Irish eyes should focus on Jim Harbaugh
Among Monday’s musings you will find a plethora of news articles focused on increased speculation of Charlie Weis’ soon-to-be departure from South Bend. The numbers are clearly not in favor of his return in 2010, as the hole deepened with a second loss in as many weeks, keeping the Irish winless on the season against ranked programs.
Familiar names have been tossed about, added to a heap of potential replacements. Now included in a pile that continues to rumor of Urban Meyer finally accepting his “dream job” are the names Bob Stoops and Kirk Ferentz. But the person most suited to pull Notre Dame from darkness may not have a championship ring or BCS bowl game experience. It might be Jim Harbaugh, who faced a similar situation at Stanford.
When Jim Harbaugh accepted the position in Palo Alto, he inherited a conference doormat. He was challenged with the responsibility of making a program respectable, while being limited in recruiting by high academic standards. In his 3 years holding the reins, Stanford has overcome both futility and mighty USC, despite the self inflicted handicap that makes for slim pickings of superior athletes.
I know, some beneath the golden dome have heard this story before, when they chose to hire Tyrone Willingham from that same west coast program. But there is a vast difference between Willingham’s drill sergeant approach and Harbaugh’s confident work ethic. Willingham was a leader of men, more effective in striking fear and discipline in his own. Harbaugh uses a fearless approach, using scoreboards to back big talk and command respect.
Jim Harbaugh coached three years at the University of San Diego, with his teams finishing 11-1 in each of his final two seasons. After three years at Stanford, he’s beaten Pete Carroll twice, both in the L.A coliseum, and has the program contending for the Pac 10 title. His Stanford Cardinal are ranked 17th in the country, despite a schedule rated by Sagarin as the 11th toughest in the nation. Notre Dame hasn’t beaten USC in eight attempts, on any field, and the majority of the losses were ugly. The Irish are unranked and continue to prove incapable of defeating formidable foes.
If the Irish are indeed evaluating Bob Stoops and Kirk Ferentz as possible replacements, they should consider that these two men have more in common than BCS bowl games. Both share humility, with each being embarrassed on the national stage by Pete Carroll teams. That is something the current coach can sympathize with, but Jim Harbaugh can not.
The New York Jets interviewed Harbaugh for the head coach position earlier this year. There will likely be more interviews from other NFL franchises at season’s end. He comes from a coaching bloodline, and has proved himself on the football field. His knowledge of California and the recruiting base should make him even more attractive to the Irish, but it’s his fiery attitude that makes him the perfect candidate for a program desperately in need of guidance.
Walking away from Stanford and taking a job at Notre Dame also wouldn’t end his rivalry with Pete Carroll or USC. Harbaugh entered Divsion-I coaching by taking shots at everyone, especially the bigger names on the landscape. He’s already supported his early tongue lashing with results in the Pac 10. Notre Dame wouldn’t only give him an opportunity to remain a thorn in Pete Carroll’s side, he would also get an annual jab a Michigan (his Alma Mater), who he also had choice words for three years ago.
If the Irish will be conducting a coaching search, Harbaugh might be the best fit. And in case the folks in Indiana still don’t know who he is, you’ll see him face to face in two weeks, when Notre Dame visits Stanford.