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Michigan Wolverines coaching candidates 2023: 10 best targets if Jim Harbaugh leaves

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh is eyeing an NFL return for the second consecutive offseason. As the Wolverines once again stare down the possibility of losing their leader, it’s time to start evaluating Michigan coaching candidates.

This is familiar territory for this athletic department. Harbaugh flirted with NFL teams during the 2022 offseason, emerging as a finalist for the Minnesota Vikings head-coaching vacancy. Ultimately, Minnesota went in another direction and Harbaugh landed a contract extension.

After Michigan made Harbaugh one of the highest-paid coaches in college football, he stated the 2022 pursuit would be the last time he chased a return to the NFL. He left the door open to taking an NFL coaching job in September before stating in December he was committed to the Wolverines, with a caveat.

Related: Michigan Wolverines could keep Jim Harbaugh with new contract

Michigan now finds itself in a holding pattern, again after the college football coaching carousel came to a stop. As Harbaugh interviews with multiple NFL teams, the Wolverines are left to decide if they should extend his contract for the second consecutive year or start a coaching search.

Let’s dive into the top Michigan coaching candidates in 2023.

Shane Beamer, South Carolina Gamecocks coach

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Head-coaching experience will definitely be preferred by Michigan. However, it’s also imperative to avoid hiring a retreat coach whose best days are behind them. Shane Beamer, one of the rising top coaches in college football, could be the ideal option to replace Harbaugh.

While the 46-year-old South Carolina native likely enjoys coaching close to home, the Gamecocks’ football program has a ceiling that can’t be overcome in the SEC. Leaving for Michigan wouldn’t just provide a raise, it allows Beamer a shot to compete for the College Football Playoff.

Taking over a team that went 6-16 in its final two seasons under Will Muschamp, Beamer’s Gamecocks went 7-6 in his first year with a Duke’s Mayo Bowl victory. He made effective use of the transfer portal, landing impact players who helped South Carolina go 8-5 in 2022 with victories over Tennesse and on the road in Clemson.

Beamer helped South Carolina finish 16th in 247 Sports’ 2023 recruiting rankings, landing 14 four-star players. He’d also bring a great offense to Michigan, putting quarterback JJ McCarthy and running back Blake Corum in the best position for success.

Matt Campbell, Iowa State Cyclones head coach

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Speaking of programs that have hit their ceiling, look no further than the Iowa State Cyclones under Matt Campbell. Max Olson of The Athletic perfectly captured so many of the qualities that make Campbell a great football coach, including his leadership, communication and his ability to get the best out of his players all while doing what it takes to make them successful.

Unfortunately for Campbell, Iowa State doesn’t have a lot of room for improvement. The 4-8 season in 2022 dropped his winning percentage (.523), but that’s the result of the Big 12 losing some of its weight with recruits. Needless to say, that won’t be a problem at Michigan.

Replacing Harbaugh doesn’t necessarily mean hiring a great play-caller. The Wolverines need a CEO-like figure who can build out a strong coaching staff that recruits, supports the student-athletes and helps Michigan’s football program maintain its identity. Plus, Campbell loves recruiting in Ohio and that’s just another added benefit for the Wolverines.

Mike Hart, Michigan Wolverines running backs coach

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One of the big problems Harbaugh creates for Michigan is the bad timing of a coaching search. The Wolverines certainly would have loved to go after Matt Rhule or Luke Fickell, but two of the best college football coaches in the past seven years have now landed new jobs. With a smaller pool of candidates to interview and Michigan players wanting stability, an internal hire becomes far more likely in January.

It’s a question of when, not if, Mike Hart becomes a college football coach. The Michigan alum has coached the Wolverines’ running backs for the past two seasons, overseeing one of the best rushing attacks in the country. He’s a big part of the reason Blake Corum is returning for the 2023 season and will have a shot to win the Heisman Trophy.

“We need kids who believe in who they are and who know how good they are and who want to stay here. I believe that to be great, you have to want to be great, you have to know you’re great and have to want to compete. There are some kids that don’t fit. It takes a special kid to come to Michigan.”

Michigan Wolverines running backs coach Mike Hart on recruiting

Hart is also one of the Wolverines’ most important recruits and he takes the responsibility very seriously. Days after he collapsed on the field and was hospitalized, Hart hit the recruiting trails to see running back Cole Cabana.

Dave Aranda, Baylor Bears head coach

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There’s a reason Baylor head coach Dave Aranda has so many fans at both the collegiate and professional levels. He is one of the best defensive-minded coaches at any level with a coaching career that has taken him all across the country from Hawai’i (2008-’11 to Wisconsin (2013-’15) and LSU (2016-’19).

Related: Most Heisman Trophy winners by school

Michigan should love Aranda and want him as its next coach for a long list of factors. Among them, as covered by Andy Staples, he takes a player-focused approach that is imperative for success in modern football. Aranda has studied psychology and leadership extensively, adapting his approach as he gained real-life experience to better shape how he interacts and connects with everyone around him. Football is family and there aren’t many coaches better at creating bonds than Aranda.

The 46-year-old coach, who has a master’s degree from Texas Tech, is also a brilliant strategist that can scheme with the best in college football. While he’s excellent at using that to create his defensive game plan and make in-game adjustments, his emphasis on education also helps him teach others what he is seeing and then explain why he is doing it.

While Aranda will need a strong offensive-minded coaching staff around him, he shows all of the qualities to become one of the best at his profession at a marquee program. If Harbaugh heads for the NFL, Aranda would be an A+ hire for the Michigan Wolverines.

Michigan coaching candidates 2023

Related: Jim Harbaugh’s interest in one NFL team reportedly isn’t mutual

Here are a few other coaching candidates who would likely be on the Wolverines’ radar following Harbaugh’s departure to the NFL.

  • David Shaw, former Stanford Cardinal coach
  • P.J. Fleck, Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach
  • Bill O’Brien, Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator
  • Kalen DeBoer, Washington Huskies head coach
  • Lance Leipold, Kansas Jayhawks head coach
  • Dave Doeren, NC State Wolfpack head coach