The Rich Rodriguez era is over at Michigan.
So where does the program go from here?
First-year athletic director Dave Brandon put himself in a bit of a bind by waiting so long to dismiss Rodriguez. Most head-coaching changes happen in early December, not after Jan. 1. Michigan now could be competing with several NFL teams for top candidates.
All along, I've felt that Michigan should only dump RichRod if it can land Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh as his replacement. Harbaugh's stock might never be higher, and he's the kind of coach who can inspire the fan base and recruit well despite what could be a very rough time on the field. But the reports Tuesday that Harbaugh is unlikely to return to his alma mater certainly change the scope of Michigan's coaching search.
The two candidates you'll hear a lot about are LSU coach Les Miles and San Diego State coach Brady Hoke. Miles played for Bo Schembechler at Michigan, and both he and Hoke served as Michigan assistants. Miles had strong interest in the Michigan job before Rodriguez was hired, and Hoke has made it pretty clear that Michigan is his dream job.
Both Miles and Hoke have the Michigan ties that Rodriguez lacked, but I'm not crazy about either one as the next Wolverines coach. Miles has too many red flags with clock management and other areas, and while Hoke has done masterful work in turning around both Ball State and San Diego State, he's unproven at the highest level. Miles certainly can recruit and his defenses have been strong, which would be a plus for the Wolverines.
If Brandon looks outside the family, he'll have to do a good job of selling the Michigan brand, which he has worked to build and enhance during his brief tenure as AD. Hot coaching prospects like TCU's Gary Patterson and Boise State's Chris Petersen would need to be lured away from comfortable situations with the prospect that Michigan isn't far away from competing at the national level.
Brandon's personal involvement with the football program also is a factor. He watched tape with Rodriguez and his staff Sunday mornings after games. Not sure many coaches want their boss to be such a part of the inner workings.
Michigan needs to get this hire right, but it would be a good idea to act quickly. National signing day is less than a month away, and Michigan can't let its 2011 recruiting class totally fall apart.
There's also the matter of the current players. Some undoubtedly will leave the program. Happens with every coaching change.
The big question: Will Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Denard Robinson be one of those heading elsewhere? Unless the next Michigan coach runs some version of a spread offense, I wouldn't blame Robinson for transferring. No Michigan player is impacted more by Rodriguez's firing than Robinson, whose success was so closely tied to Rodriguez's system.
It's hard not to see the team backsliding in 2011, and the 2012 schedule is absolutely brutal. Michigan could be waiting a while longer to rejoin the nation's elite.
Brandon has been impressive in his first year as AD, especially in his handling of the NCAA investigation into the football program. But his delayed decision on Rodriguez hasn't gone over well, especially with the Harbaugh news.
Most ADs don't get to hire two football coaches, so Brandon's legacy will be largely shaped in the coming days.