After the Rich Rodriguez era in Ann Arbor mercifully ended on Jan. 5, Michigan AD Dave Brandon declared, "I think this program is still one of the most premier programs in the country." But is it? Last week such prospective candidates as Stanford's Jim Harbaugh (an ex-Wolverines quarterback who opted for the 49ers) and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald (who sources say isn't interested) dropped out of the running, the head-coaching job at the NCAA's alltime winningest program suddenly appeared far from the plum position it once was.
The truth is, Michigan is far from the elite program it once was. In the Big Ten only Purdue and Indiana had worse records than Michigan's 15--22 mark over Rodriguez's three seasons, the poorest three-year stretch in school history. As recent recruiting classes have shown (the 2011 crop is ranked 35th by Scouts.com), Michigan tradition, which relies on attracting out-of-state talent, no longer holds the same cachet nationally. Over the last two NFL drafts just five Wolverines have been taken, and it's possible that none will go this year.
Rodriguez's successor—LSU's Les Miles was said on Monday to be in line for an interview—will have to win in the short term with players recruited to fit Rich Rod's shotgun spread offense. With no coach in place approaching national signing day on Feb. 2, the Wolverines' already thin incoming class could turn into its worst in recent years. Two top recruits, cornerback Dallas Crawford and running back Dee Hart, have already rescinded their commitments.
But the biggest blow could be yet to come: Denard Robinson might bolt if the new coach's offensive scheme doesn't fit the quarterback's very specialized skill set. Asked following the Gator Bowl whether he was staying, the 2011 Heisman candidate offered, "No response," echoing a program in a state of flux.