College Football
Jim Harbaugh's return puts 'legend' Sherrone Moore back in a support role, for now
College Football

Jim Harbaugh's return puts 'legend' Sherrone Moore back in a support role, for now

Updated Nov. 28, 2023 9:56 a.m. ET

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A three-game suspension imposed on Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh deprived the millions who viewed an instant classic between the Wolverines and Ohio State of the chance to witness what was certain to be an emotionally charged, sensorially frigid post-game embrace. The idea of Harbaugh, whose program remains embroiled in a sign-stealing scandal that some believe contributed to consecutive wins against Ohio State, shaking hands with counterpart Ryan Day after all the message board mania, conspiracy theories and moments of disrespect that preempted yet another Michigan victory is the kind of encounter a screenwriter might script.

But for the third time in as many weeks, and the sixth time overall this season, Harbaugh was barred from the stadium where Michigan was playing. Instead of matching wits with Day inside a packed Michigan Stadium, where the Wolverines secured a third straight victory over the Buckeyes for the first time since the 1990s, he watched the proceedings from home. And when he finally spoke to reporters on a conference call Sunday afternoon, Harbaugh described his reaction to safety Rod Moore snagging the game-winning interception as "one of the happiest moments of my life."

The interception gave way to a single kneel-down from quarterback J.J. McCarthy before the man who'd stewarded Michigan in Harbaugh's absence — acting coach Sherrone Moore — scurried onto the field with a security detail nipping at his heels. Moore outran the swarm of incoming fans to connect with Day for the briefest of interactions that sent the two men their separate ways. Even without Harbaugh, the afternoon played out in much the same manner as Michigan's wins in 2021 and 2022: with Day being outfoxed by the leader of the maize and blue.

"I'm not saying that I'm in a position of granting who a Michigan Man is or isn't," Harbaugh said in his weekly news conference on Monday afternoon. "Or who a Michigan Legend is or is not. I'm not the maker of those two lists. But I have nominated people before, and I nominate Sherrone Moore as a Michigan legend."


Though Moore had already filled in for Harbaugh during the third game of an earlier suspension to start the year, it was his guidance of the Wolverines to wins over then-No. 10 Penn State, Maryland and then-No. 2 Ohio State to end the regular season that has elevated his standing in Michigan lore and the coaching profession alike. 

At 37 years old, he's positioned himself as a leading candidate to eventually replace Harbaugh here in Ann Arbor, whenever such an opportunity might arise, and on Monday afternoon he was named one of five finalists for the Broyles Award that recognizes the best assistant coach in college football.

Given Moore's 4-0 record as acting coach in addition to his normal duties as Michigan's playcaller, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, it's hard to imagine anyone with better qualifications this season.

The magnitude of what he and Michigan had achieved by beating the Buckeyes for a third straight season didn't resonate with Moore until the following morning. He spent the immediate aftermath of Saturday's game hugging his mother and his two daughters, all of whom were watching at Michigan Stadium. "Daddy, we won! Daddy, we won!" his daughter Shiloh shouted amid the field-storming fray. And the first thing Moore did when he returned home was collapse into a beanbag chair to read Shiloh and her sister Solei some books. Meanwhile, his phone filled with dozens of supportive texts from Michigan royalty like Heisman Trophy winners Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson.

"Right before I sat down on that beanbag I was just like, ‘Whew, OK, I'm back,'" Moore said when asked if he took a moment to decompress after Saturday's win. "But it still hadn't hit me, what had happened in the game. It was just such a surreal experience and moment. Just thankful for it."

The weekly interview schedule distributed by Michigan's athletic department on Sunday evening listed Harbaugh as the only coach who would meet with reporters the following afternoon. But Harbaugh himself had other ideas. He began his news conference with a lengthy statement recapping the win over Ohio State and fielded a handful of questions before excusing himself in favor of Moore. Harbaugh wanted his protégé to "take a deep, long bow that he so rightly deserves," by further discussing The Game.

Breaking down Sherrone Moore's coaching decisions

To some extent, the regular-season finale marked the end of Moore's moment in the sun, with Harbaugh able to return for the Big Ten Championship game against Iowa this weekend (Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App). He will forever be remembered as an integral part of Michigan's 2023 campaign, especially if the Wolverines go on to win the national title, but when and where he reenters the spotlight remains unclear given the uncertainty surrounding Harbaugh's future. It's possible Moore could become Michigan's head coach in the next few months should Harbaugh leave for another opportunity, presumably in the NFL. But how long would Moore be willing to wait around in Ann Arbor if the university signs Harbaugh to an extension instead? Athletic directors from other schools will likely be calling Moore's agent to poke around and find out.

"Really all I want to do is try to beat Iowa," Moore said on Monday. "I haven't thought about any of that, what these last weeks [might have done for me as a coach]. Just wanted to help the program and do exactly what I have to do to help the players in those positions. Really just focused on Iowa right now."

His short-term future involves ceding control of the team back to Harbaugh and pouring all of his time into being Michigan's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, with the latter requiring Moore to shuffle some parts for the postseason after right guard Zak Zinter suffered a broken leg against Ohio State. Moore said he can't wait for Harbaugh to be back on the sideline at Lucas Oil Stadium because the head coach's presence makes competing for a Big Ten title "even more sweeter."

Michigan dominant in third straight win over Ohio State

It was a sentiment echoed by three of Michigan's most important players during conference calls on Monday afternoon to preview Saturday's game against Iowa. Defensive back Mike Sainristil said he texted Harbaugh after beating the Buckeyes to let his coach know they won the game for him. McCarthy said he's eager to hear the words of inspiration Harbaugh offers to individual players in the locker room before kickoff. Tailback Blake Corum said he's missed Harbaugh's pregame speeches that make the hair on his arms stand up and prepare him to run through a wall.

"It's been a tough three weeks," Corum said. "But we've still been winning. We've been able to take care of business. And having him back on the sideline for the Big Ten Championship game will mean a lot, so I'm super excited to have Coach [Harbaugh] back. It's going to be great. It's going to be like a reunion."

Thanks, in large part, to Moore. 

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.


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