Michigan Coaches Under the Microscope During Critical Big Ten Games

Phil Callihan@umgoblogContributor INovember 8, 2013

Apr 13, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke talks to offensive linesman Erik Magnuson (78) during the Spring Game at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of Michigan’s crushing defeat to instate rival Michigan State, some fans have misgivings about the future prospects of the Brady Hoke era.

Grumbling is so widespread that Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon felt it necessary to publicly endorse Hoke during a telephone interview with the Associated Press, “He’s absolutely the right guy to lead the Michigan football program.”

With the Big Ten conference title now extremely unlikely, Hoke faces the most critical four-game stretch of his Michigan tenure. If his team plays well, he can keep his staff intact to pursue his goal of returning Michigan to national prominence.  If they stumble, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which changes won’t be necessary.

Hoke will have his hands full as Michigan plays Nebraska in Ann Arbor this week, followed by road games against Northwestern and Iowa, before returning home to face rival Ohio State. He needs to evaluate the following issues and make the necessary changes to put the Michigan Wolverines back on track. Some are easy, but others will require some careful thought.

Evaluate the offensive philosophy (get one)

Prior to the season, Hoke touted the return of power football to Ann Arbor. It hasn’t happened.

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When in doubt, have Gardner run
When in doubt, have Gardner run

While the Wolverines have scored more than 40 points fives times this season, the offense lacks consistency and is completely dependent on quarterback Devin Gardner. Even with Gardner’s rushing totals, Michigan ranked No.79 nationally in rushing offense. Last week against Michigan State, the Wolverines finished with -48 cumulative rushing yards. Something is amiss with the rushing attack.

Hoke needs to decide how much of the blame belongs to offensive coordinator Al Borges and make changes as needed. The offense stubbornly swings from trying to the run ball, no matter how unsuccessfully the attempts may be, to flinging the ball downfield while Gardner tries to escape getting pounded into the turf.

Figure out the problems on the offensive line

The offensive line has struggled in every game this season. Players have been switched, shuffled and replaced, and new formations have been tried, all to no avail.

Publicly, Hoke has placed the blame on inexperience and injuries. But even potential first-round draft pick offensive tackle Taylor Lewan has struggled this season, possibly impacting his draft value.

Nov 2, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (98) is sacked by Michigan State Spartans defensive end Denzel Drone (42) and defensive end Marcus Rush (44) during the 1st half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Cred
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

When offensive line coach Darrell Funk came with Hoke from San Diego State, he said in a video posted on mgoblue.com , “It all starts with running the ball. It doesn’t mean it’s three yards and a cloud of dust, and you don’t throw it. But when I’ve been with programs that couldn’t run it, you’re one-dimensional; you’re at a disadvantage.”

Hoke will need to evaluate if Funk has done everything possible to improve his linemen, and why—in his third season—the Wolverines are still one-dimensional.

Hire a quarterback coach

No. 7 QB Shane Morris
No. 7 QB Shane Morris

If Al Borges returns as offensive coordinator, Hoke needs to hire a quarterback coach to interact with players on the sidelines. With Borges in the press box, Michigan quarterbacks are missing out on critical interactions to help them improve. A quarterback coach could also help Borges (or a new offensive coordinator) with play-calling and provide a different perspective.

Under Borges’ tutelage, Denard Robinson transformed from the most exciting player in college football to a mediocre quarterback. The decision to move him under center was like using a Ferrari to haul cargo. It worked, kind of, but it wasn’t pretty. Devin Gardner has also regressed under Borges, Hoke needs to insure that the same thing doesn’t happen to freshman quarterback Shane Morris.

Image problems

Hoke also faces problems with the way he is perceived by the Michigan fanbase. If perception is reality, then he needs to make some visible changes to show he understands the situation.

Show some emotion

Hoke has a zen-like quality in postgame press conferences. While his composure is admirable, many fans would like to see him show his frustration—pound a table, show some fire now and then. When Hoke was an assistant coach at Michigan, he was known for his fire and intensity. As head coach, he seems to have mellowed a bit.

Wear the headset

When Michigan went 11-2 in his first season, Hoke not wearing a headset on the sidelines was quirky. In his third season, with numerous questions on offense, it’s baffling.

Some coaches who wear headsets are undefeated at home and on the road
Some coaches who wear headsets are undefeated at home and on the roadJoe Robbins/Getty Images

With no direct input to play-calling or monitoring of the chatter between Borges and his assistants, Hoke seems as surprised by the play-calling as some of the fans.

Brady needs to show that he’s more than a cheerleader on the sidelines and use the headphones to evaluate what’s happening during the games.

Next season

It’s important that Hoke make the proper adjustments to his staff after this season.

With any more public endorsements from Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon, Hoke’s chair in Ann Arbor might begin to feel very warm.

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