Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and athletic director Warde Manuel shoot down NFL rumors on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, at Crisler Center.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
It’s silly season.
In college football terms, that phrase qualifies for just about every month throughout the calendar year. But by traditional definition, silly season refers to the November-February (or longer) coaching carousel.
Round and round it goes, where it stops, no one knows. That, and more, in this week’s mailbag.
Q: Is there any fanbase in the country of a (Power 5) team that likes both of its coordinators? — @hooverstreet
A: Love this question. Because it gives me a reason to go back to an old Al Borges quote. Fans were not fond of Borges, Brady Hoke’s first offensive coordinator at Michigan.
But the man could give an answer.
“If I internalized everything a fan said, I’d slit my wrists,” Borges said in November 2013, two months before being fired. “I’ve done this a long time, I promise you, other places I’ve been my first name’s been a cuss word.”
This is the life of a coordinator at a big-time school. There are times they receive too much credit. There are times they receive too much blame. They also make a lot of money and are quite visible.
At Michigan, defensive coordinator Don Brown runs the defense unquestioned. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t meddle. Offensively, Harbaugh is still — more or less — his own offensive coordinator, though passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton is Harbaugh’s highest-paid assistant. And with co-offensive coordinator Tim Drevno gone, he’s the assistant that gets most of the heat.
The “offensive/defensive coordinator should be fired” take is easily the most popular thing that enters my email inbox or Twitter mentions column. Not even close. It has been that way forever.
Q: While acknowledging that NFL staffing changes may change things, do you expect any additional staff changes after the bowl game? — @jimmyshi03
A: The aforementioned question leads into this one because it’s coaching-carousel season. Michigan already has one staff opening with Jim McElwain’s departure. History tells us there may be more, as Harbaugh has now had nine assistants (not counting Dan Enos) leave here in four seasons.
Hamilton interviewed at Maryland and is clearly interested in being a head coach. Hamilton’s also been in the NFL before, so it’s possible he could look at openings there once that carousel starts spinning. Or, Harbaugh could keep him.
Michigan’s pass offense needs some juice. There’s no other way around it. Hamilton is one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in America. If he stays through January, his retention bonus will put him up to $1.45 million for this season. He has signed through the end of the 2020 season, and his base pay will be $1 million next year (with another possible $250,000 retention bonus) and $1.25 million in 2020-21. So, in short: He’s making a fortune.
Harbaugh made a change last season when he put Ed Warinner in charge of his offensive line in place of Tim Drevno, who was making seven figures. Time will tell how all this shakes out.
Don Brown reportedly interviewed at Temple this week. His situation is different. He’s obviously at least somewhat interested in running his own program, depending on the situation, or he wouldn’t have gone through that process. Does this mean he’d take any head coach job that comes his way? Probably not. Temple is close to his home area of New England. Temple clearly wanted a defensive coach. Perhaps that would’ve fit.
And while some fans are quick to thrash Brown for his defense’s collapse at Ohio State (and make no mistake, it was a collapse), the reality is that he’s a coach in demand. Michigan may have to up his salary this cycle (he’s scheduled to make $1.3 million this season). Because there are other wealthy Power 5 schools who would make it worth his while to come fix their defense, if that’s something he’s interested in doing.
Warinner will likely need a raise during this cycle, and perhaps a new title. He made $525,000 this year. There are programs out there who would pay more than that given his ability to reshape offensive lines.
Q: Why do u think there is now a trend to not play in the bowl game? Have bowl games lost prestige? Or are players no longer of the belief that bowl games are not part of season? — @heartsnmichigan
A: Yes, bowl games have lost prestige. A lot of prestige.
When the College Football Playoff arrived, the sport entered an all-or-nothing territory it hadn’t seen yet. In college basketball, the NCAA Tournament is still seen as an achievement for a ton of programs. Just making it, unless you’re one of the few bluebloods nationally, is still a noted achievement.
Now? If you’re at a big-time Power 5 program that spends money to compete nationally and you don’t make the playoff, you’re in consolation territory. If there’s a real title on the line — be it national or in conference — you’ll see guys doing all they can to capture that.
But bowl championships aren’t viewed the same as they once were. There are 39 (39!) bowl games, folks, plus the national championship. The threshold of being eligible to play in one of these is a .500 season. If you’re an NFL draft prospect and you’re faced with competing in one of these non-championship games or preparing for the most important job interview of your life, it might be tough to focus on the bowl game.
How’s it fixed? Not sure that happens. Maybe get rid of, say, half of those bowls (or more) and at least pretend they exist for something other than TV revenue these players can’t share.
Q: Odds the basketball team gets to 16-0? — @SpencerWhit
A: For those scoring at home, 16-0 is the program record. Shared by both the 1986 and 2013 teams. Michigan’s at 10-0 with upcoming non-conference home games vs. Western Michigan, Air Force and Binghamton.
When U-M re-enters Big Ten play in January, it’ll start with home games against Penn State and Indiana before traveling to Illinois. Win those six and Michigan’s 16-0. Game 17 would be home vs. Northwestern.
Indiana at home seems to be the toughest matchup. But Michigan’s going to be favored in every one of those games. If I had to pick today, I’d say Michigan starts the year 17-0 before traveling to Wisconsin on Jan. 19.
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.