Les than certain (cont.)
Posted: Sunday November 18, 2007 9:27PM; Updated: Monday November 19, 2007 10:53AM
A Schembechler disciple who can recruit with the best of them and isn't afraid to go for it on fourth and 2? To the many Michigan fans soured from watching a few too many blown fourth-quarter leads -- not to mention a few too many Donovan McNabbs or Dennis Dixons running wild on the Wolverines' step-too-slow defense -- it's easy to see why Miles has become such a tempting target.
But it's going to take an unbelievable display of patience by both sides to make it happen.
By announcing his decision on Nov. 19, Carr has paved the way for what could be one of the longest and most awkward coaching courtships in the history of long, awkward coaching courtships. It's long been believed that all it would take is a phone call to summon Miles -- an avowed Michigan Man ("My wife, my first-born, my entire life is marked by my time at Michigan," he told the New York Times recently) whose LSU contract includes a specific Michigan buyout amount ($1.25 million) -- back to his alma mater. That speculation, however, never accounted for the possibility that Miles might be in the midst of national title chase when the job came open.
It's hardly uncommon for coaches to accept new jobs right in the midst of a bowl season. Some, like Cincinnati's Mark Dantonio (to Michigan State) last year, leave right away; others, like Utah's Urban Meyer (to Florida) in 2004 remain to coach their team in the bowl game. But a head coach entertaining suitors in advance of a potential national championship game is unheard of. To this day, Florida State fans blame their 2000 title game loss to Oklahoma in part on then-offensive coordinator Mark Richt's "lack of focus" upon accepting the Georgia job weeks before the game.
It's also not unprecedented for schools to "wait out" their coach of choice while he finishes out his season. Such was the case last year for Alabama, which, after firing Mike Shula on Nov. 27 and after initially getting spurned by both Saban and West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez, spent 37 days in limbo before AD Mal Moore finally money whipped Saban on Jan. 3, following his finale with the Dolphins.
But is Michigan prepared to possibly wait an interminable 51 days, until after the Jan. 7 BCS Championship Game, to decide its future? And perhaps more importantly, can Miles withstand 51 days of endless questions and speculation about his job status, particularly amidst what will be a media circus in New Orleans that first week of January.
That issue may in fact be the single biggest obstacle impeding the Miles-to-Michigan domino. Certainly, there are some financial hang-ups (in addition to the buyout, Miles stands to receive a contractual raise to the $3 million-plus range should he lead LSU to a championship, whereas Michigan reportedly pays Carr about half that), but those kind of things always seem to get worked out. And with the Wolverines expected to receive a New Year's Day bowl berth to either the Capital One or Outback bowls, it's not like they need their new coach to start work anytime soon.
It's the uncertainty and the potential distractions -- the 51 days of repeating "non-denial denials" and leaving recruits at two schools flopping in the wind -- that could ultimately leave Miles with no choice but to turn down his dream employer. That is, assuming Michigan offers him.
By no means is Miles the only football coach in America capable of leading the Michigan Wolverines -- not to mention it's the rare job that would tempt just about anyone in the profession.
Among the men AD Bill Martin would be smart to give a call to if he either can't or won't wait on Miles are Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, a renowned figure in that state for his success both at Central Michigan (winning a MAC title last season) and Division II Grand Valley State (where he won two national championships); Rodriguez, who came awfully darn close to leaving his home state of West Virginia a year ago; or possibly Tampa Bay Bucs coach Jon Gruden, a Sandusky, Ohio, native whom Ohio State flirted with six years ago before hiring Tressel.
None, however, can enter the equation until Martin at least makes that first call to Miles. Michigan's fan base has made it clear for months that he's their savior-in-waiting, and while there's always the possibility Miles will say no, or that the timing simply won't work out, Wolverines fans would be infuriated if Martin does not at least pursue the possibility. It's kind of like Kentucky's futile attempt to lure Florida coach Billy Donovan last spring -- AD Mitch Barnhart may well have had little chance of landing him, but he had to at least appease Wildcats fans by making the call.
The impending Michigan-Miles standoff actually reminds me of another notable basketball coaching change four years ago. In March of 2003, Kansas coach Roy Williams led his team to the finals of the NCAA tournament all the while engulfed by speculation of his impending return to alma mater North Carolina. No one will soon forget the image of Williams, moments after his team's crushing loss to Syracuse, telling CBS's Bonnie Bernstein, "I don't give a [bleep] about Carolina right now."
Williams took the Carolina job less than a week later.
If the Michigan-Miles flirtation does in fact drag on for what could be more than seven weeks, we'll undoubtedly see similar moments of frustration from Miles -- who, as we know well by now, has far more of a feisty side than Williams.
There's only one event that could relieve much of the uncertainty and kick-start the dominoes a whole lot sooner: An LSU loss. It's no secret the top-ranked Tigers have been living on the edge for much of the season, and it's hardly unrealistic to think they could slip up either Friday against McFadden-led Arkansas (7-4) or in the Dec. 1 SEC championship game against either 8-3 Tennessee or 9-2 Georgia.
In the event LSU finds itself preparing instead for a non-championship bowl game, Miles would have plenty of precedent on his side if he chose to defect (as Saban did in accepting the Dolphins job prior to LSU's 2004 Capital One Bowl trip), and in fact, he might even find it to be in his best interest, considering the anticipated backlash in Baton Rouge should his team fail to fulfill its lofty season-long expectations.
The only question is, would Michigan still want Miles? After all, they've already spent a decade finishing just a step short of greatness.
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