Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke
“It’s good to be back on the field…”
So began coach Brady Hoke’s first spring press conference following last year’s disappointing season when Michigan entered the backstretch of Big Ten schedule with hopes of playing in the conference championship game until a 1-4 finish dropped the team out of contention. The late-season slide fueled rumors that Hoke was on the hot seat until athletic director David Brandon released a statement on mgoblue.com voicing his support and taking aim at critics.
“Anyone making efforts to stir up a coaching controversy at Michigan is ill-informed and is likely promoting a personal agenda that is not in the best interest of Michigan football.”
Brandon made it clear that Hoke was safe and continued to support him despite a final-minute 42-41 loss to Ohio State and an embarrassing 31-14 bowl loss to Kansas State. But the same didn’t hold true for offensive coordinator Al Borges, who was dismissed.
As Michigan begins spring practice, the heat is on Hoke as he enters his fourth season. Michigan needs to drastically improve last season’s record, or fan frustration may boil over.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise, noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.
Michigan barely escaped early-season scares against Akron and UConn before falling to Penn State in 4OT. After that, the roof fell in—Michigan ended the season 7-6 finishing with an embarrassing 31-14 loss in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to Kansas State.
Instead of improving as the season progressed, Michigan fell apart because of poor play and injuries. After Hoke’s stellar 11-2 first season, many hoped that Michigan would be competing for a national championship, but the 7-6 record reminded fans of the Rich Rodriguez era.
Athletic Director David Brandon gave Brady Hoke his unequivocal support, but it didn’t extend to offensive coordinator Al Borges who was fired and replaced by Doug Nussmeier from Alabama. Borges who came to Michigan with Hoke from San Diego State, took the fall for an offense that struggled to find an identity all season long.
Nussmeier inherits a bad offensive line that loses two of its top performers—tackles Taylor Lewan (graduation) and Michael Schofield (graduation). The offense also loses top receiving options Jake Butt (ACL injury), Jeremy Gallon (graduation) and Drew Dileo (graduation).
The defensive staff was also realigned to separate the coaching responsibilities for the defensive backfield between Curt Mallory (safeties) and Roy Manning (cornerbacks) and to have defensive coordinator Greg Mattison take over linebackers. The changes are intended to help Michigan switch to a more aggressive defensive scheme than in past seasons.
The pressure on Hoke extends to his coaching staff. Last season’s collapse cost Borges his job and put everyone on notice that 7-6 is unacceptable.
Hoke beat Ohio State 40-34 in his first season and beat Michigan State 12-10 on a field goal as time expired in 2012. That makes his record 2-4 versus Michigan’s two main conference rivals during his tenure.
Only previous coach Rich Rodriguez (0-6) was worse against those teams since the rebirth of Michigan football under Bo Schembechler.
Brandon can accuse critics of trying to stir up a coaching controversy, but Hoke’s record in rivalry games speaks for itself. A 2-1 record versus Notre Dame softens the blow a little bit, but it didn’t save Rodriguez from being canned after three seasons. With Notre Dame retreating from playing Michigan in future seasons, victories over Ohio State and Michigan State are crucial to measuring Hoke’s leadership.
The incident that resulted in the dismissal of kicker Brendan Gibbons happened before Hoke even become head coach. But the circumstances of him being unavailable for the Ohio State game and not traveling to the bowl game has raised questions of what Hoke knew and when did he know it. The athletic department appears to have acted properly in removing Gibbons from the team when notified by university officials, but a further investigation is underway.
David Jesse of the Detroit Free Press reports that the Department of Education is investigating how the university dealt with the allegations against Gibbons.
Hoke refuses to comment, citing privacy concerns, but his statements about why Gibbons wasn’t with the team before the story broke in the Michigan Daily are under scrutiny.
Quarterback Devin Gardner took a beating behind a bad offensive line last season. His injury versus Ohio State gave backup Shane Morris an opportunity to play in the bowl game and be in position to better compete with Gardner in spring practice.
Gardner is the unquestioned team leader on offense, but it remains unclear which quarterback will fit better in new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s offense.
#58 Chris Bryant
The Michigan offensive line was historically bad last season—shuffling nine players through the starting five positions because of poor play and injuries. The team must replace tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield because of graduation, and injuries have forced offensive guard Chris Bryant to quit football.
Expected starter Erik Magnuson will also miss spring practice because of an injury that leaves another slot on the offensive line open.
Fixing the offensive line is the top concern of the team during spring practice, and the permanent loss of Bryant and temporary loss of Magnuson only compound the challenge.
Michigan thumped Michigan State this week—in basketball. John Beilein’s squad played in the national title game last season and is currently leading the Big Ten Conference.
Success in basketball is good, but Michigan is a football school. Some fans note that Beilein struggled in his first few seasons but was given an opportunity to grow his program; efforts that are now bearing fruit for Michigan.
The Crisler Center is an amazing facility, but it rests in the shadow of the Big House—the same way the football program has a higher profile at Michigan than basketball.
Can Brady Hoke lead the football program to national prominence like Coach Beilein has done?
Hoke will be on the hot seat until he proves he can.