What Went Wrong for Brady Hoke at Michigan

Phil Callihan@umgoblogContributor IDecember 2, 2014

USA today

Michigan's valiant effort versus Ohio State wasn't enough to save Brady Hoke's job. 

The school announced Tuesday that it had let its head football coach go, calling a 4:30 p.m. ET news conference to "discuss the state of the football program," per USA Today's Nicole Auerbach.

His final game versus Ohio State mirrored the disappointing arc of his Michigan tenure: a great start followed by an epic collapse.

Hoke's fate was sealed on Sunday night after the Ohio State game.

"I believe that Brady and our coaching staff had enough time to produce results, and unfortunately they are not there," said interim athletic director Jim Hackett during Tuesday's press conference.

Hoke, who was hailed by fans upon his hiring, failed in his quest to return Michigan to glory. His failure should serve a cautionary tale for whoever succeeds him in Ann Arbor.

Here's what went wrong.

Not Michigan's First Choice

Michigan hired Hoke to be the antidote to Rich Rodriguez (15-22, 6-18 Big Ten), whom the school fired after he struggled to field a competitive defense while failing to embrace the Michigan football culture.

Many fans greeted Hoke's initial hiring with mixed emotions, as most hoped for a higher-profile hire. His overall career record (47-50) was underwhelming, but he had the support of former Wolverines Tom Brady and Charles Woodson, who had played for him when he was a Michigan assistant coach.

Steeped in Michigan tradition, Hoke bled maize and blue and had a reputation as a tireless recruiter.

He was also more affordable than fan favorites Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles, who either passed on the job or weren't seriously pursued.

Hoke won over many fans with an impassioned introductory press conference.

"We would have walked [here] from San Diego…This is Michigan, for God's sake," said Hoke.

He wasn't their top choice, but his "Michigan Man" rhetoric endeared him to fans hungry for a return to the glory days of Wolverine football.

Hot Start, High Expectations

Hoke's first season at Michigan was magical. An 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten) run followed by a last-second win in the Sugar Bowl made fans in Ann Arbor giddy with anticipation of future Big Ten titles and national championships. 

He and his staff did a great job of rallying a team stocked with Rodriguez's former players.

Hoke's introduction
Hoke's introductionCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

The biggest improvement was on the defensive side of the ball. Under Rodriguez, the defense surrendered 450.8 yards per game in 2010, but it experienced a quick turnaround under Hoke and Mattison, giving up only 322.2 yards per game in 2011.

On offense, Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges inherited the keys to a high-octane attack powered by Heisman candidate Denard Robinson.

Michigan fans believed that the sky was the limit for their team and its leader, who eschewed headsets and communicated with a steady stream of cliches.

But Hoke would never repeat the success of his first season.

No Identity

After Hoke's first season, the team transitioned away from Rodriguez's spread option and began to implement a more traditional offense. Robinson was moved under center and transformed from a Heisman candidate into a mediocre dropback passer.

Denard Robinson
Denard RobinsonGregory Shamus/Getty Images

Hoke declared his intention to return to a power running attack but never seemed committed to actually doing so. A pattern began to emerge, as Michigan's offense became a nebulous collection of plays that ultimately revolved around the quarterback running for his life.

The offense sputtered, and an injury to Robinson forced Devin Gardner to move back to quarterback from wide receiver to finish the season.

Denard Robinson versus Notre Dame (2011-12)
YearTotal YardsPassing YardsPassing TDsRushing YardsRushing TDsResult
201144633841081W, 35-31
20122281380900L, 13-6

The team finished 8-5 (6-2 Big Ten), but with Gardner returning, expectations were high for 2013 even after the Wolverines dropped a New Year's Day bowl game to South Carolina.

Decline and Disaster 

After initial success during the 2013 season, Gardner flailed behind a bad offensive line and a nonexistent running game. He also threw 11 interceptions and struggled with ball security as a runner.

Michigan finished 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten), and Hoke was officially on the hot seat. A sluggish bowl loss to Kansas State didn't help.

Following the 2013 season, Hoke hired Doug Nussmeier from Alabama to fix the problems on offense.

The move didn't help, however.

One of the major what-ifs revolves around the firing of Al Borges. Could Hoke have survived had he parted with Borges a year earlier?  

Gardner's downward spiral continued during 2014, and with no suitable backup ready to take over the offense continued to struggle. 

Devin Gardner (2012-2014)
YearPass ATTPass COMPPass YDSTDsINTsRush ATTRush YDSRush TDs

As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports tweeted, a lack of player development ultimately undermined everything Hoke hoped to accomplish at Michigan: 

Steve Wiltfong @SWiltfong247

Lack of developing players at #Michigan, particularly the QB position, cost Brady Hoke his job: http://t.co/rx6xnt8SXe @TremendousUM

Hoke's attempt to replace Gardner with backup Shane Morris resulted in a misdiagnosed concussion that put the program under intense national scrutiny. Athletic director David Brandon resigned in the aftermath of the incident.

Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

Michigan ultimately finished 5-7 (3-5 Big Ten), ending its season and Hoke's tenure.

Recruiting Classes Under Hoke

His desire to rebuild Michigan was undermined by a staff that didn't have the ability to develop talent, especially on offense, despite securing top recruiting classes annually.

Hoke was also undone by the perception that he was out of touch with game-day decisions.

His refusal to wear a headset was particularly baffling. Virtually every other top coach insists on monitoring his assistants during games. A more savvy coach would have just worn the headset out of solidarity, but Hoke stubbornly refused to give in.

Michigan vs Rivals under Hoke
Ohio State1-3
Michigan State1-3
Notre Dame2-2

The image of Hoke clapping on the sidelines during games drew the ire of fans who questioned his game management, and his poor record versus key rivals underscored the program's decline.

Hoke is gone because despite having outstanding facilities and virtually unlimited resources, he didn't make the changes necessary for Michigan to compete at the highest level.

ESPN's Colin Cowherd summed up Hoke's failures well:

Colin Cowherd @ColinCowherd

Brady Hoke is a good guy. He turned boys into men. Just not men who played great football together.

Being a "Michigan Man" couldn't save him from his own bad decisions. He has no one to blame but himself.

Hoke's Future

Where does Hoke go from here? When Rich Rodriguez was fired, he spent a season doing game commentary before returning to the sidelines.

Hoke's personality makes it unlikely he'll end up in the media. His buyout from Michigan means he never has to work again.

But Hoke is a coaching lifer. He'll lick his wounds and look to be a head coach again, most likely at a MAC-level program.

He might even return to Michigan Stadium, but next time, it will be on the visitor's sideline, wondering how he could have done things differently.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand. All season statistics from MGoBlue.com, the official University of Michigan athletic department website. 

Follow @PSCallihan  


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