With a crucial year on the horizon for the Michigan football program in 2014, head coach Brady Hoke will have some tough decisions to make over the offseason. After a 7-5 campaign in which the Wolverines seemed to move backward more often than forward—in more ways than one—many believe some changes to the coaching staff are in order.
Athletic director Dave Brandon has already made it clear Hoke will be running the show next year. Whether or not his assistants, offensive coordinator Al Borges and offensive line coach Darrell Funk in particular, stick around could be a different story.
Earlier this week, to the dismay of some Michigan fans across the country, Hoke announced the entire staff would remain intact heading into next season.
"I anticipate the staff (returning)," he said, according to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.
He also attempted to take some of the blame off of Borges when pressed about the Wolverines' woes on offense.
"There’s a lot of things we didn’t do as well as we could have, all through the program," he said.
For now, these decisions appear to be final. However, an evaluation of the staff following the bowl game, which Brandon will likely be a part of, could have Hoke changing his tune. If he does indeed remain loyal to Borges and Funk, and offensive woes lead to another sub-par campaign, his days could be numbered in Ann Arbor.
Youth undoubtedly had a hand in Michigan's struggles moving the football in 2013. Starting three underclassmen along the offensive line, with a combined zero starts between them entering the year, is not a recipe for success. Just one of the top six offenses in the Big Ten Conference sported more than one freshman or sophomore up front. None of them had a freshman in their starting group either.
Conversely, the Wolverines, who finished No. 9 in the league and No. 82 nationally in total offense (382.8 yards per game), had two freshmen in starting roles.
This contributed to Michigan allowing 109 tackles for loss, more than anyone in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and 23 sacks.
Additionally, the Maize and Blue were held below 200 yards of total offense in three of their final five games.
Hoke is not one to make excuses, though. One of the biggest problems throughout the year was the development of the line. Part of it had to do with the constant shuffling and adjusting of the starters. Still, regression throughout the season is unacceptable, no matter the position group or amount of inexperience.
The constant lack of improvement is perhaps the biggest indictment of Funk, while shoddy play-calling did not win Borges much support.
It is impossible to measure how much of a difference bowl practices, another year of spring ball and summer practices will make for the countless young players in key roles.
As far as the overall personnel goes, things will be very similar to this year's group. Three linemen return, but All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan and underrated right tackle Michael Schofield will both be gone. Despite wide receivers Devin Funchess and Jehu Chesson emerging, Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo are out of eligibility.
Quarterback Devin Gardner could return for an extra year, but if the line is not any better, he will not be a whole lot better in 2014.
This leads to the all-important question: Do Borges and Funk give the Wolverines their best chance to improve and win Big Ten titles?
They better. Otherwise, Hoke and his loyalty will have all three of them packing together by this time next season.
Want to talk more Michigan football? Follow me on Twitter @Zach_Dirlam.