Jim Harbaugh’s greatest existential threat is Connor Stalions, the Where’s Waldo? of college football

Jim Harbaugh’s greatest existential threat is Connor Stalions, the Where’s Waldo? of college football

If you’d told me a sign-stealing controversy involving a man named Connor Stalions would be college football’s juiciest scandal in 2023, I’d think it had something to do with a klepto College Gameday fan than clandestine operations, sideline intrigue, and infiltrated sidelines as part of football’s secret intel wars. And yet, here we are with Jim Harbaugh’s regime unraveling because of a sign-stealing operation led by an off-field analyst who thought he was Michael Westen.

Connor Stalions just keeps popping up in places he shouldn’t be. He is everywhere at once and nowhere at all. In the span of two weeks, Stalions went from a nobody getting paid to live out his college football aspirations to the Where’s Waldo? of college football as the obscure and elusive figure behind the sport’s biggest current scandal.

Stalions deleted his LinkedIn and went off the grid after he was suspended with pay by Michigan, but what we do know about Stalions is hardly enough to fill a playbook. Stalions came to Michigan after attending the Naval Academy and working with its football program as a student assistant. (He allegedly stole test scores at Navy, apparently using that experience to inform his later professional tendencies.) After briefly serving in the Marine Corps, Stalions accepted a position in Michigan’s recruiting department, specializing in analytics.

However, over the last three years, Stalions led an operation that involved purchasing tickets to dozens of Michigan opponents’ games and enlisting individuals to record future opponents’ signals from the sidelines. Reportedly, Stalions once bought multiple tickets for both sidelines for a conference game in which Michigan had both opponents on their schedule.

Instead, Central Michigan found enough evidence to launch an investigation. On a scale of Spygate to Astro-Gate, this began as a nothingburger. In-game decoding of signs from broadcasts is not prohibited, but the use of technology is, and Michigan’s alleged means is where they might have crossed an NCAA line. According to its bylaws:

“Any attempt to record, either through audio or video means, any signals given by an opposing player, coach, or other team personnel is prohibited.”

Harbaugh has turned into a habitual line-stepper. He may have thought he was getting a younger version of Bill Belichick’s ”football research” virtuoso Ernie Adams, but for $55,000 a year, Stalions stomped around like a mistake-prone Maxwell Smart and left fingerprints everywhere. TCU allegedly found out about his scheme and used dummy signals to thwart Michigan in a 51-45 college football playoff win over the Wolverines, but apparently opted against snitching. Not surprisingly, Stalions told an organization called Soldiers to Sidelines that he chose the Naval Academy because coaches such as Bill Belichick had a strong connection to military academies.

Stalions was incredibly reckless. A day before the Peach Bowl between UGA and Ohio State, Stalions made a public Venmo transaction to a Michigan recruiting intern with the description “GA.”

Intrepid fans and viewers have turned old Michigan game film into spirited games of Where’s Stalions? It has become something of an art. Next thing you know, we’ll have to check the grassy knoll. Probably back and to the left, just out of frame.

The most concerning part of these videos is how close Stalions appears to be with Michigan coordinators on the sideline during games. There’s not much plausible deniability left. Harbaugh’s plan to use a retired Marine Corps captain as a college football agent espionage agent. It didn’t take ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and Pete Thamel long to uncover his tracks.

Stalions was such a motormouth desperate for recognition, he even texted about a 500 to 600-word Google document known as the “Michigan Manifesto,” which was an alleged blueprint for the future of Wolverine football. Not many specifics are known, but it won’t be long until that leaks either.

Oh, but the Connor Stalions saga gets worse

Eventually, Internet sleuths stumbled upon an anonymous man in sunglasses who bears a resemblance to Stalions standing on Central Michigan’s sidelines during its Sept. 1 opener against Michigan State. Knowing how the internet can get ahead of its skis sometimes, you’d think this was an individual on the Central Michigan staff and this just a case of overzealous fans making hay out of nothing, and that it would get debunked in mere hours, right?

Eh…maybe not. By Tuesday, Central Michigan was stoking the fire by announcing an investigation of their own, and athletic director Amy Folan was addressing the matter. Instead, Central Michigan found enough evidence to launch an investigation. In doing so, they also mutated a weird situation into the next level of surreal.

After Tuesday night’s win over Northern Illinois, head coach Jim McElwain discussed the “sign-stealing” guy at a press conference.

“We obviously are aware of a picture floating around with the sign-stealer guy,” McElwain said. “Our people are doing everything they can to get to the bottom of it. We were totally unaware of it. I certainly don’t condone it in any way, shape, or form. I do know that his name was on none of the passes that were [given] out. Now we just keep tracing it back and tracing it back and try to figure it out.

Harbaugh has denied knowledge of Stalions’ actions, but what else is he supposed to say? He may have been unaware of HOW Stalions was stealing signals, but decided to stick his head in the sand to avoid learning too many details. Or he knew every step of the way and orchestrated it. Either way, a lack of institutional control to this degree is not a viable defense.

As Harbaugh takes blow after blow from the NCAA, Michigan’s athletic department has to be getting punchdrunk by now. The possibility that Stalions infiltrated another program’s sidelines moves this saga into surreal territory, but it would not be surprising given how lawlessly Harbaugh has run the Wolverines program. Don’t be shocked if it gets worse from here.

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Original source here

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.