The hits keep coming for Michigan, which watched a 21-7 third-quarter lead evaporate over the course of the rest of the game at Iowa, eventually falling to the Hawkeyes 24-21.
With the loss, Michigan dropped to 3-4 in conference play. If not for a Turbo Field Goal at Northwestern last week, that number would be even worse at 2-5—but neither is acceptable at a school with Michigan's immense resources, history and advantages.
Someone needs to pay after this season gone awry, but who? The players? The coaches? Both?
Quarterback Devin Gardner tried to take the blame, saying, "I lost the game by myself," according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com. But this decision will not be so simple. Football is a team sport; more than one person is culpable for almost every loss.
Where should the hammer come down?
Whenever a team this talented underachieves, the first reaction is to blame the head coach. Michigan's love affair with Brady Hoke has officially come to an end, and it's worth examining the relative heat of his proverbial seat.
Since beating Iowa on Nov. 17 last season, Michigan has lost six of 10 games against BCS conference opponents. That number is slightly skewed, since it ignores Notre Dame, but it also credits Michigan for winning a close game at woeful Connecticut, which atones for that bias.
Simply put: This team has not been good.
But Hoke has probably earned a long leash in Ann Arbor—one that provides enough slack to weather this storm. The 2011 season might feel like eons ago, but that is just two years in the past. Hoke still came in and took a struggling program (quarterbacked by Denard Robinson, no less) to the Sugar Bowl and won.
Hoke's success on the recruiting trail cannot be taken lightly either. According to 247Sports, Michigan has the No. 11 class for 2014, which comes on the heels of the No. 7 class in 2013. Despite losing 5-star DE Da'Shawn Hand to Alabama, Hoke has been able to lure in blue-chip talent.
Firing Hoke would disrupt that continuity, which would throw the status of those classes into flux. Top recruits might consider changing schools, sensing a lack of conviction and loyalty in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines will always be able to recruit well, simply by virtue of being the Wolverines. But losing Hoke would still throw a wrench in the next few years.
The same cannot necessarily be said of the coaching assistants, who are much more likely to be handed a pink slip after this season. Especially on offense, a change in methodology might benefit this program.
Ty Duffy of Big Lead Sports (a Michigan fan) sums it up pretty well:
I don't know what the argument for keeping anyone from the offensive staff is, at this point.— Tyler Duffy (@tyduffy) November 23, 2013
"Gorgeous" Al Borges, the Wolverines' offensive coordinator, followed Hoke from San Diego State to Michigan, but his offensive system hasn't translated well to the Big Ten.
Check out Michigan's yards per play over the past four games:
|Opponent||Yards Per Play|
|at Michigan State||2.85|
Those numbers are unacceptable, especially on the heels of a 2012 season where the offense also struggled to find consistency. The stunted development of Gardner, who appeared to be a burgeoning superstar this fall, cannot be blamed solely on the player. The coaches are also at fault.
That could be the deciding factor for Michigan, and it could be the reason Borges (who also doubles as the QB coach) might be sent packing. Gardner will still be around next year, though it's debatable whether he'll start, but the development of blue-chip quarterback Shane Morris will define this program's direction.
Who Should be Fired?
Hoke does enough things well to deserve his spot. He will retain the head coaching position because he's personable and a good leader and knows how to recruit. He's also proven he can win.
But the offensive assistants have not proved the ability to develop quarterback talent—something no one denies Gardner possesses. Keeping them around would jeopardize the future of Morris and the future of this program.
Unless something unforeseen happens against Ohio State next week and in the bowl game, Borges and a bunch of offensive assistants should be shown the door.