The Wolverine

April 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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66 THE WOLVERINE APRIL 2021 C ollege football recruiting is not for the faint of heart — never has been, never will be — and it's only gotten worse with facilities arm races and the all- or-nothing atmosphere created by the College Football Playoff having consumed the sport. That's not even including the unscrupulous manner in which so many programs operate, an issue that gets worse every year and that the NCAA can't (or won't) address. "It's hard to beat the cheaters," Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said in John Bacon's Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wol- verines at the Crossroads of College Football book a few years back in a shot most believed was aimed at the SEC, but could apply to several other schools, as well. Harbaugh has made it clear his program won't be one of them. His players take real classes, and his contract stipulates he receive bonuses for reaching graduation goals, etc. Say what you want about the on-field disappointments in recent years, but there's no arguing he's looking for student-athletes and isn't interested in turning U-M into a meat market. "Name another school that com- petes with the bluebloods athleti- cally … while competing with the bluebloods academically," director of recruiting Matt Dudek told Ba- con. "Most of the players we recruit are good enough to play for Ala- bama or Clemson and smart enough to play for Ivy League schools." Which, of course, limits the talent pool and makes it even harder to compete. The conundrum is obvious — the expectation is to win and win big at Michigan, no excuses. Several point to Notre Dame as the recent apples to apples comparison of a program that has, but if we're being honest, the Fighting Irish wouldn't have made the CFP the last few years, either, if they swapped places with Michigan and played in the Big Ten. So how, exactly, can Harbaugh compete? For one, he needed to follow Ur- ban Meyer's (yes, former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer) advice in pur- suing the "Jimmys and Joes" who could make a difference on the field. "I don't hire coaches who can't or won't recruit," Meyer has often said (paraphrasing). Because no matter how good a coach or a staff is, it's elite talent that makes the difference, never more so than in the current "CFP or bust" climate. And while U-M's classes have been good to very good over the last five years, there have been some weak links in the recruit- ing chain. Harbaugh set out this offseason to fix that. He did it by hiring his "Mikes and Moes" to get those "Jim- mys and Joes" in first-year defen- sive coordinator Mike Macdonald and co-coordinator Maurice "Mo" Linguist, and both seem to have the energy needed to close the gap with the Buckeyes (because that's the standard. Period. And Ryan Day and Co. aren't going away). Linguist, in particular, was a grand-slam hire. There are no guar- antees when it comes to recruiting, but the former Dallas Cowboys as- sistant might be as close as it gets. "He checks all the boxes and has done nothing but win his entire ca- reer," former James Madison coach Mickey Matthews (1999-2013) said of his former assistant. "I spotted him early in his career when he was just a young guy with a lot of poten- tial as a coach. We were fortunate to have him on our staff for two-plus years. "He's one of the top 10 recruiters in the country, because he's such an excellent evaluator of talent. Kids and parents alike gravitate toward him. Coach Mo has what I call 'it' when it comes to recruiting." He could only keep Linguist two years (2009-11) because he was "just too good," Matthews added, both as a recruiter and a teacher. Between him, new safeties coach Ron Bellamy and running backs coach Mike Hart, there are some go- getters on the staff who will join the already-elite Sherrone Moore and the others to give U-M as good a group on the recruiting trail as Har- baugh has had in Ann Arbor. "Ron Bellamy will be an elite recruiter, especially in the Detroit area," our recruiting analyst EJ Hol- land said when the former Wolver- ine was hired, and he couldn't have been more spot-on. He helped flip four-star defensive tackle Rayshaun Benny from MSU in weeks, and he's since been mentioned with too many outstanding recruits to count. Do these moves guarantee on- field success Michigan fans have been craving since Lloyd Carr re- tired in 2007? Absolutely not. Harbaugh and staff still have a lot to prove in the X's and O's category, too. But it's a step in the right direc- tion, and the results on the trail are already starting to show positive momentum in getting Michigan football back where it should be. ❑ 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 Shooting For The (Five) Stars The additions of new assistant coaches Ron Bellamy (above), Mike Hart and Maurice Linguist have given head coach Jim Harbaugh as good a group on the recruit- ing trail as he has had during his time at Michigan. PHOTO BY EJ HOLLAND

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