Big 10

How Michigan’s recruiting is evolving under Jim Harbaugh

June 16, 2016

With the temperature hovering around 90 degrees, Jim Harbaugh wore his trademark khakis, along with a Hank Aaron jersey, while running around for three hours at Maynard H. Jackson High School in Atlanta.

It was Harbaugh’s third satellite camp in three states in 24 hours, and just the beginning of a 38-camp, 22-state tour in a month’s time that surely will enhance his program’s recruiting efforts.

Michigan’s always had a national reach, but Harbaugh is taking that to the extreme.

That’s the biggest difference between him and his direct predecessors, as MLive has reviewed the past 10 Michigan recruiting classes. That includes the last of Lloyd Carr and also the tenures of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.

“We’re out there looking for nuggets of gold, to bring the best and brightest to the University of Michigan,” Harbaugh said on national signing day in February. “That will remain our objective.”

– Note: In the map above, use the “Visible layers” window in the upper-right corner to isolate just Michigan or Michigan State recruits by hometown. 

Harbaugh put together his first recruiting class at Michigan in little more than a month. Hoke had been fired, and Harbaugh picked up the pieces and signed 14 recruits for a 2015 class that wound up ranking 37th in the nation according to 247 Sports –€” the lowest Michigan ranking class in the last decade.

It was a much different story in 2016.

After a full year of recruiting, Harbaugh, who cherishes versatile players, reeled in the nation’s No. 5 class. It features the consensus No. 1 player in five-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary from Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey.

Harbaugh has relied heavily on New Jersey in his first two classes.

The seven players he’s signed from there trails only Florida (nine), and is more than Michigan (six) among the 16 different states in which Harbaugh has grabbed recruits. And the interest in New Jersey isn’t slowing, as Paramus Catholic hosted one of Michigan’s most prominent satellite camps last week and Harbaugh spoke at commencement the following day.

Harbaugh isn’t ignoring his home state in recruiting, despite having signed just six players from Michigan in his first two classes. The Wolverines already have five in-state commitments for their 2017 class, which would fall in line with trends of the past.

In four years, Hoke signed 61.3 percent of his recruits from Michigan and Ohio (27 from each state). Rodriguez secured 46.5 percent of his players from the two states (21 from Ohio and 13 from Michigan), while also concentrating on Florida (14).

Over the last decade, the Wolverines have had 45.7 percent of their players from Michigan and Ohio (51 players from each state).

“We’ve got some darn good football players from the state of Michigan,” Harbaugh said in February. “Anywhere that a youngster is proven to be highly competitive in the classroom, on the football field and a good citizen, we’re going to want to take a look at them.”

Michigan routinely targets the best players in every corner of its home state and Harbaugh is no exception, having signed players from Rockford to Saginaw to Detroit. Not surprisingly, the bulk of Michigan’s in-state recruits over the past decade came from Detroit or the surrounding suburbs. Detroit Cass Tech sent more players to Michigan in the last decade (11) than any school in the nation –€“ four under Rodriguez, six under Hoke and one under Harbaugh, who is hoping to continue that pipeline to Ann Arbor and is pursuing Cass Tech 2017 five-star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, among others, from the school.

Although players are recruited at different positions by different schools and sometimes even switch positions during college, there are some trends that stand out between Michigan coaches in the last decade. Harbaugh has already signed as many quarterbacks (three) in two seasons as Hoke did in four and has a verbal commitment from Dylan McCaffrey, the top-ranked quarterback of the 2017 class. Rodriguez signed more wide receivers (nine) and running backs (eight) than any position besides linebacker (10). Hoke signed more linebackers (12) and cornerbacks (10) than another other position. Harbaugh, who values versatility, has signed five defensive ends and receivers, which ties for the lead among all positions.

Even through some lean years in the last decade, Michigan was able to put together strong recruiting classes, regardless of the coach. Michigan had five top-10 classes in the last 10 years, with at least one from each of the four coaches in that span. Carr’s last class, according to 247 Sports, was ranked No. 8 in the nation, Rodriguez’s top class was No. 10 in 2009, Hoke’s top group was No. 4 in 2013, and Harbaugh rebounded from his first group for the No. 5 class in 2016.

Team rankings are a collection of individual ratings and Michigan has scored well over the last decade, with some minor fluctuations. Carr’s 2007 class had an average star rating of 3.4, Rodriguez’s peaked at 3.5 in both 2008 and 2009, Hoke’s first was 3.2 in 2011 (the lowest in the last decade) and topped out at 3.7 in 2013 (the highest in the last decade), and Harbaugh’s first class was at 3.4 and then jumped to 3.6 in 2016.

In the last 10 years, Michigan signed four five-star players, 101 four-stars, 116 three-stars and two two-stars. The breakdown:

Carr: Five-stars (one), four-stars (six), three-stars (13)
Rodriguez: Five-stars (zero), four-stars (31), three-stars (41), two-stars (one)
Hoke: Five-stars (two), four-stars (44), three-stars (41), two-stars (one)
Harbaugh: Five-stars (one), four-stars (20), three-stars (21)

Although recruiting rankings are obviously not the ultimate barometer of team success, there is a correlation. Alabama posted the No. 1 signing class each of the last six years – a span that includes three national championships. Ohio State has recorded a top-10 class each of the last five years and won the 2014 national title.

With sleepovers, satellite camps and signing day events, Harbaugh certainly has recruiting at the forefront at Michigan. He’s unafraid of the SEC, and unapologetic as he attempts to bring top talent to Ann Arbor.

“We’re very much out there, we don’t hide how we operate and with what we do,” Harbaugh said in late January. “It’s a meritocracy. In everything we do in our program. It’s going to continue to be that.”

What will the next 10 years of Michigan recruiting look like?

Steve Lorenz, a recruiting analyst for Wolverine 247, said Harbaugh’s hiring of analysts, such as former high school coaches Antonio “Bam” Richards, from Prattville High School in Alabama, and Devin Bush Sr., from Flanagan High School in Florida, were key in Michigan increasing its impact in recruiting, as was simply spending more money. However, Lorenz said, it really all boils down to winning and producing NFL talent under Harbaugh.

“His approach to the recruiting trail has kind of set the foundation for the way they’re going to build the program,” Lorenz said. “Really, the sky is the limit. I think it’s a perfect storm if it works out the way it could. You’ve got a guy who is a decorated alum, a great football player at Michigan, a protégé of kind of the patriarch of Michigan football, he’s had amazing success in the pros, he’s had great success at the college level in not-optimal situations, which is how I would describe Stanford. So, if the chips fall the right way, which they could, there’s a very, very high ceiling for the program with him. There’s just no way around it.”


The 2007-16 timeframe reflects the 10 classes signed by Mark Dantonio since he was hired at Michigan State. Michigan is on its fourth coach over that span, as the last decade of recruiting encompasses Lloyd Carr’s final class, three years of Rich Rodriguez, four years of Brady Hoke and Jim Harbaugh’s first two classes.

Below is a searchable database that features all 432 players signed by Michigan and Michigan State over the last decade.
—€” Database, map and graphic production by Scott Levin

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