Michigan’s Harbaugh attacking recruiting in dead period
Jim Harbaugh’s oft-repeated life mantra from his father: “Attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
Welcome back to the recruiting world.
The new Michigan coach’s unrestrained energy is temporarily stifled, limited by the recruiting dead period. Until Jan. 15, college coaches can only call a prospect on the phone, write a letter or send an email.
No in-person contact, on or off campus, so Harbaugh is trying to affect the recruiting game however he can within those boundaries.
“He’s going to go after the big fish initially,” Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. “He’s done that already. I’ve talked with five-star defensive end/linebacker Keisean Lucier-South down in San Antonio (at the U.S. Army All-American Game) right after his conversation with Harbaugh. He’s going after Iman Marshall, the five-star cornerback out of California. Mike Weber, I talked to. … He’s going to go after those big fish.
“That doesn’t mean he’s going to land 10-15 big fish. But in the last month of recruiting (before Feb. 4 Signing Day) he’s going to add as many of those types as possible.”
The concurrent strategy, Helmholdt said, it to find the players “who are not national names” but still fit what Harbaugh wants to do, to help fill out the class. Because of Stanford’s academic restrictions, Harbaugh was used to finding under-the-radar players who could be developed and that should be an asset this late in the process with many of the higher-profile players committed elsewhere.
Helmholdt sees U-M’s current small class of six as an advantage for Harbaugh because he has the opportunity to identify players that fit his planned schemes.
Under former coach Brady Hoke, there appeared to be room for up to 16 players late last year, but a few scholarships opened with Devin Funchess leaving early for the NFL, Michael Ferns transferring and there is often attrition with a new coach, even if it’s only a few players.
Harbaugh has history recruiting Florida — when he was an unpaid assistant for his father Jack at Western Kentucky — and obviously in California where he coached San Diego and Stanford.
But he realizes that proximity is a factor so his staff needs to be able to compete in the most talent-rich nearby state: Ohio.
That’s why he has targeted Kentucky assistant Vince Marrow, reportedly offering the UK recruiting coordinator a job.
“I would assume so,” Helmholdt said. “Every kid I talk to in the state of Ohio that’s being recruited by Vince Marrow seems to be related in some way to Vince Marrow or their dad played with Vince Marrow or their uncle played with Vince Marrow. He is deeply connected, especially on the eastern side of the state of Ohio.
“I have no idea what type of a position coach he is. He is known as an ace recruiter.”
It was unclear whether Marrow would take the offer, but when his Twitter account began following U-M target and former commit Chris Clark today, many were glad to read into his motives.
Though Harbaugh has all the traits of an elite recruiter — relatability, resume, determination and work ethic — he’s unproven on this level.
The small school approach at Western Kentucky and San Diego and the academic restrictions at Stanford only mean he hasn’t done it at a big school with more freedom like Michigan.
The other elite recruiters — Nick Saban, Urban Meyer — had operated on a similar level at their previous schools.
“It’s different,” Helmholdt said, adding Harbaugh also may need to adjust from coaching and dealing with adults with the 49ers, now back to high school kids and their parents. “There’s no reason to think he won’t be a dynamic recruiter but he doesn’t have anything on the resume that says: he did it here, he can do it at Michigan.”
Harbaugh will balance that “inexperience” with a few assets the others don’t have — nearly 15 years as an NFL player and, most recently, as an NFL head coach with the San Francisco 49ers.
“The fact that he has been where these guys want to go and knows what it takes to get there will make him attractive to play for,” Helmholdt said.