The honeymoon ended for Michigan and head football coach Brady Hoke a while ago, and prolonged on-field struggles have increased speculation he may be headed toward his final stretch in Ann Arbor. Since starting the 2013 season with a 5-0 record, the Wolverines are 4-10 and recently suffered a public relations disaster surrounding the handling of quarterback Shane Morris' head injury.
The effects of program uncertainty in Ann Arbor are being felt far beyond the win-loss column, creating a significant toll on the team's recruiting efforts. A 2015 class that once challenged for the top overall spot in national ratings has slipped to 25th in 247Sports' national class rankings.
Hoke and his staff, facing mounting questions about their tenuous situation, have failed to pick up a commitment during the past two months and recently lost Darian Roseboro, a 4-star defensive end from North Carolina who opted to reopen his recruitment in late September:
From several standpoints, the floodgates actually opened long before a 2014 campaign that currently features Michigan mired in a three-game losing streak. The Wolverines recruiting bandwagon began to veer off the tracks months prior to an embarrassing home loss to Minnesota and before giving Rutgers its first Big Ten victory.
Damien Harris, the nation's top-ranked running back, and dynamic wide receiver George Campbell, considered one of the class' most extraordinary athletes, each ended verbal pacts with the program last winter. Coveted Ohio defensive back Shaun Crawford flipped from Michigan to Notre Dame this spring.
In all, Hoke has lost grips on four 2015 prospects regarded as 4- or 5-star talents without adequately replacing them in a class that could continue to disintegrate.
“We were building a great class, but I know we've had some guys leave, and others are starting to check out other schools," Alex Malzone, a 4-star quarterback commit said. "Obviously, it's not really something we want to see happen, but I understand it, and I respect it. This is a big decision for all of us players, and you sort of need to be selfish about it."
High school athletes have been reluctant to attach themselves to a Wolverines coaching regime that may not be in place on national signing day. Some, like Florida athlete Javarius Davis, have decided to look elsewhere altogether.
"I'm not visiting Michigan anymore," he said when asked about an upcoming scheduled trip to Ann Arbor.
Keisean Lucier-South, a 5-star pass-rusher from California, has concerns about the Wolverines' current situation but plans to go through with his official visit to campus this weekend.
"It's going to be very interesting when I get there because there are some unknowns," he said. "I don't know if Coach Hoke is going to be there at the end of this season or the start of next year. They're still recruiting me hard as ever, but it's definitely a little weird and a situation I'm not dealing with at other schools."
Lucier-South, who is also considering Oklahoma, UCLA, USC and Oregon, believes he won't be the only guest feeling some awkward tension in the air this weekend.
"There's no doubt I'm going to have some questions about what's going on with the coaching staff and program's future when I arrive on campus," he said. "I'm sure other recruits will, too. Honestly, my parents will probably be the ones who address it because they're concerned."
Mook Reynolds, a 4-star Virginia Tech cornerback commit, also plans to attend Michigan's upcoming game against Penn State. While he isn't exactly sure how to approach the subject of possible changes with the coaching staff, Reynolds recognizes the subject as an elephant in the room.
"It's a difficult question to answer because we're all still trying to figure out what's going to happen," he said. "Really, the only thing I can do is to get to know these Michigan coaches who are there now as best I can and form relationships. If something happens and new coaches are brought in, I'll have to deal with it then."
Uncertainty swirling around Michigan's present will continue to impact its future until the university's long-term intentions are revealed.
"Personally, I don't think they'll get rid of (Hoke), but people are definitely wondering what's up," elite 2016 athlete Ahmir Mitchell said. "He has an outstanding track record, and I think a lot of guys want to play for him. Michigan is definitely a team I'm interested in, but if he was to leave, that would definitely change things in my eyes. The new coaches wouldn't have recruited me, and that bond wouldn't be there."
Standout high school juniors like Mitchell are a secondary issue for Michigan's staff these days. The primary goal is to salvage a 2015 class that still offers serious promise.
Roseboro's departure was quickly followed with a new development in Chris Clark's recruitment. The nation's No. 2 tight end and Michigan pledge remains committed, but he's decided to explore other options, including official visits to Texas and USC:
If "everything going on at Michigan" continues to move in a downward direction, it will be difficult for Hoke to maintain his grips on key commitments, much less the job he's held since 2011.
Malzone, who'd love to become the leader of a potentially program-altering class, summed up the situation in succinct fashion.
"I think Coach Hoke has this team playing its heart out right now, but it's important to win games," he said. "The recruits know that. I know that. The coaches know that. If Michigan doesn't start picking up some wins, they could be in trouble. That's just the way it is."
All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue.
Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.