Michigan Hires Brady Hoke
There you go, Michigan fans. You got a Michigan guy. Feel better now?
Brady Hoke, actually, is a Ball State graduate, but he was a big part of the 1997 Michigan national title team as the defensive assistant before later going on to turn a miserable Ball State team into a MAC power, at least for a year, and taking a San Diego State team that couldn’t find anything that worked and made it a Mountain West player.
While Hoke will benefit from being the guy after Rich Rodriguez, which will give him plenty of leeway and a little bit of a break, this also signals a big moment for the alleged Leaders & Best.
Michigan didn’t get Jim Harbaugh, despite rumored to be offering more money than the former Stanford head man ended up getting from San Francisco, and the Les Miles thing never materialized.
Did Miles pull out to save face because Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon wanted Hoke all along, or did Miles really want to stay at LSU? Allegedly, Miles was talking like he would’ve taken the gig if offered to him, and he definitely wanted the job a few years ago, but was sidetracked by that whole pesky national championship thing, and no one will ever give the real story.
It’s all very strange. Miles was supposed to interview next week, he was, at the very least, open to the idea, and then it all flamed out in a big hurry. Maybe Brandon didn’t want the flakiness and the baggage that comes with Miles, and maybe he wanted a guy to make his mark at Michigan, rather than LSU. Whatever the case, Hoke is a terrific hire, even if it doesn’t seem like a sexy one.
He’s a strong defensive coach who should instantly make the Wolverines better by simplifying the scheme. There won’t be as much guesswork and there won’t be as many attempts to throw in several ideas to hope something sticks. If nothing else, Hoke’s defensive front will be better against the run from Day One.
The interesting part, though, will be the offense. Ball State managed to put up big stats in bunches with Nate Davis turning into a dangerous quarterback and MiQuale Lewis always having ten-mile wide holes to run through. San Diego State freshman Ronnie Hillman turned into a home run hitter, finishing the year tenth in the nation in rushing averaging 118 yards per game, while the Hoke attack was 16th in the nation with 457 yards per game and 19th in scoring averaging 35 points per outing.
No, he’s not going to run the Rich Rodriguez spread, but don’t assume a massive, wholesale rebuilding project will be needed. Hoke doesn’t have a quarterback like Ryan Lindley, the marginal pro prospect at SDSU, but he should be able to easily adapt and adjust to Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. If you can’t figure out how to make an offense work with a weapon like Robinson, you don’t deserve to be the head coach at the University of Michigan.
The other positive will be the receivers. DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown were an NFL-caliber tandem for the Aztecs, and Hoke’s attack should be able to take advantage of Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway right away. So, basically, the defense should be better, the offense shouldn’t take too much of a hit, and Michigan should be able to at least tread water for a year while Hoke gets the hang of the job.
But can he recruit.
Because it’s Michigan, it’ll always have a floor on how bad it can be, but to be Michigan again, the overall talent level needs an upgrade to compete with Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Ohio State for Big Ten titles as well as the national championship. And there’s no excuse, none, to be as bad as the program has been recently against Michigan State. While there’s little time to work, Hoke needs a big February
This should work out, but coaching hires and coaching fits are always a roll of the dice. No one knew Bob Stoops was going to be Bob Stoops. Jim Tressel didn’t exactly get the needle moving when he was first hired, Pete Carroll was considered by many to be an awful hire for USC, and Gene Chizik was destroyed by his own fan base after being hired away from Iowa State. Then again, Dan Hawkins didn’t work out at Colorado, and Rich Rodriguez was a hot mess from the second he signed on.
Michigan might be one of the toughest jobs in college football, and Hoke is going to be in for a wild ride.
Sure, it was clumsy and not Michigan’s first choice—again—but this is a hire that’ll work long-term for the program. Bank on it. While certainly not as high-profile as other candidates, like Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles, Hoke is a great fit for a school desperately seeking stability and a return to prosperity. He’s a Michigan man, sorta, having spent eight years under Lloyd Carr, so he knows about expectations and what it takes to be successful in Ann Arbor. He’s also a no-nonsense, fundamentals-first kind of coach, who’ll demand a higher level of physicality than the Wolverines showed under Rich Rodriguez. The Gator Bowl performance? It’ll never happen under Hoke, a defensive coach at a program that’s in dire need of a defensive overhaul and identity.
The best endorsement of Hoke is that he’s won, not just once but twice. And not just at football factories, but at schools where no one ever wins. In 2008, his Ball State team went 12-1, entering the national discussion for the first time ever. It took him just two seasons to turn around San Diego State, going 9-4 and winning the school’s first bowl game since 1969. I spoke with former USC head coach John Robinson a year ago, who said that the Aztecs simply had too many hurdles, on and away from the field, to be a Mountain West success. It took Hoke two seasons to seriously challenge that notion. The guy can flat out coach and his familiarity with the Midwest will be a plus on the recruiting trail.
The hiring of Brady Hoke to restore the glory at Michigan may be short on sizzle, but it’s got plenty of steak. Five years from now, don’t be shocked if Wolverine fans are ecstatic that neither Harbaugh nor Miles said yes to Dave Brandon this month.
By Matt Zemek
Was the dance with Les Miles awkward and sloppy, just as it was 37 months ago? Yes. Did Michigan’s football program suffer in the realm of public perception, just as it has over the past three seasons? Sure. Will it take a few years for the Wolverines to become a factor again in the Big Ten? Absolutely – not until 2013 should one begin to entertain notions of a U of M renaissance. Ann Arbor has been stomach-punched by the Rich Rodriguez era and the balky leadership of Athletic Director David Brandon.
Now, with all that having been said, here’s something else to consider: Brady Hoke’s career arc is very similar to that of Urban Meyer. The resemblance is considerable.
Of course, Meyer is a spread guru and Hoke prefers his football in a more straightforward form. Of course Meyer won a BCS bowl at Utah while Hoke merely won the Poinsettia Bowl at San Diego State. Yet, the marks of mastery exist in both cases: Meyer and Hoke took moribund Mid-American Conference programs to the heights of excellence. They needed only two years to transform Mountain West programs into fire-breathing winners. Now, the parallel has been strengthened to an even greater extent. Meyer might have migrated south to Gainesville while Hoke flew to “The School Up North,” but the fact remains that these MAC apprentices-turned-Mountain (West) men both found quick employment inside the gates of a big-money school. They both commanded enough attention and respect in non-traditional football outposts (Bowling Green, Muncie, Salt Lake City, and San Diego) to gain plum jobs in their profession. Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley was under fire in early 2005 after the three-year Ron Zook era, but he wisely ignored other voices to pluck Meyer from an eager crowd of applicants. True, Michigan didn’t have as many suitors as Florida did six years ago, but David Brandon – for all of his many missteps as the AD in Ann Arbor – found himself a man who is poised to make Michigan Michigan again.
Ignore the overall coaching record. Ball State is one of the least (financially) supported programs in the FBS. Hoke took a whole lot of nothing and made it into more than something. Turning Ball State into a 12-2 team in 2008 represents one of the very best coaching performances college football has seen over the past decade. Making San Diego State a feared Mountain West team – one that came oh-so-close to being an 11-1 club this past season (ask Missouri, BYU and Utah) – rates as a nearly equivalent feat of brilliance. Hoke encounters problems and fixes them. Period. That’s the biggest reason to view this hire as a good one by Mr. Brandon.
Just as significant in all this is the fact that Hoke wants his offenses to be aggressive but traditional. After the ill-advised switch to a spread-option coach in the slobberknocker world of the Big Ten, Hoke will make Michigan a team that can play power football when it needs to. The only difference is that Michigan will attack defenses with a vertical passing game and eschew the “play not to lose” mentality that was part of Lloyd Carr’s maddeningly tentative offensive coordinator, a fella named Terry Malone. Hoke isn’t Jim Harbaugh (then again, who is?), but he’s the next best choice to restore everything that was good about the Schembechler-Carr era while adding modern components to improve the product even more.
There’s just one more thing to be said here: Because Rodriguez set back the program by taking Michigan out of its traditional mold, Hoke deserves at least four years to turn the program around unless something Zook-ish happens in the first two and a half seasons. Michigan will require a little more time to remake itself; that’s what happens when an impatient and restless school tries to be something it isn’t, wasn’t, and never could become. Hoke should be given more time and space to do what needs to be done.
From here, though, it seems rather clear that the newest Michigan man
probably won’t need four years to get this train back on the tracks.
Call David Brandon lucky; he still made a hire that’s likely to return
the Maize and Blue to pigskin prominence.