Should Michigan find itself in a position where it needs to execute a search to replace Jim Harbaugh, the school intends to cast a wide net. Well, that’s assuming it ultimately needs to replace Jim Harbaugh. Perhaps, though, that net will need not extend much further than then end of Schembechler Hall.
Who are we kidding? If Harbaugh heads to the NFL — given his numerous interviews, it appears as if that might be an inevitability — there is one name clearly atop a list of potential replacements: offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore. In his sixth season at Michigan, Moore was already a rising star before he took over as acting coach for four games this past season, including wins over Ohio State and Penn State.
When given a chance to showcase his leadership skills — at least on game day — Moore made a huge difference in Michigan’s national championship season. He knows the culture, the roster, and really, the future in Ann Arbour.
The world got to know Moore more personally after his emotional postgame interview on Fox after the Penn State win.
“I don’t really care about what other people say about it,” Moore said in December. “I made sure I talked to my mom about it, and that’s what really mattered.”
What mattered more that day was Moore calling for 32 straight runs for the Wolverines in that game, which wore down the Nittany Lions defense. He was in charge during a fourth-quarter rally against Alabama in the Rose Bowl semifinal that saved Michigan’s season and led it to the College Football Playoff National Championship.
While the offensive production dipped overall this season, how do you argue with back-to-back Joe Moore Awards (best offensive line) in 2021 and 2022? In 2023, Moore’s unit was incredibly efficient, committing only eight turnovers in 924 offensive snaps. Only two teams were better.
This feels like Moore’s time, and being an in-house candidate, Michigan could move quickly to name him Harbaugh’s replacement. So, yes, he is far and away the top choice for the maize & blue.
Further enhancing Moore’s chances? Coaches who would have otherwise been high on this list are off the board entirely after landing new gigs: Kalen DeBoer (Washington to Alabama) and Jonathan Smith (Oregon State to Michigan State).
Sherrone Moore, Michigan offensive coordinator: The year couldn’t have gone better for the 37-year-old from Derby, Kansas. (At least if you forget that Moore was suspended by Michigan for one game amid his role in the ongoing investigation regarding alleged recruiting violations.) Let’s face it, most everyone has forgotten that dalliance. Moore was 4-0 as an acting coach (even if the school actually credited the last three regular-season wins to Harbaugh). He was the strategist behind a punishing running game that produced a school-record 56 career rushing touchdowns by Blake Corum. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy developed into a top NFL Draft choice. And the fourth-and-2 call against Alabama in the Rose Bowl should be worthy of a painting. The only downside is Moore has no experience running a behemoth, but he’s earned his shot.
Brian Kelly, LSU coach: Kelly hit the jackpot when he went from Notre Dame to LSU. Think of Michigan having a bigger jackpot. Michigan obviously has the resources to attract Kelly after offering Harbaugh a reported $11.5 million per year. You shouldn’t have to be reminded Kelly has been to a BCS Championship Game and College Football Playoff. He just got done coaching a Heisman Trophy winner in Jayden Daniels. LSU would be upset, but so what? We live in an age of job hopping.
Lance Leipold, Kansas coach: Leipold couldn’t be any hotter heading into his fourth season with the Jayhawks. His name has come up for just about every major job that has opened over the last couple of seasons. Sources told CBS Sports that Leipold interviewed at Washington. A lot would need to happen for the job to fall to Leipold, but the program would be in great hands with a coach who will have Kansas in the running for a CFP spot in the 12-team playoff coming out of the Big 12.
Jesse Minter, Michigan defensive coordinator: Twice Harbaugh has hired Baltimore Ravens assistant coaches from his brother John. Minter is the latest to work out. Jim plucked Mike Macdonald from the Ravens (where he was linebackers coach) to call plays for the first time in 2021. The No. 8 scoring defense led by Macdonald was the backbone of Michigan’s first CFP team. Macdonald is now the Ravens defensive boss, perhaps headed to the Super Bowl, and just interviewed for the Chargers job (just like Jim!). Minter followed a similar path coming to Michigan in 2022 after having spent four years with the Ravens. This year’s Michigan D was arguably the best in school history, allowing the second-fewest points per game (10.4) since 2011.
Matt Campbell, Iowa State coach: Campbell’s star has dimmed — 18-20 in the last three seasons with the Cyclones — but he was in the mix at Washington indicating his enduring desirability. His accomplishments with the Cyclones and nearby Toledo still resonate. Without the quirkiness, Campbell would resemble a younger Harbaugh.
Other names to consider: Chris Kleiman, Kansas State coach; Mike Hart, Michigan running backs coach; Todd Monken, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator