Pressure is on Jim Harbaugh after losing another big-time Michigan recruit

·Columnist
·6 min read

In June of 2018, just days after finishing seventh grade, Dante Moore attended a one-day University of Michigan football camp that is usually reserved for high school prospects. He had been invited by head coach Jim Harbaugh, who’d heard of his prodigious talent.

Dante’s father, Otha, told the Detroit Free Press at the time that he was surprised but thrilled at the request. He was a lifelong Detroiter and, as his son would declare, a “die-hard Michigan fan.” So die-hard, in fact, that Otha sports a shoulder tattoo of the Michigan logo urinating on the Ohio State logo.

Dante Moore was just a 13-year-old middle schooler but it took just a few drills for Harbaugh to extend him a scholarship offer.

That offer, the first of dozens to come from across the nation for Moore, made headlines. Michigan is recruiting a seventh-grader? Harbaugh, however, spent 14 seasons as an NFL QB and later coached Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick. He knew what he saw.

So began the relationship between Moore, who would go on to star at Detroit King High School, and Harbaugh, now entering his eighth season at Michigan.

The youthful offer turned Moore into a folk hero locally. It is a testament to himself, his family and his work ethic that he developed not only into one the top-10 recruits in the Class of 2023 but someone hailed for his poise, leadership and maturity.

All American player; All American kid.

Just not a Michigan Man.

Dante Moore announced his decision to attend Oregon live on SportsCenter. (ESPN screenshot)
Dante Moore announced his decision to attend Oregon live on SportsCenter. (ESPN screenshot)

Somewhere in the 49 months following that initial offer, the seemingly storybook relationship between Harbaugh and Moore, not to mention the Wolverines and the latest Detroit athletic prodigy, fell off course.

Michigan kept recruiting Moore, relentlessly even, because this was a homegrown talent it believed could win championships and a charismatic personality who could draw in other players. Moore was such a priority, the Wolverines offered no other quarterback in the Class of 2023.

And Moore never publicly soured on Michigan either, routinely visiting campus for games and practices, hanging around with coaches and publicly calling U of M his “Day 1s.”

This felt preordained, especially when Harbaugh and Michigan regained competitive footing last season by winning the Big Ten, beating Ohio State and advancing to the College Football Playoff.

Yet at a nationally televised ceremony Friday afternoon, Moore pulled out an Oregon hat and said he would be headed to Eugene for college.

The Ducks have a great program. And no one player, not even a five-star quarterback, can make or break a team. That said, there is no way to categorize this other than a major recruiting loss for Michigan.

Moore has no ties to Oregon and the campus is 2,400 miles or at least two commercial flights away. The Ducks’ conference, the Pac-12, could be split apart by 2024. Oregon's rookie head man, Dan Lanning, while charismatic and coming off a run as an assistant for national champion Georgia, has yet to coach a game.

Maybe you lose Dante Moore to Alabama. Or defending champ Georgia. Or even Notre Dame, who once looked like the leader. But Oregon? By the end, Michigan seemed like an afterthought and that was before Moore cited his “relationships” with the new Ducks coaching staff and his belief Oregon would best prepare him as a player.

All of this comes on the heels of Saline, Michigan, quarterback C.J. Carr, the best instate prospect in the Class of 2024, choosing Notre Dame over U of M. Carr wasn’t just another local star, either. His grandfather, Lloyd, spent 13 years as Michigan's head coach and led the program to a national title in 1997.

The easy, if unfair, answer for losing Moore is money, i.e. Oregon paid for the commitment. There are plenty of Michigan fans and even Harbaugh confidants blaming state law and the school being slow on so-called “collectives” that can guarantee money, rather than leaving it to individual boosters to make deals on name, image and likeness.

Blaming cash has always been the loser’s lament in recruiting, though.

Oregon very well may have offered more guaranteed money than Michigan, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty available in Ann Arbor. This wasn’t a zero dollars vs. million dollar decision. While Moore acknowledged his family being financially able to travel to far off games helped close the geographic gap, he was going to make plenty wherever he went.

“Everybody wants to take the biggest schools offering them the most money, but for me as a young kid that enjoys football [it’s] really just [about trying] to better myself," Moore said Friday. "If NIL comes with how I play, it comes with how I play. But that's not a big piece of my recruitment."

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 31: Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh during the Capital One Orange Bowl game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Michigan Wolverines on December 31, 2021 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fl.  (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Despite making last season's College Football Playoff, Jim Harbaugh has lost two big-time recruits with strong Michigan ties. (David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This falls on Harbaugh because if you can’t convince local, lifelong Michigan fans about the power and potential profits of the program, then that’s on you.

For Harbaugh, it has been a strange six months. After the big 2021 season, he publicly tried (and failed) to return to coaching in the NFL. He lost, among other staffers, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who had a strong relationship with Moore. Even coming off a breakthrough season, the program has yet to generate much recruiting momentum — the 2023 class currently ranks 45th by Rivals.com.

Harbuagh started his Michigan tenure as a recruiting force, with top-five classes in 2016 and 2017. The past four years it has finished an average of 10th per Rivals and signed just two elite Rivals five-star players.

Good, but not great.

In fairness, the roster Harbaugh recruited last year — and then coached up — was good enough to reach the playoff. Recruiting rankings are just recruiting rankings. And excellent players will continue to want to play in Ann Arbor, including, perhaps, 2024 QB Jadyn Davis of Charlotte, North Carolina, who may turn out to be as good or better than Moore and Carr.

It’s why anyone writing off Jim Harbaugh does so at their own peril. He was dubbed “Captain Comeback” as a player for a reason. He tends to find a way.

In this case, it will be rebounding from consecutive quarterback recruiting losses that he entered with significant advantages.

Dante Moore will be a Duck, not a Wolverine. That would have sounded impossible four-plus years ago.

It's on Harbaugh to make it not matter.

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