ANN ARBOR, Mich. – College football's winningest program has officially begun a search that might bring a Michigan man back to campus.
Rich Rodriguez, whose style on and off the field wasn't a good fit with the Wolverines, was fired Wednesday and three potential candidates would look right at home in the maize and blue.
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, an ex-Michigan quarterback, and two former Wolverines assistants — LSU coach Les Miles and San Diego State coach Brady Hoke — seem to be at the top of a short list.
Harbaugh, though, has already met with the San Francisco 49ers and is expected to talk to the Miami Dolphins. The Denver Broncos also hope they have a shot at him.
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, whose opinion is that the coveted coach is headed for the NFL, said he has chatted with Harbaugh and will continue to because he's a Michigan man.
"Jim has decisions to make," Brandon said.
Miles might, too.
"I very much enjoy where I'm at," Miles insisted Wednesday during a Cotton Bowl news conference. "I don't think anybody has any reason to be concerned in any way."
LSU, though, was concerned enough about Miles bolting for Ann Arbor that it put a specific clause in his contract to make it an expensive move. In the "termination by coach" section of his deal, Michigan is the only other school mentioned. It states that Miles will not seek or accept employment as Michigan's coach. If Miles leaves the Bayou for the Big House, he must pay LSU $1.25 million.
A San Diego State spokesman said Michigan hadn't asked for permission to talk to Hoke, who worked on Lloyd Carr's staff at Michigan.
Brandon, though, could conceivably hire a coach without ties to Michigan just as the school did four-plus decades ago when it hired Bo Schembechler, who was from Ohio and was groomed by Woody Hayes to replace him at Ohio State.
Former Michigan athletic director Bill Martin went outside the box when he lured Rodriguez away from West Virginia — and the bold move turned out to be a bust.
Rodriguez helped the Wolverines make strides on offense with his spread scheme, especially last season with quarterback Denard Robinson, but his delegated defense ranked among the nation's worst and the kicking game was also awful.
"When I look at Michigan — I always look, of course, at the defense because that's what I played — and it just didn't seem like there was great coaching there," said Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who won the Heisman Trophy and a national title with the Wolverines. "They were always out of position.
"So we need somebody to come in, take the time and get those guys to understand how to play fundamental football. We get that done, Michigan will be all right."
Not much went right for Rodriguez in his three seasons.
He was 15-22 overall — including an 0-6 mark against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State — and compounded his problems with NCAA violations that put the once-proud program on probation for three years.
Michigan will buy out the final three years of Rodriguez's contract for $2.5 million, bringing its overall cost in hiring and firing him to $12.5 million.
Rodriguez, who was not available for comment the day he was fired, drove away from Schembechler Hall with his son at 6:45 p.m. EST Wednesday — about nine hours after he was fired — somberly looking straight ahead.
"I don't think Rich Rodriguez has had a peaceful night sleep since he arrived in Ann Arbor," Brandon said.
Now, it is Brandon's chance to wrestle day and night with another major decision.
"My timetable is: Go fast, but do it the right way," Brandon said.
AP Sports Writer Noah Trister in Allen Park, Mich., and Stephen Hawkins in Irving, Texas, contributed to this report.