1. The B1G Story

Now that it’s as clear as those cold Ann Arbor winters that Jim Harbaugh to the NFL is imminent, it’s time to look at how Michigan responds.

Harbaugh, who could be named coach of the Minnesota Vikings by the end of the week, is scheduled to interview for the job on National Signing Day and one NFL source told me, “if the owner and GM are aligned with his vision, it’s a lock.”

With that in mind, the Michigan administration – specifically interim president Mary Sue Coleman and athletic director Warde Manuel – have some heavy lifting ahead. For those who think Coleman, the former wildly successful Michigan president who just replaced fired president Mark Schlissel, won’t be hands-on with the hire, are understating her impact on the athletic programs.

When Coleman was president from 2002-2014, the athletic department budget grew 146 percent, from $56 million annually to $137.5. She also presided over a $230 million renovation of Michigan Stadium and another $26 million for a then-state of the art field house.

Translation: Manuel will do the legwork, but Coleman will have significant input.

Following Harbaugh won’t be easy. He rebuilt the brand and finally slayed the king that was Ohio State. Any replacement will be a combination of strong personality and charismatic face of the program, and coach who can recruit, win games and provide a unique Michigan experience.

Yeah, it sounds corny and contrived in this age of multibillion-dollar television contracts, but that’s the bar Harbaugh set. The next coach must meet it, and eventually beat it.

“You know, 20 years ago, Michigan was a better job than Ohio State,” a Big Ten coach told me. “I don’t think it will ever get there again because Ohio State just has too many advantages. But it can get a lot closer.”

It happens with 1 of these 4 hires:

— Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: May as well begin with the longshot, right? But if anyone is ever going to get Fitz – whose love for his alma mater Northwestern supersedes all – maybe this is the perfect time.

There are huge obstacles: Fitzgerald and his wife, Stacy, grew up blocks from each other in Chicago, and their families all still live there. Their kids are young. He’s the most secure coach in college football this side of Nick Saban.

And yet, there’s the uncertainty of the NIL world, and how it has reshaped the way everyone looks at the realities of coaching. Can Northwestern, already at a distinct disadvantage because of academic requirements, compete in the NIL arena of pay for play?

If Fitz wanted the job, it would be his 48 hours after Harbaugh signed his contract with the Vikings.

— Matt Campbell, Iowa State: A perfect fit for the Michigan ideal. There aren’t many coaches whose DNA is more true to the (now Pollyanna) mission of college athletics.

An incredibly impressive interview, he’ll be hard for Emanuel and Coleman to walk away from. On the field, he has made huge strides at a program that was historically set up to fail.

Typically, it’s college administrators or media who often speak of how different a coach would be if he were surrounded with all the inherent advantages of others. With Campbell, it’s the rest of the coaching fraternity, too.

“I think Matt hasn’t left because he hasn’t found that perfect fit,” a Power 5 coach told me. “And by fit, I don’t necessarily mean better on-field program, though I can’t wait to see that. It has to fit with his core beliefs.”

— Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers: He might be coming to the conclusion of many college-to-NFL coaches: Limited roster control (and a salary cap) is a killer. Smart coach, strong recruiter and enough piss and vinegar personality to not put up with losing to Ohio State.

Said one staffer during his Baylor days: “There wasn’t one team we were chasing. He wanted to beat the hell out of everyone.”

— Mark Stoops, Kentucky: As much as UK fans don’t want to hear it, this is a no-brainer for Stoops. And frankly, it’s a great fit for Michigan.

A tough, relentless coach and a terrific recruiter. Like Campbell, his work at a mid-level Power 5 school has been remarkable: The Wildcats have 4 10-win seasons in 106 years of football – and 2 from Stoops in the past 4 years.

How much better would his teams be with the might and heft of the Michigan football brand behind him?

2. More player power

This very scenario with Harbaugh interviewing for an NFL job on National Signing Day will be used as Exhibit A for those trying to eliminate the Early Signing Period.

If Harbaugh takes the Vikings (or Miami) job, what becomes of the 2022 Michigan recruiting class? All but 1 of the 22 players in the top-10 class have already signed a binding letter of intent to play for Harbaugh and the Wolverines.

Will those players be given a release from their letters of intent and be allowed to look elsewhere? In this age of a more player-friendly NCAA (see: NIL, one-time transfer rule), it’s not an outlandish response.

In fact, it’s probably an appropriate one.

Harbaugh not only will be leaving Michigan weeks after he returned it to the elite of college football, he could be leaving it with a mess to clean up if the recruiting class is released from their letters of intent.

Any NCAA ruling won’t be on a case-by-case basis. It will likely either be all or nothing. The NCAA already has been looking into “adjusting” the Early Signing Period, as one NCAA source told me.

“Adjusting” essentially means they’re looking for a consensus – or maybe a specific moment (see: Harbaugh’s potential NFL move?) – to eliminate it.

3. The impact of Whipple

Just how important is this make-or-break season to Nebraska coach Scott Frost? Enough to give up control of the offense.

A highly successful offensive coach as an assistant (Oregon) and head coach (UCF), Frost’s struggles to develop an offense at Nebraska (see: quarterbacks) have him staring at now or never.

Enter new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. One NU source told me Whipple “wouldn’t have come” to Nebraska if he weren’t given control of the offense.

Even though Whipple is a nomad of sorts in the coaching world (NU is his 8th NFL or CFB job since 2000), he’s highly respected as a developer of quarterbacks and passing game concepts, and as a play caller.

He didn’t agree to this one-year Hail Mary (because that’s what it is) with the idea that Frost will still have his hands all over the offense. Translation: The ball is going in the air this fall.

That doesn’t mean Nebraska will abandon the run, it means the best throwing quarterback of the 5 currently on scholarship will win the job. Whipple’s offense has always been about stressing defenses vertically.

In his third season at Pitt last year, Whipple’s offense threw the ball 544 times and ran it 525, producing near perfect balance while averaging nearly 500 yards per game.

The days of Nebraska running the ball 60% of the time are over. At least, while Whipple is around.

While that might be sacrilegious to longtime Huskers fans, what’s more important? Winning games, or a 5-7 season with back-to-back losses to Illinois?

Texas transfer Casey Thompson, who played half of last season with an injured thumb on his throwing hand (think about gripping a football with an injured thumb), is probably the favorite to win the job.

But Whipple has proven, over and over, he prefers tall, big-armed quarterbacks. Kenny Pickett (6-3, 230) set Pitt records in 3 years with Whipple, and Whipple’s college QBs have all fit a similar physical mold:

Blake Frohnapfel (6-6, 230 pounds) and Andrew Ford (6-3, 210) at UMass, and Jacory Harris (6-4, 205) at Miami.

What does this all mean? Don’t be shocked if redshirt freshman Heinrich Haarberg (6-5, 205), whose big arm and athletic ability were legendary in Kearney, Neb. – and is a quarterback who fits Whipple’s mold – makes a move in spring practice.

4. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: best staff move, defense.

1. Michigan: DC Mike Macdonald to the NFL. Lost amid the Harbaugh hype, the emergence of Macdonald in one season was critical to Michigan’s Playoff run.

2. Ohio State: Jim Knowles, DC. The biggest hire of the offseason. If Knowles doesn’t make the Ohio State defense significantly better, the blowback is directly at coach Ryan Day.

3. Michigan State: Brandon Jordan, pass rush specialist. A pass rushing coach who has worked with 195 players on NFL rosters (including Vonn Miller and TJ Watt), Jordan could improve a pass rush that had 43 sacks in 2021.

4. Penn State: Manny Diaz, DC. An elite recruiter, Diaz’s defenses have been hit and miss at Texas, Mississippi State and Miami.

5. Wisconsin: Kept Jim Leonhard (though the NFL is still an option over the next couple of weeks), whose defenses are consistently among the best in the nation.

6. Iowa: Retaining Phil Parker, the most underrated defensive coordinator in college football.

7. Minnesota: Danny Collins, safeties. A defensive analyst the past 2 seasons, Collins gets his first on-field job – something coach PJ Fleck has been trying to do since Collins, smart and organized riser in the profession, was a grad assistant with Fleck at Western Michigan.

8. Purdue: The offense is humming. Now coach Jeff Brohm has to nail the defensive coordinator, and to a lesser extent, cornerbacks, hires.

9. Nebraska: DC Erik Chinander had opportunities to leave, but stayed for the win or walk season. Huskers were No. 36 in the nation in scoring defense in 2021 (22.7 ppg.).

10. Maryland: Maryland: Coach Mike Locksley nearly landed longtime successful SEC DC Kevin Steele, who eventually signed with Miami. The DC hire is critical for Locksley, whose defenses have finished 115th, 80th and 96th in the nation in scoring defense in Locksley’s 3 seasons.

11. Illinois: Keeping DC Ryan Walters. The coup of Bret Bielema’s first staff, Walters Illini defense finished 29th in the nation (21.9 ppg.).

12. Rutgers: DC Joe Harasymiak. One-time youngest coach in Division I at Maine in 2016 (he was 29), Harasymiak was co-DC at Minnesota under Joe Rossi, where Gophers had No.6 defense in the nation (17.3 ppg.).

13. Indiana: Coach Tom Allen will call the defense. Chad Hilt was hired from Minnesota as DC, but Allen – a longtime defensive coach – will call the plays.

14. Northwestern: Ryan Smith, cornerbacks. A rising star in the industry, Smtih developed a string of NFL players at Virginia Tech.

5. The Weekly Five

Five key dates of the B1G offseason.

1. March-April: spring games, all will be broadcast by ESPN or Big Ten Network.

2. May 1: Transfer portal closes for those wishing to play immediately in 2022 season.

3. Late May: Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago. Future conferences scheduling (8 or 9 games, future division size/alignment) will be a hot topic, as will non-conference scheduling.

4. Late July: Big Ten Media Days, Chicago.

5. August, first week: Start of fall camp and the 2022 season.