The Wolverine

January 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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66 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2021 H ow'd they do that? Recruiting analysts and fans of other Big Ten schools were asking the same questions after Michigan inked the nation's No. 11 class in the early signing period (as of Dec. 28), second in the conference only to No. 2 Ohio State. The distance between No. 1 vs. No. 2 is astounding — a handful of five-star recruits for the Buckeyes to one for the Wolverines in the composite national rankings — but that's a different, depressing discus- sion for another day. U-M's 2-4 record this year and uncertainty hanging over head coach Jim Harbaugh's status, many assumed, would be enough to de- rail the recruiting efforts in Ann Arbor. At the very least, it gave rival recruiters plenty of ammunition, something even director of athletics Warde Manuel couldn't deny. "You know what's not unique in college athletics? Negative recruit- ing," Manuel said Dec. 8 when ad- dressing media about the Ohio State game cancellation. "Negative recruit- ing occurs all the time. All the time." That approach was made easier for the "jive turkeys," as Harbaugh once called them, by the fact that he went into the last week of December as the only Power Five conference coach heading toward the last year of his contract. However, Harbaugh and his staff continued to put in the work on the recruiting trail. They landed gems in Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy quar- terback J.J. McCarthy,'s No. 41 senior nationally overall and a five-star prospect per 247Sports' composite rankings; four-star receiver Xavier Worthy of Fresno (Calif.) Central; and four-star, in-state run- ning back Donovan Edwards of West Bloomfield (Mich.) High, who offi- cially pledged on Dec. 16, the first day of the signing period. All three were ranked among the top 124 recruits nationally by each of the three major recruiting services, with McCarthy listed as high as No. 23 overall by one outlet and Edwards with a best overall ranking of No. 29. Through all the uncertainty and despite the poison-tongued arrows on the recruiting trail, the Michigan brand remains still incredibly strong. "There are about 16 schools nation- ally that can have a disastrous year and still recruit well because kids see an opening," longtime national re- cruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. "Prospects see an opening at Michi- gan where they can play right away. "Harbaugh is a proven commod- ity, especially after what he did at Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers. … The future still looks bright for U-M and Jim Harbaugh." That remains to be seen, and it's going to take some staff shake-up to accomplish it, something that's already begun. Defensive coordinator Don Brown is the perfect example. His Dec. 18 dismissal was a foregone conclu- sion, but rather than going scorched earth on his way out the door, he continued to do his job and recruit as hard as he had in past years. He was one of the Wolverines' best in that area — even at age 65 — and he never changed, even with the writing on the wall about his future. "I asked Donnie if he thought he was going to stay. He said, 'Regard- less of what happens to me, Michi- gan is right school for Louis,'" said Michael Hansen, father of four-star tight end signee Louis Hansen. "It was refreshing, especially with how recruiting can go these days. I'm bummed he's leaving, but he's a class act all the way." "It was a situation we all saw was possible," three-star Bolingbrook (Ill.) High linebacker signee Tyler McLaurin added. "Coach Brown was honest, saying that our decision with Michigan should be bigger than just the coaching staff, and we should choose because of our own values. He will always have a very high level of respect from me and especially my family." As Brown should from Michigan fans, as well. He bore the brunt of criticism after U-M's last two losses to Ohio State, and especially in this strange, COVID-shortened year in which his defense allowed 34.5 points and 434.4 yards per game, a major disappointment. But his previous four units fin- ished in the top 12 nationally in total defense, and only allowed 14.1 points (No. 2 in the country) and 261.8 yards per game (tied for fewest in the land) during his first year in 2016. The 2017 defense was almost as good, and while OSU seemed to figure him out, he wasn't alone. The Buckeyes put up crazy numbers against a lot of teams. Whoever follows Brown will have big shoes to fill, but he'll have an advantage. There's some good young talent on this team, more on the way and a trademark that has proven it can withstand a lot. It's on Harbaugh, now, to create the culture to match it, an area in which his teams have been lacking. The recruits have put their belief and faith in him to live up to what the Michigan brand demands, and it's time to deliver. ❑ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS The Brand Endures Longtime national recruiting analyst Tom Lemming noted "the future still looks bright for U-M and Jim Harbaugh" based on the class the Wolverines inked in December's early signing period. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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