I’ve really liked Bill Martin since he took over as the athletic director at Michigan.

Brian Merlos
Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin is drawing the ire of many Michigan fans for apparently mishandling the search for the next head football coach. (PETER SCHOTTENFELS/Daily)

Martin turned a struggling Athletic Department into a self-sufficient one, transforming it from a debt-ridden mess into a Canham-esque model of prosperity.

He’s made great coaching hires, too. Rich Maloney is one of the nation’s top baseball coaches. Not only did Martin bring him to Ann Arbor, he kept Maloney this summer when some big programs came calling for his services. And even though John Beilein’s immediate results certainly haven’t shown it (losing to Harvard? Seriously, John?), I’m confident he was the right hire, too.

Martin has also made amazing strides in facilities. The enclosed seating that’s about to drastically change the aesthetics of the Big House certainly isn’t everyone’s favorite decision, but I love that Martin is getting Michigan’s facilities up to date with some of the nation’s other elite universities.

But Bill, let’s be honest: You’ve got yourself in deep with this one.

No, it’s not entirely your fault – the finger could be pointed at a wide variety of scapegoats – but you said it yourself that this decision would likely define your time at Michigan.

“Yeah, it’s a very, very important task,” Martin said just minutes after Lloyd Carr announced his retirement last month. “Every time you replace a coach of this stature, you have to drop everything and focus on it, and that’s what I’ll be doing. It’s very important, and I realize that.”

And for every great hire you’ve made, for every new facility you’ll erect, for every dollar you bring to the University, all of that will be overshadowed by this failure if a salvageable hire doesn’t come from this mess.

Is it possible? Sure. But will it be easy? Absolutely not.

Les Miles was the guy. Plain and simple. Ignore the spin that will likely follow in the next few weeks – Miles was Michigan’s next head coach. And it took an astronomical screw-up to break up destiny.

You made a last-ditch effort to contact Miles’ agent yesterday morning. Good for you – probably a little late, though, considering Miles already announced he was returning to LSU the day before.

With Miles out of the picture, who should be the next target?

To be completely honest, none of the potential candidates inspire too much excitement. Tom O’Brien? Jim Grobe? Greg Schiano? Even Jeff Tedford doesn’t sound like a sexy hire after California’s embarrassing second-half collapse.

Brian Kelly is likely the coach that garners the most excitement among the Michigan fanbase. But most insiders are saying he’s a long-shot candidate.

Should this come as a surprise? Hardly. Kelly doesn’t fit the mold most of the old-school higher-ups in the Athletic Department want.

But maybe it’s time to think of that as a positive, not a negative.

Bo Ball isn’t exactly practical in the current landscape of college football. Maybe whiffing on Bo’s Boy could be a blessing in disguise. Maybe it’s time to blow everything up – old-school ties and all – and start with a new, fresh, innovative perspective.

It would be going out on a limb, but didn’t Michigan take a chance on an unproven coach from Miami (Ohio) 40 years back?

One thing is for sure, Martin needs to spend some cash if he wants the right replacement.

Someone willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for facilities needs to be just as eager to at least pay market value for big-time coaches. At a University where Mary Sue Coleman was the highest-paid public university chief two years ago, why can’t the school’s coaches receive similarly competitive contracts?

Martin low-balling Miles probably wasn’t the only reason this deal fell apart, but that certainly couldn’t have helped, especially when LSU was willing to pay Miles top dollar.

If you were Miles, where would you feel the most welcome?

Whether we’re talking about Martin using his money or his skill to bring in a suitable replacement for Lloyd Carr, one thing’s for sure – it needs to be done quickly.

Yes, an unenviable task just got harder after this weekend. But don’t feel sorry for Martin and the rest of the coaching search committee – it’s nobody’s fault but their own.

– Bell can be reached at scotteb@umich.edu.

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