Mike Shanahan

Getty Images

New pro league would help players bypass college, prep for NFL

13 Comments

College football’s talent pool could get a bit shallower if one “in-between” football league comes to fruition.

According to the esteemed Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, a handful of individuals, including Mike Shanahan, ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter and officiating guru Mike Pereira among others, are among a group in the midst of creating what’s being called Pacific Pro Football.  Unlike other pro leagues, however, the PPL wouldn’t look to compete with the NFL; rather, it will look to develop college-aged players in the pro-style aspects of the sport, particularly on offense, and becomes what Wetzel writes is “a place with a preferable set-up for training and identifying potential draft picks.”

Each team in the four-team league, all based in Southern California initially, would consist of 50 players, with those players receiving $50,000 apiece — and full workers’ comp — instead of tuition. The league, which is tentatively scheduled to begin play in 2018, would also offer tuition reimbursement if a player wanted to go to a community college. There would be an age limit, with players only permitted to compete up to being four years removed from high school.  Those who have already played a year or two in college would also be welcome, provided they’re not beyond the age limit — someone looking for a non-NFL option for his fifth year would not be permitted to play in the PPL.

As for the financial particulars, Wetzel writes that “[a] round of angel funding recently closed and additional funding efforts are possible.” There’s also hope that a media rights deal could be reached as the group includes former ESPN and FOX Sports executives.

If the league is ultimately launched, the season would consist of a maximum of eight games (six regular season, up to two playoff games) and be played on Sundays in July and August. The following, from Wetzel’s report, though, will likely most raise the interest of those in the NFL charged with procuring talent:

  • Each team will have eight full-time coaches with pro and college experience, plus about eight part-time assistant coaches.
  • Play will be pro-style, and based on development and evaluation. For instance, there will be no spread offenses. Quarterbacks will take snaps under center, need to call plays in the huddle and identify defenses at the line of scrimmage. There will be a premium put on one-on-one plays to get viable tape. For example, perhaps rules that prohibit crossing routes for receivers.

Also of interest to the NFL?  None of the practices will be closed as is the case at some colleges, although most of the successful programs provide extensive access to NFL personnel any way.

Non-qualifiers coming out of high school who would normally go the junior college route before heading to the FBS level would seemingly be prime candidates to join the league.  Because of NCAA bylaws, however, they couldn’t go from the PPL back to college football because they would’ve been paid to play the sport.  The league could also be a landing spot for players who find themselves with academic or even legal issues after beginning their careers at the collegiate level.

Wetzel himself acknowledges, though, it would have little effect on big-time college football.

It certainly won’t be the preferred option for every player. The majority of the best college-age players seek the glamor and excitement of the collegiate game.

No one thinks it will topple, or even adversely impact major college football. Certainly, there will be a few less players, but Alabama or Clemson isn’t under any threat of needing to shutter its program.

One of the biggest impacts this league, if it actually launches and is even mildly successful, could have: drive college coaches back toward more of a pro-style offense and away from the spread offenses that have somewhat leveled the playing field all across the sport.  In its never-ending quest to find the unicorn also known as a serviceable quarterback, let alone a franchise one, the NFL will leave no stone unturned.  One of the biggest issues the NFL faces is trying to project how a successful spread quarterback will translate to the pro game.  If a quarterback has spent the previous three years being tutored by former pro coaches on the pro-style game, why wouldn’t the NFL at least give them the same look they give a successful college spread quarterback?

And why wouldn’t the quarterbacks themselves seek out a route to the NFL that wouldn’t have them learning a spread offense for 3-4 years before having to unlearn it?  Conversely, there’s no replacement for steeling and improving yourself against high-level competition, so that would be something both the player and the pros would need to factor in as well.

Another potential impact, if the league were to thrive and grow beyond its Southern California roots? Creating a bigger gap between the Power Fives and Group of Fives by siphoning off talent. By and large, the big names in the high school recruiting game will still go the collegiate route and opt for big-name programs; it’s the shallower end of the talent pool, the recruiting fields the G5s harvest, that would potentially be drained by the PPL.  Three four-team “pods” — Southern California, Northern California, Midwest — with 50 players each means 600 highs schoolers who may otherwise be available to FBS programs would suddenly vanish and have an effect on the G5s’ recruiting bottom lines as the P5s will still get theirs.

All of that, and the effect it would have on the FCS hasn’t yet been mentioned, either.

There is another potential game-changer, if the league is successful and puts players in the NFL causing the salaries to jump from $50,000 a year to, say, $100,000. Or even $150,000  Then, Houston… and Alabama… and Florida… and campuses all across the country, the college football game could have a problem.  That, of course, is a long way down the road, but this league and what if any viability it may have is certainly something to keep an eye on if you’re a fan of the sport.

Is there any chance Jim Harbaugh leaves Michigan for the Rams?

Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
25 Comments

The Los Angeles Rams have started the professional edition coaching carousel today by firing head coach Jeff Fisher. With a vacancy now open in the National Football League, we are bound to hear a few names from the college coaching fraternity have their names connected to a few rumors here and there. Once coach already having his name in the conversation to some degree is Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Harbaugh to the NFL topic picked up some steam in the last few days thanks to an interview with Albert Breer of Monday Morning Quarterback with Colin Cowherd on Friday. After an interview on the radio show, Cowherd shared a tidbit from Breer that was not aired live. Cowherd claimed Breer said a rumor about Harbaugh coaching the Rams was “a very real thing.” Of course, that is not much to go on. I can just as easily start a rumor that Bon Jovi is in the next Star Wars film, and while there may be no truth to it, the rumor itself is very real. So what does the whole “Harbaugh to Rams” rumor being “a real thing” mean, exactly?

Well, for starters, let’s also consider the other two names Cowherd resorted to attaching to the Rams discussion; Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan. These two names get recycled so often, they have lost all meaning in the coaching rumor world and immediately take away any merit of legitimacy in coaching change discussions they may appear. Harbaugh’s name is already feeling like it will be in that same bunch in the years to come the longer he sticks around at Michigan.

Breer later took to Twitter to say he was merely referring to Harbaugh being a potential target for NFL teams in need of a coach, which is true. Odds are Harbaugh could be contacted given his previous experience in the league with the San Francisco 49ers and his success in a short period of time at Michigan.

As with any rumor right now, there is far more speculation going on than actual facts. Does that mean Harbaugh won’t pack up and leave his alma mater behind for another tour of the NFL? No, because we can never say “never” when it comes to the coaching carousel. But keep in mind Harbaugh is a so-called “Michigan Man” and he is being paid quite handsomely by Michigan (and likely more than he’d make in the NFL). Harbaugh does have a competitive fire, and there is a chance to build something with the Rams for whatever coach comes in to take the job. Will it be Harbaugh? Who knows for sure, but let’s just keep in mind Harbaugh is just the latest college coach to have his name be tied to any number of coaching rumors for as long as he’s coaching, joining the likes of Chip Kelly, Brian Kelly and more.

So hang in there, Michigan fans. This may just be the new norm for the Wolverines, but it is one that comes with success.

Tom Brady, Derek Jeter to attend Michigan’s signing day event

Getty Images
15 Comments

For his second recruiting class at Michigan, Jim Harbaugh is pulling out all of the big guns.  The really, really big athletic guns.

It was confirmed Sunday that former Wolverines and current New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as well as New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter will be one of a handful of celebrities in attendance at UM’s “Signing of the Stars” charity event on National Signing Day Wednesday.  The event, which is invitation-only, will be held from 11 a.m. ET to 1 p.m. and will serve as the vehicle for Harbaugh to introduce his much-discussed and hotly-debated 2016 recruiting class.

Just last week, it was confirmed that rasslin’ legend Ric Flair will be in attendance as well.

Harbaugh and Jeter have become friends over the past few months, with the future Hall of Fame shortstop attending a Michigan football game last September and being presented with a No. 2 Wolverines jersey by the head coach.  Jeter grew up in the state and has long been a fan of the Wolverines.  He even attended UM for a semester before being drafted by the Yankees in the early nineties.

Other notable attendees include former MLB manager Jim Leyland, former NFL head coach Mike Shanahan, former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz and NASCAR driver Brad Kesolowski.  Former Wolverines beyond Brady will be in attendance as well, including Desmond Howard, Jon Jansen and Denard Robinson.

Jim Harbaugh bringing Ric Flair to signing day event

24 Comments

To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is doing everything he can on the recruiting trail to top the Big Ten, and it seems to be working. Just for good measure, Harbaugh is adding a little star power to Michigan’s upcoming signing day event by inviting The Nature Boy Ric Flair to Ann Arbor next week.

The Hall of Fame professional wrestler with a penchant for amping things up with his adrenaline and enthusiasm will be one of 12 stars on hand to announce Michigan’s newest members of the program on signing day next Wednesday. Others joining in the star-studded show include former Wolverines Desmond Howard and Denard Robinson, NASCAR driver Brad Keslowski, former NFL head coach Mike Shanahan and even former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz.

Honestly, given Harbaugh’s recent track record, it would not be a surprise if Harbaugh breaks out a ring and challenges Flair in a no-holds-barred match. And if (when) he does, we definitely want to see video of that!