From the start, Rich Rodriguez was put into the unfair and impossible situation of having to prove that he wasn't simply a cynical career opportunist whose loyalty was subordinate to his ambitions.
Leaving his own "dream job" at West Virginia immediately set the wrong tenor for the program and under his watchful gaze the team carried along in fits and starts, unable to sustain much of its former glory.
In contrast, it is unlikely that anyone could possibly labor under the misapprehension that Brady Hoke has anything but love in his heart for Michigan football, and that suits many people just fine: The sense that the team is bigger than any one person, even the coach. No one will ever question Hoke's passion and character.
But it is all too easy to be incredulous about how much that truly matters when his credentials hardly convey an aura of invincibility. If he had no Michigan connections whatsoever, then it is doubtful that Hoke even would have been considered for the job.
It is possible that Michigan simply caught a coach on the rise. His 47-50 record masks the fact that he engineered a 12-1 season with Ball State (he didn't coach the bowl blowout) and transformed the fortunes of a 2-10 San Diego State team in only two years.
In his final season with the Aztecs, he went 9-4 and lost by a combined 15 points to teams such as Missouri and TCU, with some nice recruits such as running back Ronnie Hillman leading the way.
It's even conceivable that had he been able to spring a shocking upset, his name would be worth far more reverence than it is now.
But if Hoke does bloom as a coach, then it will have to occur on the job and there is no indication that he is ready for the enormous responsibilities endemic to the head coaching position at Michigan. The foremost problem is that he has never been a coordinator or coach at a major college football program.
What Michigan needed was a transcendent figure, one with a bold vision for the future of the team. It could have been Harbaugh or Miles or someone unconnected to the program, but it had to be someone with tremendous football intelligence.
Hoke, of course, handily reflects the Michigan ethos. He is safe in the sense that he is inoffensive, but there is a huge risk that Hoke will fail to live up to the standards set by the very best coaching talent in college football.
Rodriguez, at least, had proven himself to be a considerable talent at West Virginia and, like a brilliant innovator, was one of the patriarchs of a successful system. It is unlikely, even in the best case scenario, that Hoke will ever become a great coach. Upon reflection, this provokes within me sheer resignation.
I fear, in the end, that Athletic Director Dave Brandon is attempting to pass off his heedless abandon as some kind of inspired decision. It's the kind of thing done by a school that has taken a few beatings, but lost none of its pride.
The Hoke decision feels defiant and strong-headed. I am sure that many people feel the only mistake Michigan made was abandoning its old philosophy to begin with. And a lot of people will say that Hoke knows what it takes to coach at Michigan.
Losing has only ingrained this sentiment further. We'll probably hear a lot about how he really, really loves Michigan too.
But it's possible that this recklessness might have just further institutionalized the program's decay, from which it becomes progressively tougher to recover. I would have preferred to simply give Rodriguez a fourth year, which would have at least ensured continuity.
In retrospect, we would have lost very little besides time and one year is nothing when weighed against years of potential futility. After all, it's not like Hoke is going anywhere.
But having hastily fired Rodriguez and been spurned by Jim Harbaugh, we are now forced to settle for a diminishing pool of talent.
I am beginning to believe more and more that the hiring process is a crapshoot. There are very few sure things such as an Urban Meyer and perhaps he wasn't even a guarantee. A coaching hire is probably wrong, unless it happens to be serendipitously right, making the AD look like a genius.
But even if we only know who can succeed in retrospect, Michigan did itself no favors today and the resurrection of the program now becomes much harder. There are ways to be savvy about these things, even if the outcome is far from certain.
Michigan looks like it's floundering in the dark.
I would like to say that in my gut I sense that Brandon has made the wrong choice, but I am also forced by my devotion for the school to give Hoke a chance. It would bring me great relief and joy to see him succeed, and I would love for nothing more than to be proved completely wrong.
But if he fails to live up to the promise of Michigan football, the promise of winning set forth by a long and impeccable legacy of pride and tradition, then those who chased Rodriguez out of town and hounded him at every turn will have no one but themselves to blame.
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