Discarding history is foolish.
But relying entirely upon it is just as unwise.
Brady Hoke, now in his third year as head coach, is trying to reestablish a "Michigan Man" tradition that he helped promote during the mid-to-late '90s as a defensive coach under Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr.
It's a noble tale, the story of the Wolverines' leather-helmeted rise to national prominence. But it's slowly becoming a tired cliche used to excuse the poor performance of Team 134 (7-3, 3-3). For better or for worse, the term "Michigan Man" went by the wayside during a certain former coach's tenure.
He was the "anti-" anyway—and not in a contemporary, progressive sort of way. He couldn't have been more wrong for Michigan.
Citing the historical significance of 900-plus wins and 42 Big Ten titles is necessary, to an extent. But concentrating on boosting a resume that includes one BCS bowl appearance and zero conference titles should be the primary focus.
Spending too much time thinking about yesteryear is counterproductive.
Ditch the Shirts
The idea of the legacy jerseys was cute at first. But over the season, it's developed into a major issue among fans. Sure, slapping a set of legendary digits on some youngster's chest and back seems like a way to usher him toward success, but it's also a way to set him up for failure.
Devin Funchess, a Mackey Award finalist, has been terrific at tight end this season with 42 catches for 684 yards and five touchdowns. He's certainly on track to become a great at Michigan. But he's already wearing a great's number, and that's somewhat of an issue.
Why not let these guys—and not just Funchess—carve out their own reputations while wearing their own number? Funchess could do for No. 19 what Ron Kramer did for No. 87. The Apple Man's jersey (one of a few) was retired for a reason.
Jeremy Gallon wears No. 21 as a show of respect for Heisman winner Desmond Howard, who's stated on television that he was cool with the situation. Courtney Avery wears No. 11 as a nod to the Wistert brothers, and Devin Gardner channels his inner Tom Harmon in No. 98.
Or does he? Harmon won the Heisman in 1940, an era where readily available highlight films didn't exist. According to his Heisman profile, he did a whole lot more running forward than he did backward. He also threw a few more touchdowns.
Gardner's not playing anything like an icon of Michigan football. It's almost as if he were jinxed. In 2012, he played great during his five-game term as starter, the No. 12 affixed to his front and back (changed from No. 7). Then, all of the sudden, he gets the Wayne Gretzky-, Pavel Bure-ish hockey number and goes ice cold.
It seems as if the Michigan culture, the "Michigan Man" agenda, was taken a little too far. Paying homage is one thing, but the current players have to be allowed to have their own identity.
In August, Hoke said the following about the honorary jerseys to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:
The Legend jerseys aren't simply given, but earned. Each of these three young men has done a great job of representing this program, and they understand the significance each of those numbers carries. I think they will do a great job of honoring those legacies.
Six wins earns Harmon's rep. One season gets Kramer's. Being a serviceable defensive back puts you up there with the Wisterts.
Doesn't make much sense on this end, other than for Gallon, a senior who may be the only real qualifier among the bunch. He's increased his yearly receiving totals by more than 200 yards and 16 catches since his sophomore year.
He's no Desmond, but he'll be remembered as one of the better Michigan wideouts of his time period.
Remind them of the culture, pride and history, but don't give it to them. Make them truly earn it.
Hoke is nabbing SEC-like classes each season. Since 2011, Michigan has produced top-10 recruiting hauls. In 2013, Hoke secured Derrick Green, the No. 8 running back per 247Sports. And that's just part of the list.
The following table highlights some of Hoke's biggest commits.
|Future stars at UM?|
If he's going to compete with Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Alabama's Nick Saban or even Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Hoke must continue cleaning up on the recruiting trail. He's recently reclaimed the Great Lakes State after Michigan State's four-year pick-of-the-litter streak ended in 2013. Prior to that, Dantonio ruled the state. Drake Harris initially committed to the Spartans before changing his mind.
Hoke's done well in Ohio, and he's stretching to southern reaches of the country looking for top-shelf recruits. He struck gold when receiving pledges from Mason Cole (OL) and George Campbell (WR).
As with anything, there is another side to recruiting; the perils of successful national signing days can ruin a school for years. Recruiting high-character players is just as important as recruiting high-profile athletes.
Thus far, Hoke's brought aboard guys who want to play by the rules. Other than the common college mistakes, his players have been relatively quiet off the field. He made examples of Darryl Stonum and other lawbreakers, so it's difficult to tab him as a lax disciplinarian.
Two weeks ago, however, Hoke's good friend Jason Whitlock called Michigan's integrity into question. Whitlock blasted Hoke, suggesting that the coach briefly lowered the program's character standards in an attempt to gain an athletic advantage.
Whitlock wrote the following on Nov. 6, via ESPN:
This Michigan team is soft and has low character. It does not reflect the values that have defined Hoke throughout his head-coaching career. The Michigan State train wreck was predictable. Every flaw on this Wolverines team was laid bare in East Lansing. Michigan State's strengths (high character and toughness) are Michigan's weaknesses. Hoke's team was beaten by his mirror coaching image, Mark Dantonio, who took a bunch of three-star grinders with chips on their shoulders and demolished Hoke's collection of recruiting all-stars.
Did Hoke suffer because he let questionable youths into the fold? Only Hoke knows if that's true. And if so, he wasn't the first to get burned that way.
It's been three years since Michigan relieved a head coach. In Hoke's term, the Wolverines have dipped from 11 to eight to seven. See a trend? The funny thing is that his recruiting classes—at least on paper—are getting better.
The opposite was true for the other guy. He went from three to five to seven with dipping star rankings.
It's easier said than done, but winning a few games can change this seemingly down-and-out feeling into something reminiscent of past greats but with a trademark all its own.
Hoke doesn't really have to change anything. He has to start something.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81