Brady Hoke told reporters at Day 1 of Big Ten Media Days, including MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner, that he's not worried about his job security at Michigan. But that doesn't mean the questions are going to stop anytime soon.
Athletic director Dave Brandon has dispelled notions that Brady is on the hot seat this season multiple times, most recently to Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News. "I have all the confidence in the world that he’s bringing in the right kids, that he continues to do the right thing in terms of getting his staff lined up," Wojnowski said. "I’m convinced we’re heading to a very, very good place."
But the question is, what if Michigan doesn't get to that very good place by January? Hoke is coming off a 7-6 season entering his fourth year with the program. In a vacuum, his 26-13 overall record looks promising, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
After leading the team to a strong 11-2 finish in 2011, his squad dropped to 8-5 in 2012 before the dangerously-close-to-.500 2013 campaign.
That record included a strong undefeated start that went south quickly as the season progressed, as BTN.com's Tom Dienhart pointed out during Hoke's presser.
And though the team was perfect at home under Hoke in each of his first two seasons at the helm, they dropped two at Michigan Stadium in 2013—including a game vs. archrival Ohio State on November 30, which has left a bitter taste in Wolverines fans' mouths. Hoke's gutsy decision to go for a two-point conversion rather than tie that game with an extra point fueled many fans' disenchantment.
"I've done this at two other schools," Hoke said Monday, per Baumgardner. "You come in as a new coach, and you don't put a timetable on anything. Because you don't know." Though Hoke may not admit to having a timetable in place, rumblings about his days at the program being numbered will continue if the team doesn't make serious strides in 2014.
There were some moments in the 2013 season Hoke would undoubtedly like to forget, such as the Wolverines' embarrassing loss to in-state rival Michigan State on November 2, in which the team rushed for a record-low minus-48 net yards.
Last season's 7-6 record would have been more understandable in Hoke's first season. The Wolverines were transitioning from a spread offense under Rich Rodriguez (who, incidentally, went 7-6 in his last season in 2009 before Hoke was brought in), which is not a process that happens overnight.
But the year-to-year decline in Hoke's squad's performance is what gives fuel to the hot seat questions, and not unfairly so.
|Wolverines Year-to-Year Season and Home Records Under Hoke|
|Season||Season Record||Home Record||Points For||Points Against|
The expectations are elevated for the coach of the winningest program in college football, and Hoke understands that. Brandon told Wojnowski he doesn't have a target record in mind for the 2014 season because that would be "grossly unfair," but it's not hard to imagine he or the fanbase will be satisfied with another 7-6 or even 8-5 season.
Three of Michigan's losses in 2013 were by four points or less, so the team has a foundation to build on. Hoke hired new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and opened competition at multiple positions, according to Baumgardner.
That includes the offensive line, for which Brady has yet to name the front five starters, and the receivers group, which lost Jeremy Gallon to the NFL and now includes Devin Funchess, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and true freshman Freddy Canteen.
Of course, some key factors aren't in Hoke's control, such as Devin Gardner's performance.
He's moving things in the right direction for the Wolverines, but college football is a numbers game, and until Hoke can deliver a record that will please the fans and Brandon, the questions surrounding his job security will continue.