2011 Michigan Wolverines: Nebraska Huskers Provide Reason for Hope in Ann Arbor
I've gotten a lot of heat over an article I recently wrote expressing my concerns over the University of Michigan's decision to bring in Brady Hoke—a relatively unknown commodity with a sub .500 career record and whom I'm more inclined to believe has been very opportunistic after one good season at Ball State and a nice bowl victory over a respectable Navy team. All said, I'm just not totally sold on him.
That being said, no one can dispute the fact that Dave Brandon had to bring in someone with ties to the program— a Michigan Man. For better or worse, Michigan is one of those schools that might need a coach whom the fans and boosters see as an insider. The elitism is either seen as school pride from within the community or self-righteous arrogance by those on the outside looking in.
At any rate, I believe Brady Hoke was the right man for the job in relation to his ability to unify the fanbase, appease the boosters, and provide stability to a program that has seen it's share of issues during the tenure of Rich Rodriguez.
While he has had little time to recruit, he has already scored a victory in my mind by keeping Denard Robinson in Ann Arbor, something Rodriguez could not do with Ryan Mallett. He also has the support of important people in the program as well as former players—another thing Rich-Rod never garnered (whether or not it was his fault).
While I have my reservations about his ability to sustain a winning tradition on the field, it was and is premature to completely write him off. While I refuse to hail him the savior of the program at this point, I do think that we all owe him at least the opportunity to prove himself on the field. I don't believe Rodriguez was given a fair shot, and it would be a tragedy for it to happen again.
There is reason for hope despite Hoke's less than impressive win-loss record.
I believe we can learn valuable lessons from another football powerhouse—Big Ten newcomer, Nebraska.
Hard Times In Lincoln:
In Nebraska, fans grew restless after a 9-3 season under Frank Solich and a berth in the Alamo Bowl. Fired prior to Nebraska's 17-3 victory, Solich had a very respectable 58-19 record in six seasons in Lincoln, but it wasn't good enough for the Nebraska faithful.
Enter Bill Callahan. In four seasons as the head man of the Huskers, Callahan finished in the Top 25 only once (24th, 2005). He finished just 27-22 at Nebraska with a losing record in the Big 12.
The situation Michigan faces in 2011 is eerily similar to that of Nebraska's in 2008. Both Callahan and Rodriguez were big names in the coaching world who took over two top-tier programs and enjoyed only moderate success. Both were hired from outside the program, and neither succeeded in winning over either fanbase. Not to mention the fact that neither coached fundamentals or defense.
Huskers Look to the Past:
Coaching legend Tom Osborne would take over duties as interim athletic director after Steve Pederson was fired. After Callahan was relieved of his duties, Osborne took over recruiting duties and would name former Nebraska, LSU, and Oklahoma Defensive Coordinator, Bo Pelini, as the football program's next coach.
Together, Osborne and Pelini took on the task of unifying Husker Nation under one banner. Though Pelini had no head coaching experience, fans, supporters, alumni, and players rallied around their A.D. and coach.
Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke have taken on the exact same task in Ann Arbor a couple weeks ago. So far, the majority of Michigan faithful have taken a liking to Hoke, and there is no denying that he is passionate about our program and returning order, discipline, and fundamentals to the football team.
In three seasons, Pelini has restored order and discipline to the program, and the once daunted Black Shirts are looking more like the defense Nebraska fans are used to. Pelini has a record of 30-12 with the Huskers (counting the 2003 Alamo Bowl victory). The Huskers are coming off of back-to-back 10-win seasons and three straight Big 12 North titles.
It has yet to be seen what type of success Brady Hoke will enjoy in Ann Arbor, but he has shown glimpses of what he can do with limited talent. Will he be able to replicate that to any degree with the Wolverines? I don't know, but I hope he has similar success to that of Pelini in Nebraska.
Looking to Next Season:
Coach Hoke will have to bring in strong coordinators and assistants. He would be wise to pick the brains of others who have experience leading a program such as Michigan. But, if he surrounds himself with good people and is able to manage the pressure that comes with being the man in charge of one of the most storied, respected, and largest programs in college football, I think he has the potential to do just fine.
Am I ready to predict a BCS Championship in 2015 or a Big Ten Title in 2012? No. However, I think he's begun to lay a foundation on which he can begin to the rebuilding process. At this point, that's all anyone can ask of him—including myself.
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