravens have always been defensively oriented. This years squad is tied with Pittsburgh at 5-2 in the AFC North. The Ravens have allowed just 18.4 points per game.
4. Chuck Heater, 55, co-DC, Florida Gators
Heater was a star tailback for Bo Schembechler from 1972-74. He gained 1,995 yards and had a superb per-carry average of 4.9. Best of all, his teams had a record of 31-3-1 and shared the Big Ten title all three seasons.
Heater’s distinguished coaching career has spanned 34 seasons. He’s been a respected defensive coach in addition to being an effective recruiting coordinator.
His recruiting efforts have been appreciated at Colorado, Washington, Utah and Florida. Heater attracted three top-15 recruits at Washington while having a pair of No. 2 groups at Florida (2006, 2007).
Talk about loyalty: Bud Foster has been coaching defense for Frank Beamer for 30 years. First he joined Beamer at Murray State in 1981, then moved on to Virginia Tech in 1987.
It wasn’t until recently that Foster began to look at other possibilities. In 2007, Foster glanced at West Virginia when Rodriguez came to Michigan, then looked at Clemson a year later. He also pursued jobs at Virginia, North Carolina State and Illinois.
Each time, he scurried back to the safety of Blacksburg. One of these days he’ll actually take a risk.
2. Les Miles, 57, HC, LSU
Michigan AD Dave Brandon would have to do quite a sales job to get either Les Miles or Jim Harbaugh interested again in Michigan. Both had run-ins with the Michigan hierarchy.
When Lloyd Carr resigned from Michigan at the conclusion of the 2007 season, it was understood that Miles was one of the leading candidates. It appeared that Miles and Michigan AD Bill Martin were playing a cat-and-mouse game, with Martin spending time on his sailboat just days after Carr’s resignation. At the same time, Miles was preparing his LSU team for the SEC championship game.
It all came to a head the morning of the game when ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit announced on College GameDay that Miles accepted the job.
The LSU family was shocked but Miles stood his ground and denied everything: “There was some misinformation on ESPN and I think it’s imperative that I straighten it out," Miles said.
"I am the head coach at LSU. I will be the head coach at LSU. I have no interest in talking to anybody else. I’ve got a championship game to play, and I am excited about the opportunity of my damn strong football team to play in it. That’s really all I’d like to say.”
1. Jim Harbaugh, 47, HC, Stanford
Meanwhile, it was Harbaugh's turn to stir the Kool-Aid nine months earlier. He argued that a school with the standards of Michigan accepts too many players who are borderline academically.
"They're adulated when they're playing," Harbaugh said. "But when they get out, the people who adulated them won't hire them."
Coach Carr was miffed, saying that he felt Harbaugh's statements were "elitist," "arrogant" and "self-serving."
Needless to say, the next few years at Michigan will be interesting to say the least.
Still in the Running
Greg Schiano, Rutgers; Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech; Bill Cowher; Paul Petrino, Illinois; Brady Hoke, San Diego State; Jim Haslett, Redskins; Cam Cameron, Ravens; Brian Schottenheimer, Jets; Corwin Brown, Patriots.