BY MICHAEL ROSENBERG
The Les Miles bowling ball started rolling down the hill in September, when Michigan lost to Appalachian State, and it keeps picking up speed. Former Michigan players are sending e-mails to athletic director Bill Martin, lobbying him to hire one of their own. Fans are excited about a true Blue coach who has had some success in two other leagues. But is Miles really the best coach Michigan can find? Is he really the best fit? I mean, it's nice that he speaks glowingly about Bo Schembechler, but at the end of the day, so what? I know a hundred guys who speak glowingly of Schembechler. That doesn't mean they should sit in the office overlooking the practice field.
Miles is a good coach. He has shown that. And I don't doubt his love for Michigan. But let's step back for a second and look at this rationally. For years, Miles has been telling people privately (and not so privately) that he wants to be Michigan's coach. In the frenzy over Miles' candidacy, this kind of nugget has been used to support his case. But think about it: Who tells so many people he wants a job that is filled? Is Miles really a disciplinarian in the Bo mold? When Miles left Oklahoma State, new coach Mike Gundy cut or suspended nine players before the start of the next season. "In the past, you could get away with some things around here," Cowboys safety Jamie Thompson told the San Antonio Express-News a few months after the coaching change. "That's not the case now."
Miles had the most talent in the country the past two years. His teams have achieved, but they have not overachieved. He has never put together the kind of season that made anybody say, "Wow, now THAT was a heck of a coaching job. That guy got absolutely everything out of his talent." I know this sounds nutty to some folks, but there are other coaches who can win big at Michigan. It's absurd to say this is Les Miles or bust. (My choice -- since you asked -- would be California coach Jeff Tedford. More on him in a minute.) One more thing about this "Michigan Man" business: Despite what you have heard and read, not everybody who wears maize and blue is in love with Miles. Of course his friends support him. But I've talked to enough people about him to know he has detractors.
Martin and U-M president Mary Sue Coleman need to do their due diligence. They need to talk to people other than Miles' buddies. And they would be negligent if they hired Miles without talking to Lloyd Carr, who worked on the Michigan staff with Miles for 10 years. Before people get in a tizzy about Carr trying to name the next coach, please understand: He does not want to name the next head coach. He has made that clear. But what if he has a substantive objection to Les Miles -- or to anybody else? Martin and Coleman need to find out. Otherwise, their talk about wanting to "clone" Carr is empty.
Now, about Tedford: He is a proven head coach, but is only 47 years old. (Miles is 54.) He doesn't seem to have any interest in coaching in the NFL. So he could easily coach Michigan for 10 to 15 years, an option Martin has said he desires.
Tedford is happy at Cal, but he has pushed for facility upgrades, and they have been slow to come. He might be open to a change. Ask yourself this: Who will scare the people in Columbus?
See, Ohio State fans don't care if Michigan's coach attended Michigan. They don't care if he has a favorite sandwich at Zingerman's. They just care if he can coach. If I were a Buckeyes fan, I'd worry more about Jeff Tedford than about Les Miles. Tedford's accomplishments at California are more impressive than what Miles did at either Oklahoma State or Louisiana State. In the 21 years before Tedford arrived, Cal had four winning seasons. The Golden Bears were 4-18 over the previous two seasons. Tedford has put together five straight winning seasons, and he can make it six by beating Stanford on Saturday. Imagine what he could do in Ann Arbor.
Tedford has earned praise from Berkeley administrators for balancing academics and winning -- and Cal is a school that actually cares about such things. According to the San Francisco Examiner, 16 of the 20 players in his first recruiting class graduated. Tedford is a great offensive coach. He would update the offense. He can earn quarterback Ryan Mallett's trust by telling him he developed five QBs into first-round NFL picks. The only downside to hiring Tedford -- and I do mean the only downside -- is that he doesn't have Midwest ties. But he has recruited extremely well at Cal, and if he keeps Michigan assistants like Fred Jackson, Erik Campbell and Ron English (a Cal grad), Tedford can catch up on recruiting. If Tedford says no, look at Rutgers' Greg Schiano, another coach who won where nobody thought it was possible. Les Miles coming back to Michigan would be a great story. But Martin isn't hiring a story. He is hiring a coach.