Brady Hoke? Really? You have to wonder if the University of Michigan is even trying.
Back in November after Ohio State had beaten the Wolverines for the ninth time in 10 years, I wrote the following:
“(When) each win over Michigan seemingly becomes a foregone conclusion, the greatness of the overall rivalry seems to erode bit by bit. … Any Ohio State victory over the Wolverines is a wonderful thing to be cherished, but how satisfying are countless victories if they come against a defenseless opponent? I contend a Michigan program that is merely a shadow of its former self is not good for the Big Ten and not good for the OSU-Michigan rivalry.
“For better or for worse, the reputation of the conference as a whole – and that of Ohio State to a great degree – is predicated on the Michigan football team being a national power. And if that is ever going to happen again in the near future, the decision in Ann Arbor seems clear. (Rich) Rodriguez has to go.”
Perhaps I wasn’t making myself clear enough. Yes, Rodriguez had to go but in his place Michigan was supposed to hire someone dynamic who would raise the level of the program back to where it had been for most of the 20th century. No offense to Hoke, but what U-M David Brandon got with his recent hire was a dime-a-dozen coach who just happened to have had “Michigan assistant, 1995-2002” on his résumé.
Like Rodriguez three years ago, Hoke is something of a hot commodity. Rodriguez resurrected a lifeless program at West Virginia while Hoke comes from San Diego State after leading the Aztecs to their first bowl appearance since 1998 and their first bowl victory since 1969. Granted, that win was against Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl, played at Qualcomm Stadium where SDSU plays its home games, but it was a big win in program history and that’s what Hoke was selling. Fortunately for him, Brandon was in a buying mood.
Of course, the Michigan AD would have us believe that Hoke is the second coming of Urban Meyer, who produced winners at formerly moribund Bowling Green and Utah before winning a pair of national championships at Florida. In this case, Brandon is peeing on our collective legs and telling us it’s raining.
I have no affinity for Meyer but when it comes to a comparison between him and Hoke, it really is no contest. Meyer spent two seasons each at Bowling Green (a MAC rival of Ball State) and Utah (a mid-major like San Diego State). In each of those four seasons, Meyer never failed to produce at least eight wins.
The Falcons were 2-9 in 2000 and immediately improved to 8-3 during Meyer’s first season. After he went 9-3 the following year, Meyer left for Utah where he was 10-2 with a Liberty Bowl win over Southern Miss in 2003 and 12-0 with a Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh the next season. Then he took his 39-8 career record and went to Florida.
Now, let’s take a look at Hoke. In 2003, he took over a Ball State program that hadn’t enjoyed a winning season in six seasons – and it would take another five years before he produced a winner in Muncie. Hoke’s first four teams won only 15 times in 46 games – that is a robust .326 winning percentage, folks – and when he did finally get a winner, it was a modest 7-6 in 2007 that included a 52-30 blowout loss to Rutgers in the International Bowl.
To be fair, since then, Hoke has gone 25-13 including a 12-1 season in ’08 at Ball State and this past season’s 9-4 record at San Diego State.
Still, the figures don’t lie. Hoke’s eight-year record as a college head coach is 47-50 (a .485 win percentage). When Rodriguez was hired by Michigan, his 15-year record was 105-62-2, a .620 win percentage. When Ohio State rolled the dice in 2001 on a Division I-AA coach named Jim Tressel, his 15-year record was 135-57-2 (.700) and he had four national championship rings.
Personally, I have no problem with Hoke although he may not be quite as genuine as Brandon and some others would have us believe. It stretches the imagination somewhat that his father played for Woody Hayes at Miami (Ohio) yet young Brady grew up rooting for Michigan. But that’s OK. Maybe Hoke’s dad didn’t like Woody. Not everyone did.
More disconcerting is the way Hoke bolted from San Diego State. During his introductory news conference at Michigan, he thanked Rodriguez (presumably for performing so abysmally to pave the way for Hoke to get his dream job) and made no acknowledgment of San Diego State or the players (most of which were recruited by predecessor Chuck Long) that allowed him to make the leap to U-M. Perhaps worst of all, Hoke indicated he had no plans for a return trip to San Diego to say goodbye to the Aztecs in person.
Whether you fall into the camp that believes Hoke is genuine, the camp that thinks he’s a phony, or somewhere in between, I just get this nagging feeling that Michigan settled for Hoke the same way they settled for Rodriguez three years ago. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that the school’s No. 1 choice was Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles was the fall-back candidate. If Hoke was the guy Brandon wanted all along, he didn’t have to wait until after bowl season had ended. He could have fired Rodriguez the morning after the Ohio State game in November and introduced Hoke that afternoon.
Michigan hopes it has found its way back to national prominence with Hoke. At the very least, it hopes it has found its way back to the Bo Schembechler era that continued with Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr – two U-M head coaches under which Hoke served in Ann Arbor.
The long and the short of it is, however, that after three frustrating years under Rodriguez, the Wolverines yearn for a bygone era that is not easily attainable. Yes, the program suffered miserably during the last three seasons but the downturn didn’t start when Rodriguez arrived. Since 2005, Michigan has a barely-average 24-22 Big Ten record. The Wolverines haven’t finished a season as a top-five team since 1999.
In other words, Hoke has an awful lot of work ahead of him. Whether or not he truly is the man for the job, only time will tell. And after the Rodriguez disaster, time may be a luxury Hoke does not have.