Harbaugh officially ditches The Farm for money-green NFL pastures

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Along with more reputable media outlets, we had been told multiple times by several different sources that, if Jim Harbaugh were to leave Stanford, his inclination would be to ply his coaching wares in the NFL.

Unfortunately for the Cardinal faithful — and, as it turns out, Michigan fans as well — that turned out to be precisely the case.

Eschewing a very real and legitimate shot at the Wolverines vacancy, or remaining at Stanford with a 2011 Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback firmly in his back pocket, Harbaugh has instead opted to take his talents to the next level.  Culminating a week’s worth of rumors attaching him to various NFL openings, Harbaugh has officially agreed to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Harbaugh was introduced at a press conference Friday afternoon local time after agreeing in principle on a five-year, $25 million deal.

“Jim Harbaugh has done an outstanding job of advancing the football program at Stanford University and I am grateful for all of his tremendous work,” athletic director Bob Bowlsby said in a statement. “Coach Harbaugh has led the program with integrity, vision, enthusiasm and energy and his teams have played with precision and exceptional passion. Jim has been a relentless recruiter and he has been successful in enticing some of the finest scholar-athletes in the nation to attend Stanford University. We wish Jim all the best with his new challenges and we know that he will continue to be highly successful.”

“We are grateful to Jim Harbaugh for re-energizing the Stanford football program over the past four years,” university president John Hennessy said. “He helped build momentum that we are confident will continue into the future.  We made Jim the best offer we could commensurate with our role as a university.  We wish him the best of luck and look forward to his continuing contributions to football in the Bay Area.”

As for where Stanford will now turn for a replacement, the current scuttlebutt is that the school may very well look to stay in-house.  Specifically, offensive coordinator David Shaw and associate head coach/assistant head coach offense Greg Roman have been mentioned as very real possibilities.  Roman was reportedly a finalist for the Vanderbilt opening, and will interview for the Pittsburgh job Sunday.

Other possibilities that have been winding their way through the grapevine?  Oregon State head coach Mike Riley and Tulsa head coach Todd Graham.  The latter has already interviewed for the vacancy at Pittsburgh, while the former would appear to be a longshot at best, especially after being considered the top contender to replace Pete Carroll at USC last January.  Riley ultimately turned down the opportunity, and signed a contract extension through the 2019 season with the Beavers.

Given his deep Pac-10/West Coast roots, and the fact that he’s not currently attached to a coaching job, former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti will most certainly be mentioned as well.

Regardless of where the Cardinal ultimately turn, this is a very, very significant blow for a program that’s very much on the rise and is/was poised to be a major player on the national scene for years to come.  Fortunately for those with a vested interest in the program, Harbaugh left the team in much, much better shape than when he first took over.

Ex-UCLA OC helped convince Wilton Speight to transfer to Westwood

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When Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight announced he was going to graduate and transfer to UCLA, many were caught by surprise given that the 6-foot-6 pro-style passer is not your typical fit for Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. While the new Bruins’ head coach brought up how Sam Bradford and Nick Foles ran his system to convince the quarterback to pick the school for the 2018 season, it was a former assistant at the program who appears to have been just as convincing in bringing the big QB to Westwood.

That would be Jedd Fisch, who was Speight’s coach in Ann Arbor for two years before he left to take the offensive coordinator job with the Bruins when Jim Mora was still in charge last season. The veteran coach returned to the NFL as an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams shortly after Kelly was hired but he reconnected with his old pupil to give him an honest assessment of how he’d fit in with a school sporting a different shade of blue.

“As a coach, you can kind of sniff out the B.S.,” Speight told the LA Times, “and he was able to do that and say, ‘Look, you’re getting what you see at UCLA and I think it’s the right fit,’ and I couldn’t have agreed more.”

Speight will join a very competitive race to be the starter for the opener against Cincinnati when fall camp rolls around. Devon Modster is the incumbent having gotten experience last year when Josh Rosen was held out of several games while incoming freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson is considered the future at the position and figures to see early playing time.

It remains to be seen just how good UCLA will be in their first season with Kelly in charge but the head coach will certainly have a variety of options to choose from at the most important position on the field this year.

Proposed California amendment would cap coaches salaries at $200,000

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Some states do everything they can to help out athletics programs in their borders, that is something that California has never really been accused of doing. A state-wide travel ban has already caused some ripples with regards to scheduling for some teams and it seems lawmakers in Sacramento are back with a new constitutional amendment that could hamper schools ability to pay their coaches.

UCLA student paper The Daily Bruin passes along news that a new constitutional amendment was announced last week “that aims to restrict the University of California’s autonomy by reducing staff salaries, the length of regents’ terms and the authority of the UC president.” That first item is the biggest to take note of, which would institute a cap on non-faculty salaries to $200,000 per year — something that would affect everybody from coaches to the athletic director and everybody in between.

The University of California (UC) system most notably includes Pac-12 schools like UCLA and Cal, which means coaches like Chip Kelly and Justin Wilcox could be affected. To take Kelly as an example, he signed a five-year contract worth a total of $23.3 million when he was hired by the Bruins this offseason.

Head football coaches salaries are not typically paid completely by a school directly however, so there is some wiggle room should this amendment wind up passing. Often a separate athletics organization will foot most of the bill using funds raised from donors while other outside companies sometimes also get involved. Things might be a little more interesting when it comes to assistant’s salaries or non-football/men’s basketball head coaches and support staffers however, who could fall under the purview of the cap.

In other words, some creative accounting practices might have to be implemented by schools like UCLA or Cal or else they’ll be at a significant disadvantage compared to their private school peers like USC or Stanford as well as conference rivals like Arizona or Oregon.

It’s far from certain the amendment will pass given that it requires a two-thirds vote in the state legislature as well as passing muster on a state-wide ballot measure during a general election. We don’t typically see college coaches wade too far into political waters but, in this case, they might be forced to because its one that directly affects their wallets.

Arkansas moving back to natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2019

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It’s a new era at Arkansas with Chad Morris and a new athletic director in charge and not even the turf will be spared from seeing changes.

Per the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the school will be moving to a natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium instead of replacing their current artificial turf again as it nears the end of its lifespan.

“Let me say my preference is I love natural grass,” Morris told the paper a few months ago. “That’s just me. Maybe that’s just the high school coach in me.

“Worrying about what the next surface out here looks like is irrelevant to me. I just want to get through a practice and get better today. But I prefer, I’m a natural grass type of guy. I love being on a grass field. There’s nothing better than that in college football, or football period.”

Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek confirmed this weekend that the change was being made in Fayetteville after the 2018 season concludes. The current turf was put in back in the Bobby Petrino era in 2009 and will need to be replaced after a decade or so of heavy use.

This will not be the end of Razorbacks playing on turf however, as they will not only see the stuff for games at neutral sites and at other SEC opponents but also when they make their annual trek to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock — which had turf installed a dozen years ago.

West Virginia President on old Big 12 expansion craze: ‘Little bit messy’

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E. Gordon Gee is one of college athletics’ most recognizable figures, which isn’t exactly what you typically say about school leaders like him. The West Virginia President known for his trademark bow tie (and who has never shied away from an interview or a quip he didn’t like) is on the cusp of his first set of spring meetings in the conference as the new chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

Speaking to the Dallas Morning News about a range of issues around the league prior to meeting in Dallas, Gee seems to have come around on conference expansion from a few years ago and thinks it not only could have been handled better, but it probably shouldn’t be done in the first place because being the smallest Power Five league has its advantages too.

“I’m not certain it was the best way to do it,” Gee told the paper. “It was a little bit messy — and I was part of the mess.

“Intimacy gives us an opportunity to do something that a lot of other places can’t do… We’ll play to our strengths. We’re small, but we can be very aggressive in positioning ourselves uniquely.”

I’m sure the folks at places like Houston and BYU would agree the entire process was messy but will certainly disagree with Gee about the Big 12 sticking with just 10 members. It certainly sounds as though the issue has been put to bed for the foreseeable future but if the merry-go-round gets going once again, at least we know that the process everybody goes through will be a lot different.