Michigan’s first, second and third order of business should be to gas up the private jet, table its fear of being rejected (again), and fly down to Louisiana to convince Les Miles—a Michigan man, eater of grass and overall unparalleled teacher of football—that he is the perfect candidate (at the perfect time) for the now-vacant position in Ann Arbor.
At the very worst, they Wolverines’ brass will enjoy some fabulous Cajun cuisine during the trip. And if this particular recruiting mission goes better than it did in 2010—the last time the Wolverines tried to lure Miles away from his Baton Rouge home—Michigan could finally find the stable ground it has so desperately been seeking.
Such stability was never attained under the leadership of Brady Hoke, who was relieved of his head coaching duties Tuesday. This offseason’s most expected coaching change came a few days later than many anticipated, but the change was inevitable.
University of Michigan interim director of athletics Jim Hackett announced the news at a press conference and in a statement:
I met with Coach Hoke today and informed him of my decision to make a change in the leadership of our football program. This was not an easy decision given the level of respect that I have for Brady. He has done a great job of molding these young men, making them accountable to their teammates, focusing them on success in the classroom and in the community. I wanted to make sure that Brady received adequate time to exhibit the results that would come from his effort and I believe that Brady and our coaching staff had enough time to produce those results and unfortunately they are not there. In the end, I feel that moving in a different direction is the right decision. I wish Brady and his family all the best in the future.
After debuting in 2011 with an 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech, Hoke never won more than eight games in a season over the next three years. Despite delivering a string of quality recruiting classes and seemingly upping the Wolverines' talent level during his tenure, the results—outside of his first year—never followed.
Even more concerning was that the overall state of the program seemed to worsen under his guidance, especially over the past two years. And on the day former Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year for his breathtaking turnaround at Arizona, the Wolverines—for the third time in a decade—have decided to reboot once more.
It comes at a time when Michigan’s football program is at a crossroads. It is still widely viewed as an elite job—as it should be—although the shine on the program has worn off. As a result, you could argue that this is the most important hire the program has ever had to make, especially if it hopes to hang onto its elite status.
That’s where Miles comes in. It’s why Michigan should fly down to his home in Baton Rouge, blank check in hand, and convince the coach that now is the right time to make this move, a move many have linked the head coach to for some time.
To put Miles’ greatness into context, let’s first start with a number: 18.
That’s the number of games the head coach of LSU has won over the past two seasons. This also just so happens to be the number of Tigers underclassmen who have declared early for the NFL draft over the past two years. No other school comes close to matching these early departures, and yet, Miles has done what he does better than just about anyone: recruit and develop.
Bigger than any connection to the program—and we’ll get to that—is Miles’ uncanny ability to attract marquee talent and then get the most out of it when it arrives. This, in many ways, has served as the origin of Michigan’s recent football failures. And there is no better realistic remedy than Miles, who has expressed interest in the position before.
There’s good reason for this. Miles played at Michigan, coached at Michigan (twice) and studied under the great Bo Schembechler. The 61-year-old is a "Michigan Man" in every sense, which has historically been a critical part of the hiring process time and again.
To add a little more fuel to the speculation fire, Miles passed along his praise and admiration for the Wolverines this past weekend as they readied for Ohio State. Oh, you poor message board servers.
Geaux Blue!!.... Beat em in the Horseshoe!!!— Les Miles (@LSUCoachMiles) November 29, 2014
Temper your conspiracy theory connections. While the timing of his social media drop-in was certainly interesting, it’s unreasonable to draw much from his latest Michigan cameo. Miles has never masked his love for the program, so there’s no reason he should start now.
Whether the two can somehow find common ground when it comes to filling the position is another hurdle—and a major one at that—entirely. Scott Roussel of Footballscoop.com, an invaluable resource this time of year, recently touched on this connection:
It is our understanding from sources at Michigan that there is significant disagreement within the building in Ann Arbor regarding the potential candidacy of Les Miles. Hackett very much considers Les a friend and a candidate he would like to pursue. Others in the department do not believe this is in the best interests of Michigan and fear that Les would publicly acknowledge their interest but ultimately choose to remain at LSU, giving the Michigan search a very public black eye.
This is not a time to worry about striking out. This is also not the time for emotion to get in the way of savvy business, if these matters are poised to get in the way of a reunion.
There’s much more that goes into it, of course, including the most important aspect of any coaching search: money.
Miles, in his present position, makes plenty of it. According to USA Today, Miles took home $4.3 million in total compensation in 2014, putting him at No. 7 in the nation and No. 3 in the SEC. Michigan certainly has the financial means to offer a salary north of this, and it absolutely should.
We’ve been down this path before—back in 2010, when Miles and Michigan flirted briefly—and it didn’t work out. That might be the case four years later, although Michigan, at the very least, needs to kick the tires.
Miles might simply decide he doesn’t want to leave his new home for his old home. Or perhaps the next batch of talented players currently on the roster—players like star freshman tailback Leonard Fournette—will be too enticing to walk away from. Or maybe he’ll turn this opportunity into another nice raise at his current school.
Regardless of the circumstances, Hackett should focus his search on one person, at least to start. Forget about the Harbaugh brothers, who have become a media-driven dream more than anything else. Forget about everyone else for that matter. Miles should be Option A, B and C.
"I want to get rid of the term 'Michigan Man,'" Hackett said at his press conference on Tuesday.
If that is indeed the case, college football’s wackiest uncle—along with one of its finest leaders and developers of talents—should fit just fine. And he’s only a phone call or chartered jet away.