Brady Hoke Hired As Michigan Coach: Can He Turn the Wolverines Around?
Michigan announced this week that Brady Hoke would be the next Wolverines coach, replacing the fired Rich Rodriguez.
The announcement came as a bit of a surprise with bigger names like Les Miles and Jim Harbaugh on Michigan's radar, but athletic director Dave Brandon is confident that the decision he made was the right one.
"Brady Hoke understands Michigan and he wanted this job because it has been his dream job."
But can Hoke actually deliver and help turn around a team that finished just 3-5 in the Big Ten?
The Demise of Michigan Football
The Wolverines are the winningest program in the history of college football with 884 total wins and a .735 winning percentage. Michigan has won 11 national championships, most recently in 1997, and been to 40 bowl games.
From 1976 through 2008, the Wolverines made it to 33 consecutive bowl games and regularly attracted the nation's top recruits.
Then Rich Rodriguez was hired to replace the legendary Lloyd Carr, and the Wolverines went downhill almost overnight.
Using the spread offense that had been so effective in West Virginia, Rodriguez lost his first game as Wolverines head coach 25-23 to Utah. Michigan finished the 2008 season with a 3-9 record, the worst record in school history. It was the first time in 33 years that the Wolverines did not play in a bowl game.
Rodriguez's recruiting class for the 2009 season was ranked eighth nationally by Rivals.com, but it didn't matter. Michigan went 5-7, including 1-7 in conference, and the Wolverines didn't receive a bowl bid for the second consecutive year.
This past season wasn't much kinder to Rodriguez and the Wolverines. They started the season 5-0, but none of the teams they beat were considered particularly good. Then the conference schedule started and the Wolverines collapsed, losing six of their next eight to finish 7-6 overall.
But just because the Wolverines had a winning season doesn't mean that it was a successful season. They lost by double digits to each of the four ranked teams that they played, including an embarrassing 37-7 loss to rival Ohio State. Then they got blown out 52-14 in their bowl game against Mississippi State.
The Wolverines under Rodriguez always had a good offense. Quarterback Denard Robinson is one of the best players in the country, leading his team in both passing and rushing.
Michigan scored at least 30 points in six of their 11 games during the regular season and had the 25th ranked scoring offense in the nation, averaging 32.8 points/game. But the defense was ranked just 108th, giving up 35.2 points/game.
Rodriguez finishes his Michigan tenure with a 15-22 overall record and a 6-18 conference record, the only coach in Wolverines history to have a losing record. He also failed to win a single game against Michigan's two biggest rivals: Ohio State and Michigan State.
The Rise of Hoke
Hoke spent seven years as an assistant coach for the Wolverines from 1995 to 2001. He was there for Michigan's national championship in 1997, and he recruited Tom Brady and convinced him to come to Ann Arbor.
He left Michigan in 2002 to become the head coach for Ball State, where Hoke played football as an undergraduate. The Cardinals hadn't had a winning season since 1996 and Hoke continued that trend, going 22-37 in his first five seasons, finally getting the team to go 7-6 in 2007.
But in 2008 Hoke finally got the right players in place and led Ball State to an undefeated 12-0 regular season record, the most wins in school history. The Cardinals were also ranked for the first time in school history, climbing the rankings to as high as No. 12.
Hoke's performance at Ball State impressed San Diego State enough to give him their head coaching job, which he readily accepted. The Aztecs, like the Cardinals, hadn't had a winning season since 1998 and went just 2-10 in 2008.
None of that mattered for Hoke, who recruited good payers who worked within his system and improved San Diego State to a 4-8 record in 2009. The in 2010 the Aztecs made another leap and improved to 8-4, losing only to BCS powerhouses Missouri, BYU, TCU and Utah. The Aztecs beat up Navy, 35-14, in their bowl game and had the 36th ranked scoring defense in the country.
Hoke was named the Mid-American Conference coach of the year in 2008 for his work with Ball State and was named the Mountain West Conference coach of the year in 2010 for what he did with the Azecs. He has a 47-50 lifetime record despite coaching two perennially bad programs.
What's Next for the Wolverines?
Hoke is widely regarded as a great recruiter, and he's already proven twice that he can take a troubled program and turn it around. But the Wolverines aren't as far away from seriously contending in the Big Ten as Ball State and San Diego State were in their respective conferences.
Jason Whitlock, a Ball State alumnus and analyst for Fox Sports, called Hoke "the perfect coach for Michigan."
"He has an uncanny ability to get kids to believe in him and believe in themselves. He doesn't do it with smooth words. He's not smooth. He does it by being the same genuine person day after day," wrote Whitlock.
The Wolverines have an obvious edge in recruiting over smaller programs because of the appeal of playing in a major conference with lucrative television contracts. That, combined with Hoke's keen eye for talented players, should ensure that Michigan stays on the short list for top high school players.
Will Michigan win a national championship with Hoke as their head coach?
But no Michigan fan will be satisfied with just a top recruiting class. They fans want wins, and that is something that Hoke is very capable of doing.
The Wolverines open their 2011 season with games against non-conference opponents Western Michigan, Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan. Then Michigan has what will surely be a highly anticipated matchup with San Diego State, and then the opening of their conference schedule.
Anything short of a bowl bid would be a big disappointment for Hoke's first season as Michigan's head coach. But if he can lead the Aztecs to an undefeated season, could he lead the Wolverines to a national championship?
His track record suggests that, yes, he can.
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