Big Ten

Will Brady Hoke Have Success at Michigan?

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The Michigan Head Coaching position is one of the best gigs in all of College Football. Michigan has a long and storied history but recently it's fallen on hard times. From 1969 to 1989 Bo Schembechler won 79% of his games and won 13 Conference Titles in 21 years. Lloyd Carr won 5 Conference Titles in 13 years, and a National Championship, but began to tail off towards the end of his run (and the fact that he lost 6 of his last 7 games to rival Ohio State did not help) and ended up "retiring."

Being the Head Coach at Michigan is serious business. The Wolverines brought in Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia thinking that he would take the Big Ten by storm with his offensive acumen. In his 3rd year at the helm, Rich Rod's offense did finally take off (placing 13th in the Nation in rushing yards, 36th in passing yards and 25th in points per game). But unfortunately, the defense that was put on the field never gave the Wolverines a chance to win a big game. Rich Rod finished his 3rd year with a 15-22 mark, the worst winning percentage in Michigan history. So who would replace Rich Rod?

There was a great discussion a week or two ago on the fantastic Barnhardt & Durham show (airs on 790 the zone in Atlanta 10am to 1pm) that discussed the Michigan coaching position. The take was that they needed a larger than life persona to take over and be successful at Michigan. A guy like a Nick Saban or an Urban Meyer (not that those guys were mentioned in connection with the job...but those types of guys), a guy that would be in complete control of the program from the out-set. Maybe I'm taking it out of context or I'm mis-remembering (too many steroids when I was pitching for the Red Sox) but that's who they thought Michigan needed. A guy like Jim Harbaugh. Well, Harbaugh ended up in the NFL and Michigan went out and hired Brady Hoke.

Wait a minute? Who is Brady Hoke? Hoke is, believe it or not, a man who coached under Lloyd Carr. Remember Carr, the guy that was pushed into "retiring"? Kind of a strange hire for such a prestigious position at one of the elite College Football franchises. But I'm not here to bash Brady Hoke. He could turn out to be a great coach for Michigan and a great hire. Hell, look at Gene Chizik. Everybody hated that hire and look at it now. Brady Hoke has been a Head Coach at Ball State and San Diego State. At Ball State he went 34-38 but did go 12-1 in his final year. At San Diego State he went 13-12 going 9-4 last year. As a Head Coach he is 47-50 overall. For one of the most prestigious coaching jobs in College Football it's weird that they settled went with a guy who hasn't even won half of the games he coached (and at schools that were not in a BCS Conference). It sounds like I'm trying to bash the guy but really I'm just listing his record and scratching my head a little. But hey, that Gene Chizik guy was 5-19 at Iowa State.

Just like we did with the Steve Adazzio hire at Temple I decided to get some input from some bloggers around that country that might be a little closer to the situation that I am. Here is what they had to say:

Todd Kaufmann (Columnist for Sports Page Dallas and an expert on all things San Diego):

Brady Hoke is not the name Michigan fans wanted and while I can't really blame their frustration I do think he'll do better than a lot of people expect. Hoke knows this program. He coached under Lloyd Carr from 1997-2002 so he's not a rookie to this program or its pressures. However, being a head coach at San Diego State is nothing like being the head coach at Michigan. A lot is going to be expected of him right off the bat. I think any less than 8 wins next season will bring the program and the athletic director under fire again.
Brady Hoke seems like both a safe and a risky hire.  It's safe in that he has experience rebuilding programs (Ball State, San Diego State), he has history with Michigan that should appease many of the traditionalists, and his teams tend to play a style of football that's long proven to be effective in the Big Ten.  But it's risky in that he's never succeeded at this level (and his success at his past destinations is mitigated by the fact that he still has a sub-.500 career record and only a handful of good seasons), he's never recruited at this level (except as an assistant coach), and he inherits a program devoid of talent in many areas (primarily on defense) and that's ill-suited to his preferred schemes -- and a jilted fan base and administration that has little patience for failure.  One of the biggest keys for Hoke will be how well he's able to manage the transition period between the RichRod era and his own tenure; if he can bend his preferred schemes well enough to accommodate Denard Robinson's obvious talent, Michigan may be able to ride out this rough patch with an adequate record.  But if he can't do that and Michigan is forced to start from scratch, there could be some very ugly years in store. 
The first thing he needs to do is assemble a top-flight coaching staff and hit the recruiting trail hard to salvage what's left of the current class and try to poach a few late signings -- preferably on the defensive side of the ball.  It's also that side of the ball where Hoke needs to do the quickest turnaround; assuming he's able to keep Robinson and adjust his offensive schemes to fit Robinson's talents, the offense should be solid (though it would also help if he can recruit or develop a running back to give Robinson some much-needed assistance).  If he can't transform the defense in a hurry, though, they aren't going to be much better in 2011 than they were in 2009 or 2010.  Overall, Hoke strikes me as a solid hire, but not a home run.  He's been good but not great elsewhere and his teams have had trouble getting wins in their biggest games.  He should be able to get Michigan out of the laughingstock category and make them more competitive, but I'm skeptical about his ability to transform them into a true national power again.
Not very sexy is it? No its not. But can it work? Yes. The most important thing will be for Hoke to recruit. I see he did well at Michigan but didn't bring in many studs at Ball State or SDSU. As much as I love some of RR recruits, some just didn't have any right getting a Michigan offer. I hope Hoke can start selling Michigan early and now. This class will be the worst class at Michigan in years or maybe ever. He will really need to bounce back next year with a good class. Winning would be a huge boost. 

As for coaching I think he can do this. He seems to be willing to give his life away just so Michigan can get back to being Michigan. He has passion and I think his defense and offenses will be very flexible. Something that killed RR chances at Michigan. Is he Jim Harbaugh? No that would have gave Michigan instant "sexy" with the nation and recruits but this is a very solid hire. Better than Miles imo. Miles was just to damn old and shady. That's not a combo you want going forward. Michigan fans need to give full support. We can't have these "ahhh Hoke hasn't done enough for this job" etc etc. We need to learn from our mistakes by not giving RR a fair shake from the start. It killed the last three years. Some major bloggers are crying about the hire but I am someone that gives people chances. The sexy name didn't work with RR and now we went out and got a guy who will work until he falls over to make Michigan great again. Count me in.

Will Brady Hoke be able to live up to the standards at Michigan? Is he the right coach for the job? Only time will tell.