The Big Ten isn’t short on quality coaching staffs, and the ensemble that Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke leads in Ann Arbor is arguably the best in the league.
Hoke enters his third season as the Wolverines’ front man as a winner of 19 games (1-1 bowl record) and proud producer of three incredible recruiting classes. On the field and off of it, Hoke embodies what Michigan football stands for: pride, excellence and the relentless pursuit of perfection.
While no staff is without flaw, Hoke can rest easily knowing that the personnel that he’s surrounded with continuously pushes the envelope in regards to the who’s-who in the Big Ten.
Michigan State is headed by Mark Dantonio, one of the most successful Big Ten coaches in the past five years (in terms of wins). With defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi calling shots, defense is a strong suit for the Spartans each fall.
There are others at various programs, but when comparing head-to-head, the Wolverines’ coaches stack up favorably against their in-league counterparts.
Offense is His Specialty
Wolverines offensive coordinator Al Borges has all the tricks and gadgets in place to make Michigan’s offense something spectacular in 2013.
Although he’ll be without speedster Denard Robinson, Borges isn’t without a talented quarterback in Devin Gardner. Not as fleet on his feet as Robinson, Gardner probably won’t torch defenses with his wheels. However, he makes up for his deficiencies with a considerably stronger and more accurate arm than Robinson.
Borges has done well, helping Gardner complete the overhaul from quarterback to receiver, back to quarterback.
Michigan averaged 29.8 points per game in 2012, fifth in the Big Ten. More running backs are in Ann Arbor, and so are bigger and faster wide receivers—the 2013 recruiting class afforded those luxuries for Borges, who also has a plethora of offensively talented prospects entering the fold in 2014.
There is certainly pressure on Borges to wow the ever-so-demanding Wolverines fanbase this fall. But his former success at Auburn and apparent nowhere-but-up career in the works at Michigan suggests that he’ll live up to expectations.
Borges doesn’t do it alone—offensive line coach Darrell Funk deserves credit for guiding players already at Michigan, along with what he does on the recruiting trail. Dan Ferrigno, another highly touted recruiter, is responsible for molding tight ends and special teamers.
As mentioned above, Borges has a strong group of receivers at, and coming to, Michigan. Wideouts coach Jeff Hecklinski is also an important part of the equation.
The Wolverines have a stable of running backs that rival any in the Big Ten. With freshman Derrick Green set to make his debut this fall, running backs coach Fred Jackson has yet another force to add fire to the ground game. Jackson is renowned for his recruiting tactics and rapport with players.
Stepping Up the D
Flip a coin—it’s that close.
Either you’re intensely excited about what Borges will do with the offense, or you’re sitting on pins and needles waiting to see what defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will get out his personnel this fall.
The secondary, obviously, will be a key factor in Michigan’s success. While it may not carry as much influence as Borges’ offensive line, Mattison’s corps of defensive backs will certainly help dictate Michigan’s fortunes in 2013.
From one of the worst—and embarrassing—secondary units in Michigan history, to one of the Big Ten’s elite, the safeties and corners have improved by leaps and bounds under Mattison’s tutelage. Under Rich Rodriguez, the Wolverines allowed yards by the bunch through the air. That’ll be a thing of the past, as Michigan is incredibly strong against the pass (169.5 yards per game).
The linebacker spot took a hit when Jake Ryan suffered an ACL injury this spring, but Mattison still has the likes of Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan and Brennen Beyer to soften the blow.
Make no mistake: Mattison will make do without Ryan. Of course, his job would be easier with Ryan in the mix, but Mattison is a master of his craft. As the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, he coached some of the top talents in the pro game, and that’s what separates him from other Big Ten defensive-minded gurus.
Mattison is the big-name guy on the defensive side of the ball, but secondary coach Curt Mallory should alleviate some of the pressure from his “boss." The same can be said for linebackers coaches Mark Smith (ILB) and Roy Manning (OLB), who was just brought on board from Cincinnati.
Manning, a former Michigan player, has been praised by those who have worked under him, and he should prove to be a valuable asset for Hoke’s staff.
Andy Reid of TheWolverine.com outlines one such story by featuring Adam Fearing’s experiences. The former Cincinnati walk-on took a punishing hit during a practice and questioned his motivation. Manning was there to help.
Fearing said the following about that day to Reid (via TheWolverine.com):
I got up, and I did not want to practice anymore, but I decided to stick it out. He was right there, behind our huddle saying, 'C'mon Fearing, c'mon,' pulling me along. I was hurting. He's right behind me, talking into my helmet, going, 'You're fine, let's go.'
And then he says, 'Those Who Stay Will Be Champions,' a phrase he learned at Michigan. And that really stuck with me, that whole moment. I didn't want to let him down. With a coach like that, you feel like they want you to succeed so bad that you're not playing for you anymore. You want to make sure they're proud of you. That's something I'll always remember
Fearing’s testimony speaks volumes about Manning’s character. His tale is similar to others told by players about Michigan’s coaching staff.
Obviously, being a great mentor is what lands guys like Meyer and Dantonio in the Big Ten or other high-level conferences. Michigan’s coaches aren’t the only ones who go the extra mile for their players. But it’s clear that something special is brewing in Ann Arbor—and it goes beyond wins and losses.
Hoke is setting up a crew that will carry Wolverines football into the next phase of its history.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81