Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh is weighing an NFL return for the third consecutive year. Facing an increasing likelihood and a buzz surrounding Michigan coaching candidates in 2024, it’s time to evaluate top options to replace Harbaugh as the Wolverines head coach.
Everyone knew this day was coming with Harbaugh. He’s long said he has unfinished business in the NFL, wanting to win a Super Bowl. It always came down to the right opportunity and with the number of NFL coaches fired, it appears inevitable that Harbaugh will leave the Wolverines’ football program behind.
Let’s dive into our Michigan coaching candidates in 2024 if Jim Harbaugh leaves for the NFL.
Michigan coaching candidates 2024
Sherrone Moore, Michigan Wolverines offensive coordinator
One of the best decisions Harbaugh made as Michigan’s head coach was targeting coordinators and play-callers who would bring NFL concepts into the program. It’s one of the biggest reasons why the Wolverines have been so successful both defensively and offensively this season. While offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore doesn’t have NFL experience, the former offensive lineman has done wonders with this offense.
Related: NFL coaching candidates 2024
- Michigan Wolverines offense 2023: 36 points per game (12th), 6.0 yards per play (34th), 44.8% third-down conversion rate (22nd), 4.1 red-zone scoring attempts per game (34th)
Moore, who only turns 38 in February, joined the Wolverines’ coaching staff in 2018 as tight ends coach (2018-’20) before being promoted to co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Under Moore, Michigan has had one of the best offensive lines in the nation.
Mmore’s play-calling not only frustrated Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban in the Rose Bowl, it caused fits for Alabama’s defenders and in-game adjustments didn’t work. The best offensive minds find ways to get the most creative and adapt in critical games. Moore did that and he’s stepped up as a leader for the Wolverines’ football program during hard times this season. Moore should be the front-runner to replace Jim Harbaugh.
Jesse Minter, Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator
If Harbaugh leaves for the NFL, he’ll attempt to take both coordinators with him. In that scenario, the Wolverines’ athletic department will have to make a choice. There’s no bad pick, although Moore might be favored, but defensive coordinator Jesse Minter is just as qualified to be the next Michigan football coach.
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The Wolverines would also love to bring back Mike Macdonald, who was the predecessor to Minter. However, the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator will likely. be brought on as a head coach during the NFL’s hiring cycle. With that name off the board, Minter is the most compelling option.
Minter, 41 in May, brings both NFL and collegiate experience. He coached defensive backs in Baltimore from 2017-’20, a tool in his arsenal that he can use in recruiting. Minter can entice top defensive players in the transfer portal or coming out of high school to come to Michigan, pointing to his NFL experience as one of the many reasons to join the Wolverines. Maintain an elite defense with one of the highest-paid coaching staff in college football and you can still have a perennial playoff contender if Harbaugh leaves.
Lance Leipold, Kansas Jayhawks head coach
Minter and Moore should be the leading Michigan coaching candidates in 2024. However, expectations, experience and public image matter. Promoting either coordinator to head coach means the Wolverines, fresh off reaching the national championship game, would be turning over the program to a first-year head coach and that can backfire for premier Power 5 programs.
Kansas Jayhawks head coach Lance Leipold wins everywhere. He began his head-coaching career at Wisconsin-Whitewater (2007-’14), winning six NCAA Division III championships. The former quarterback showed enough for Kansas to entrust him with digging its football program out from the bottom after a 3-18 stretch with Les Miles. After going 2-10 in his first year cleaning out the program, the Jayhawks are 15-11 since, coming off a nine-win season with a victory in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
- Kansas Jayhawks offense 2023: 33.7 points per game (18th), 7.0 yards per play (3rd), 47.76% third-down conversion rate (12th), 0.532 points per play (12th)
Leipold’s mind is also worthy of taking over Michigan’s offense. While he doesn’t have Big Ten ties and making the jump to Michigan would be significant, Leipold has already proven to be one of the 12 best coaches in college football and that’s without a lot of talent at his disposal.
Brian Kelly, LSU Tigers
With two of our top Michigan coaching candidates hired – Jedd Fisch and Kalen DeBoer – LSU Tigers coach Brian Kelly is the next viable option for the Wolverines. Replicating Harbaugh’s championship success will be difficult, but Kelly will regularly deliver seasons with double-digit wins.
- Brian Kelly coaching record: 186-69 overall (.729), 9-6 in bowl games
Kelly made some mistakes with his LSU Tigers defensive coaching staff in 223 and it’s probably the biggest reason why they didn’t challenge for a College Football Playoff spot this year. However, he’s corrected the mistake with LSU investing in one of the highest-paid and brightest defensive staffs in the country.
He could do the same thing for Michigan and the Wolverines have already demonstrated in recent years how seriously they take building a defense. Plus, Kelly has seven consecutive seasons with 10-plus wins and Michigan could finally be the place where he gets over the top and wins a national championship.