UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio — Rick Finotti wasn’t necessarily looking to change jobs and move out of state but, as he says, some offers are too good to pass up. When a place like Michigan and a coach like Jim Harbaugh call asking if you want a job, well …
“You just can’t pass up a Jim Harbaugh, Michigan opportunity and a chance to get in on the ground floor with them,” Finotti said of the conversations that took him from coaching one of Ohio’s top high school programs to joining the Wolverines in March 2015 as their director of football operations.
“(Harbaugh) was looking for a high school-type coach to come in and join his staff. A couple of people brought up my name and he did the research on it. He found it a fit to join his staff.”
Finotti was promoted to defensive assistant last season but returned home to Cleveland in January when he accepted the head coaching job at Division III John Carroll. The Blue Streaks went to the national semifinals last season and beat D-III power Mount Union in the regular season. Tom Arth, Finotti’s predecessor, took the head coaching job at Chattanooga.
A perfect match
Thus it doesn’t take long to put 2 and 2 together and figure out how it was that the Michigan coaching staff, led by Harbaugh, ended up at John Carroll on Friday night as part of its 10-day satellite camp tour.
“I can’t remember when we first actually talked about it,” Harbaugh said. “His staff did a great job of organizing it, though. I thought it was a really good camp. They had every contingency laid out, in true Rick Finotti fashion. Everything was planned well with all our contingencies.”
Attention to detail and preparing for contingencies are two things Finotti took with him from his two seasons at Michigan into his first college head coaching job. He needed those attributes while leading the Lakewood St. Edward program to two Ohio Division I state titles in six seasons, but they were honed in Ann Arbor.
“Make sure you have a plan, how you outline the plan, detail the plan,” Finotti said Friday after the camp, which drew approximately 250 players. “Also, too, just the enthusiasm. If you’re going to do this, have fun. Have a great enthusiasm for the people you’re working with. Get the most out of them. If you invest in people, it’s a wise investment.”
If you think that sounds like his old boss, well, you’re right. Finotti doesn’t shy away from that comparison. There weren’t many jobs he would have left St. Edward for, but Michigan was one. He moved to Ann Arbor while his family — wife Rebecca and two adult children, Frank and Hannah — remained in Cleveland.
Frank is now a defensive assistant on his dad’s staff.
“It was because it was Michigan,” Finotti said. “If it was another school, I don’t know if I would have done it. It was close enough — two-and-a-half hours from home. My family stayed in Cleveland while I went to Ann Arbor. We weren’t ready to move yet, so it’s not like I was looking.”
Finotti’s hiring at Michigan had a subtle effect on recruiting. It gave Michigan a presence in northeastern Ohio. And while that presence hasn’t resulted in the Wolverines signing any Cleveland-area recruits the last two classes, they are in the running for Cleveland Heights DE Tyreke Smith.
Smith is the No. 3-ranked player from Ohio in the 247Sports composite ratings system and the No. 5 weakside defensive end.
One thing Finotti missed out on with his new job at John Carroll was Michigan’s trip to Italy. He exchanged it for a trip to Spain, however.
Harbaugh and the Wolverines made news by going to Italy on the dime of an anonymous donor. The John Carroll team went to Spain on an eight-day trip, returning last week. Division III teams are able to go on such trips once every three years, but the players must pay for the trips themselves.
And no team cupcake sales or car-wash fundraisers are allowed. The NCAA doesn’t want a booster paying $1,000 for a chocolate icing pastry, even if it does come with sprinkles.
The excursion, run through Global Football, was similar to what Michigan experienced in Italy. The team visited historical sites and got some football work done in the process. John Carroll beat a Spanish All-Star team, 91-7, in Barcelona.
The trip was much more than football for Finotti.
“I think it’s team-building but it’s also expanding,” he said, again sounding a lot like Harbaugh. “These are some bright young men and they’re going to go on to do some great things. I think it’s important to learn and educate yourself about other cultures and how other people do things. I really think that’s a big part of it.”
Finotti and Harbaugh compared trips as they talked during the night Friday.
“We sure did,” Harbaugh said. “We both talked about it. His was very similar. It was great to hear about his. It’s very cool. I’m very happy for him. It’s great to see one of your friends running a program. That’s really cool.”