Dante Moore’s rejection of Michigan is another loss for Jim Harbaugh

In June 2018, just a few days after graduating seventh grade, Dante Moore attended a one-day University of Michigan football camp typically reserved for high school prospects. He was invited by coach Jim Harbaugh, who had heard of his incredible talent.

Dante’s father, Otta, told the Detroit Free Press at the time that he was surprised but excited by the request. He was a lifelong resident of Detroit and, as his son would state, “a die-hard Michigan fan.” So hard, in fact, that Ota has a shoulder tattoo of the Michigan logo urinating on the Ohio State logo.

Dante Moore was just a 13-year-old junior in high school, but it only took Harbaugh a few practices to offer him a scholarship.

That offer, the first of dozens that came from around the country for Moore, made headlines. Michigan recruiting seventh grader? However, Harbaugh spent 14 seasons as an NFL QB and later coached Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick. He knew what he was seeing.

Thus 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 youth proposal turned Moore into a local folk hero. It’s a testament to himself, his family and his work ethic that he’s become not only one of the top 10 recruits in the 2023 class, but someone hailed for his poise, leadership and maturity.

All American player; All American kid.

Just not a Michigan guy.

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

Sometime in the 49 months since that initial offer, the relationship between Harbuagh and Moore, not to mention the Wolverines and Detroit’s latest athletic wonder, fell apart.

Michigan continued to recruit Moore, even relentlessly, because it was a homegrown talent they believed could win championships and a charismatic personality that could attract other players. Moore was such a priority that they didn’t offer another quarterback in the 2023 class.

And Moore has never been publicly angry with Michigan, regularly visiting campus for games and practices, hanging out with coaches and publicly calling U of M his “Day 1.”

That seemed destined, especially when Harbaugh and Michigan regained their competitive edge last season by winning the Big Ten, beating Ohio State and advancing to the College Football Playoff.

Still, in a nationally televised ceremony Friday afternoon, Moore pulled out an Oregon hat and said he’s 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’s no way to categorize this other than a big recruiting loss for Michigan.

Moore has no ties to Oregon, and the campus is 2,400 miles away, or at least two commercial flights away. The Ducks’ conference, the Pac 12, could be divided until 2024. Their rookie head coach, Dan Lanning, while charismatic and coming off an assistant at national champion Georgia, is not yet a game-winning coach.

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

All of this comes on the heels of Saline, Mich. quarterback C.J. Carr, the top 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 Moore’s loss is money, ie. Oregon paid for the commitment. There are plenty of Michigan fans and even Harbaugh confidantes who blame the state law and the slow school on so-called “collectives” who can guarantee money instead of letting individual boosters make name, image and likeness deals.

Blaming the money has always been the loser’s complaint in recruiting.

Oregon may very well have offered more guaranteed money than Michigan, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t enough in Ann Arbor. This was not a zero versus a million dollar decision. Although Moore admitted that his family’s financial ability to travel to away games helped bridge the geographical gap, he would earn big wherever he went.

“Everyone wants to take the biggest schools that offer them the most money, but for me as a young kid who enjoys football [it’s] really simple [about trying] to better myself,” Moore said Friday. “If NILO comes from how I play, it comes from how I play. But that’s not a big part 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, Florida.  (Photo by David Rosenbloom/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Despite making the College Football Playoff last season, Jim Harbaugh lost two big-time recruits with strong Michigan ties. (David Rosenbloom/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

That falls on Harbaugh, because if you can’t convince local, lifelong Michigan fans of the program’s strength and potential earnings, then it’s on you.

It’s been a strange six months for Harbaugh. After the big 2021 season, he publicly tried (and failed) to return to NFL coaching. He lost, among other employees, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who had a strong relationship with Moore. Even after a breakout season, the program has yet to generate much recruiting momentum — the 2023 class is currently ranked No. 44 by Rivals.com.

Harbuagh began his tenure at Michigan as a recruiting powerhouse, with top-five classes in 2016 and 2017. However, over the last four years, he finished 10th on average per Rivals and signed just two elite five-star recruits.

Good, but not great.

The program tried, but then quickly abandoned, a number of strategies, including satellite camps from rural Alabama to Australia, holding spring training at IMG Academy and hosting star-studded “Signing with the Stars” events.

Nothing seems to stick.

Honestly, the lineup Harbaugh recruited last year — and then coached — was good enough to make the playoffs. 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, NC, who could turn out to be as good or better than Moore and Carr.

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

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

Dante Moore will be Duck, not Wolverine. This would have sounded impossible four or more years ago.

It’s up to Harbaugh to make it regardless.

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