Jim Harbaugh replacements: Ranking Michigan’s best candidates if he goes to NFL, from Sherrone Moore to Lance Leipold

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Jim Harbaugh is reportedly closing in on a deal with the Los Angeles Chargers, bringing to an end an eventful tenure at his alma mater.

Harbaugh left Michigan after leading the Wolverines to their first national championship season since 1997. Harbaugh took over in 2015. There were ups – including three straight Big Ten championships and appearances in the College Football Playoff the last three seasons. There were downs – including five straight losses to Ohio State from 2015-19 and a pair of NCAA investigations that led to multiple suspensions for Harbaugh.

Now, there will be a new era at a program that will look to continue their Big Ten success in the 12-team College Football Playoff era. A look at why Harbaugh left Michigan, and who might be the next coach for the Wolverines.

Why did Jim Harbaugh leave Michigan 

Harbaugh spent nine seasons at Michigan, but this season has been the most controversial despite the success on the field. 

Harbaugh also is the target of two NCAA investigations. He served a school-imposed three-game suspension to start the season as a result of a NCAA investigation into impermissible contact with recruits during COVID-19. He was notified of an allegation of a Level I infraction. 

Harbaugh missed the last three games of the regular season after a Big Ten suspension as a result of an in-person scouting and sign stealing scandal that resulted in the firing of staffer Connor Stalions and assistant coach Chris Partridge. 

BENDER: Michigan beats everybody: No one could stop Jim Harbaugh’s national title team

Will Sherrone Moore replace Jim Harbaugh? 

Sherrone Moore would be the most logical candidate to replace Harbaugh given how he handled stepping in for Harbaugh this season. Moore coached in place of Harbaugh against Bowling Green then again for the final three games of the 2023 regular season. Moore guided Michigan to top-10 victories against Penn State and Michigan in that stretch and preserved the Wolverines’ Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff run. 

Moore, 37, managed to do that while working as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Michigan won the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s top offensive line in 2021 and 2022. Moore was an assistant coach at Central Michigan from 2014-17 before coming to Michigan. 

Michigan coaching candidates to replace Jim Harbaugh 

If Sherrone Moore isn’t the answer, then here are a few other candidates for the Michigan job. 

Jesse Minter, Michigan defensive coordinator 

If not Moore, then Minter could emerge as a legit internal candidate. Minter was the head coach in this year’s opener against East Carolina when Harbaugh was on the first suspension. The 40-year-old defensive coordinator had four years of experience as an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens before a one-year stint with Vanderbilt. The Wolverines allowed 9.5 points per game in Minter’s second season. Minter has also been mentioned as a possible defensive coordinator with Harbuagh should he leave for the Chargers.

Lance Leipold, Kansas coach 

The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman mentioned Leipold as a possible candidate for the Michigan job on “The Rich Eisen Show” on Dec. 17. Leipold, 59, won six Division III national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater and has compiled a 54-54 record at stints with Buffalo and Kansas. Considering the programs, that is an amazing record. Would Leipold, 59, be ready for that bump up to the big time? The track record is under-appreciated, and he might be the right fit if Michigan decides to bring in a new coaching staff. 

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P.J. Fleck, Minnesota coach 

Would Michigan take a former Ohio State assistant? Fleck, 43, led Western Michigan to a 13-1 season and New Year’s Day Six Bowl appearance in 2016 before taking the Minnesota job. Fleck is 50-34 the last seven seasons with the Gophers. Minnesota never broke through and won a Big Ten West championship, but Fleck had steady success. The Gophers also have won their last five bowl games. Fleck isn’t for everybody, but he has been mentioned in job searches for top-10 programs before. This would be a “dream job” for Fleck. Would Michigan feel the same way? 

Matt Campbell, Iowa State coach 

How many times have we made this case? Campbell led Iowa State to a Fiesta Bowl victory in 2020, and he was a frequently mentioned name when Harbaugh was on the hot seat that year. Campbell is a high-character program builder, and his work in Ames is notable considering they have made six bowl appearances in nine seasons. The problem is Iowa State is 18-20 since that Fiesta Bowl victory. Campbell might have missed his window for this opportunity. 

Brian Kelly, LSU coach 

Kelly seems like a long shot given he just arrived at LSU and is 19-7 with an SEC championship appearance and a Heisman Trophy winner in Jayden Daniels the last two seasons. Kelly did coach at Grand Valley State in Allensdale, Mich., from 1987-2003 and won two Division II national championships, but that was 20 years ago. Kelly, 62, would be an out-of-nowhere hire given the circumstances, but isn’t that what happened when he left Notre Dame for LSU?   

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