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Doing the Hokey Pokey

January 12, 2011


A little over a week ago, I posted a blog that suggested that given the events of January 1, 2011, there was no chance that Rich Rodriguez could be retained and that Jim Harbaugh was the obvious next choice to be our head coach.  At least I got the first part right.  So much has happened since then, let’s quickly recap all the excitement:

A week and a half ago, Jim Harbaugh had his bags packed for Ann Arbor.  Then he didn’t.  Then he was going to San Francisco, or Miami, or Denver, but not Ann Arbor.  And in the end, it was San Francisco, but never Ann Arbor. 

 Then Dave Brandon met with Rich Rodriguez to fire him, and the media reported it as fact.  Except he didn’t fire him, he slept on it.  Then he woke up the next day and fired him. 

So with Rich out of the way and Harbaugh likely heading to San Francisco, we moved on.  And what can only be described as a horrible flashback to 2007, we waited for Les Miles to finish his season in the Cotton Bowl so we could “pursue” him.  And for almost 72 hours we followed the charade, and once again I actually believed that Les Miles was coming to Ann Arbor.  After all, he made it public he wanted to become our coach, and unlike 2007, when Bill Martin went sailing instead of taking a call from Miles’ agent, Dave Brandon actually went to Baton Rouge to meet with Les.  But in a tragedy that only Shakespeare could conjure, Les was once again left at the altar, with no offer from Michigan.   So he swallowed his pride and went back to LSU. 

And after all the back and forth with Jim, and Les, and the misdirection with a couple of other high-profile candidates, Dave Brandon quickly moved to what I believe to be his #2 choice after Harbaugh, Brady Hoke.  A deal was quickly struck, Brady is our coach, and we ended up with a mostly coach that’s left many going…..Brady who?

That’s the gist of it, but there are still several questions that need answering in order to get a full picture of how this all went down.  

Question #1: Why didn’t Jim Harbaugh come to Ann Arbor?

In my opinion, there is no particular reason on why Jim didn’t come home.  Rather its more likely a product of a number of factors.  In addition to the challenge of the NFL and the amount of money the NFL could pay him, Jim has both a first and second family who live in the Bay Area and were reluctant to move.  The opportunity to coach in the NFL, make a lot more money, and not even have to bust out one box or roll of packing tape eventually trumped the chance to go to Ann Arbor. Yeah, Jim passed on Michigan, but we couldn’t offer what the NFL and San Francisco could.

Question #2: Why not Les Miles?

This one is a little tougher to answer, because we don’t know for sure what went on.  But here is what we do know.  First, that Les wanted the job.  He leaked it to ESPN he was interested, he met with Michigan, and he was very evasive when he was asked about it publicly.  Sure he could have been playing Michigan for a raise at LSU, except for one problem – as of Tuesday evening, he had yet to receive that raise.  Second, we know that Michigan had some interest in hiring Miles, because they met with him.  But given that Miles was clearly interested, and leaked that he would take the job if offered, Michigan either failed to offer, or made such a lowball offer that they knew Les couldn’t, or wouldn’t, accept.  I firmly believe that if Dave Brandon wanted Les Miles as the coach at Michigan, then Les Miles would be the coach at Michigan.  If you pay close attention to the rhetoric, Les never claims to have  turned Michigan down.  In short, the reason that Les Miles isn’t the coach is because Michigan, for reasons passing my understanding, didn’t want him. 

Question #3: Why Brady Hoke?

This is perhaps the most fascinating question of all.  Brady Hoke has a solid but unspectacular resume.  Side by side,  it’s not even in the same stratosphere as Les Miles. 

Brady Hoke:

  • Career Record of 47-50 in 8 years at Ball State and San Diego State
  • 1 conference championship
  • 12-1 record at Ball State in 2008
  • Took SDSU to first bowl game since 1998 this year
  • 2010 MWC Coach of the Year 
  • An appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman:

Les Miles:

  • 90-38 in 10 years at Oklahoma State and LSU
  • 2 SEC Conference Championships
  • 1 BCS Championship
  • 2 BCS Bowl Games
  • 4 New Year’s Day Bowl Games

With the exception of Brady’s David Letterman appearance, Miles has him beat across the board.  Even forgetting how he stacks up to Les Miles, Brady Hoke’s resume wouldn’t have gotten a sniff if he wasn’t a former assistant at Michigan, particularly under Lloyd Carr.  But he was, and given that certain factions apparently are still adamantly opposed to Les Miles, and given that those same factions had the “I told you so” card to play after the hiring of Rich Rodriguez, its pretty easy to connect the dots.  This was a play to return to the Michigan of old – the continuation of the Schembechler, Moeller, and Carr tree.  After 3 years of Rich Rodriguez, I’m not entirely opposed to that, but I will remind most fans that one reason we moved on from the Carr lineage is because it wasn’t winning enough championships at the end, and was suffering losses to the likes of Appalachian State.    

Even if we overlook the fact that Brady Hoke was passed over for the jobs at Minnesota and Indiana, my biggest problem is still the fact that Les Miles was available, and we didn’t go get him.  Les is everything a program like Michigan should covet – a big winner in a power conference, ties to Michigan, and despite his success at LSU, this is still his dream job.  It killed me when we chose not to pursue him in 2007, and we regretted that every game Rich Rod coached.  I’m hoping we don’t look back in 3 years and feel the same way about Hoke.  Ultimately, Les’ sins from 20 years ago were too much to overcome, much in the same way they were the obstacle in 2007.  So in the end, Dave Brandon went out and hired a guy whose speciality is turning around bad situations, but more importantly, has a history with and a love for Michigan. 

Question #4 – What Happened to Dave Brandon’s Process?

While nobody may ever truly know Dave Brandon’s “process” besides him, here’s my best guess.  Brandon was adamant about waiting until after the bowl’s to approach any coaches as a matter of respect to them, and Rich Rodriguez.  In the case of Jim Harbaugh, it may have even been at the insistence of Jim.  So Brandon waited until after the Gator and Orange Bowl, fully intending to hire Harbaugh, relying on the “handshake” agreement they had made via back channels.  Harbaugh gained other suitors during that time, including San Francisco, and went back on his word.  Brandon was left with a coach he couldn’t keep (see my previous post) and without an obvious replacement.  At this point, I think Dave Brandon probably knew that Brady Hoke was the guy he wanted, but either figured it was worth exploring things with Les Miles, or believed he had to at least have a conversation with Les Miles to placate the fans.  If it was the latter, it failed miserably.  I believe there was a process in place at one point, but once Harbaugh stood us up, the process went off the tracks.  It’s also possible, but unlikely, that the process was leading us to Brady Hoke all along.   While some are screaming bloody murder about the length of the process, I don’t have a huge problem with it – assuming we got the right guy.  My only question is that I’m guessing we could have gotten Brady Hoke whenever we wanted, so why did we wait so long?

Question #5: Hoke isn’t that bad, is he?

In short, the answer is I don’t know.  As I pointed out above, I don’t believe that Brady Hoke would be the coach if he didn’t once work for Lloyd and coach at Michigan.  But that doesn’t mean he’s not capable.  Here’s what he does have going for him:

  • He took over a Ball State program that was middling in the MAC and led it to a #12 ranking and a 12-1 record in 2008.  Under Hoke they were 22-9 in the MAC his last 4 years
  • He took over a 2-10 San Diego State program and in 2 years turned them into a 9-4 team going to their first bowl game in since 1998.
    • The four losses were to undefeated TCU, 10-3 Utah, 10-3 Missouri, and Brigham Young.  They were by a combined 15 points. 
  • He served as defensive line coach at Michigan from 1995 to 2002, coaching All-Americans Glen Steele, Rob Renes, and Will Carr and helped architect the 1997 defense that helped Michigan win a National Championship
  • He served as Michigan’s west coast recruiter and helped reel in Tom Brady, Russell Shaw (#1 JUCO wide receiver) and Justin Fargas (#1 running back).  At SDSU he took over a program that averaged four 3* recruits a year and elevated the recruiting to include 15 3*recruits in 2010, and SDSU’s first ever 4* recruit. 
  • He has huge support from Michigan alumni who played for him, especially those still in the NFL.  Guys like Jon Jansen, Steve Hutchinson, Braylon Edwards and Mike Hart have already endorsed Brady. I expect that to continue over the next few days.  Having a bunch of NFL players endorse you never hurts, especially when it is players who had distanced themselves from the program recently. 
  • Finally, as one of my clients who works in the Mountain West Conference where Brady just came from pointed out to me, Brady spent 7 years in the same building with Bo Schembechler just down the hall from him.  Chances are, he poked his head in from time to time and picked up some tips.  I’ve already listened to a few clips of Brady speaking, and while he isn’t the second coming of Bo, you’ll definitely pick up some similarities in both rhetoric and dialect. 

Am I grasping at straws with some of these “pros”?  Maybe a little.  The truth is that I don’t believe Brady Hoke is the type of hire that gets the fans or recruits excited about Michigan.  But that doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t be successful in Ann Arbor. 

From what I’ve gathered in the half-dozen articles I’ve read tonight, Brady Hoke is a no-nonsense coach that believes in defense, tough football, and discipline.  He’s known as a player’s coach and a great recruiter.  He’s a throwback coach who comes from a coaching family, and has landed his dream job.  Rumor is he didn’t even bother to negotiate with Dave Brandon before accepting the job because he was so excited. 

If you’re looking for reasons to like Brady, you should definitely check out these two articles from Mark Schlabach at ESPN and Jason Whitlock of Fox

Mark Schlabach Article

Jason Whitlock on Hoke

Finding success under Hoke will take some patience on the part of Michigan fans, but that may have been true no matter what coach we brought in.   Anyone who tells you that this is a good or bad hire now really has no idea.  We won’t know whether or not Dave Brandon made the right call until 3 years from now.  

What I’m looking forward to is a united Michigan fanbase who realizes that one of the biggest obstacles we encountered over the last 3 years was our own infighting.  My 7th grade World History teacher taught me that if you’re weak from within, you’re vulnerable from without.  There is no question that Michigan Football has been weak from within the last 3 years, and not surprisingly, we’ve been vulnerable to the media, negative recruiting, and other football programs.  The first step on Brady Hoke’s checklist should be to unite the Michigan fans, alumni, and players.  Step #2 – Beat Ohio State. 


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