ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — The quote became symbolic of Brady Hoke’s attitude, and the promise his tenure as Michigan’s coach seemed to offer.
“This is Michigan, for God’s sakes,” he said shortly after being hired in 2011.
Lately, Michigan has looked like just another program, and that’s a major reason why the Wolverines will have new leadership next season.
Hoke was fired Tuesday after Michigan stumbled to a 5-7 record and missed the postseason in his fourth year at the helm. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett’s announcement ended weeks of speculation over Hoke’s future and put one of college football’s most storied programs in the market for a new coach.
“This was not an easy decision,” Hackett said. “He’s really earned the respect of all, as being a values-centered coach. We need more men like him in sport today.”
Hoke’s record, however, fell well short of Michigan’s standards. He went 31-20 with the Wolverines, and the team declined steadily after an 11-2 mark in his first season. Hired after the tumultuous tenure of Rich Rodriguez, Hoke was supposed to help Michigan regain its place among college football’s elite, and his familiarity with the program’s culture and tradition helped make the initial transition a successful one.
But after going to the Sugar Bowl in Hoke’s first season, the Wolverines slowly slipped back into mediocrity, and they were among the Big Ten’s also-rans this year.
“I believe that Brady had enough time to produce results, and they’re just not there today,” Hackett said. “Therefore I believe it’s time to make this transition.”
After problems on the offensive line derailed the 2013 campaign, turnovers did Michigan in this year, all the way to the final game, when the Wolverines lost 42-28 to rival Ohio State on Saturday. Hoke’s arrival was supposed to mean a return to smash-mouth football after three years of Rodriguez’s spread system, and while Michigan did play well defensively at times this season, the mistake-prone Wolverines weren’t much of a threat on the other side of the ball.
“I feel very fortunate to have been an assistant and head coach at the University of Michigan. I will always support the university and this football program,” Hoke said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the sons that played for our teams and appreciate the commitment that our coaches and support staff made to the program every day. I will miss the relationships that I’ve been fortunate enough to make within this university and community.”
Hackett replaced Dave Brandon as athletic director at the end of October. Brandon’s resignation was part of the fallout from the football team’s problems. In September, quarterback Shane Morris kept playing despite receiving what was later determined to be a concussion. The school later apologized for the “confusion” and “lack of communication” as it changed its protocol to better monitor potential injuries.
A message posted on Morris’ Twitter account Tuesday wished Hoke the best: “I can truly say that I wouldn’t be the man I am right now without having played for Coach Hoke. He believed in me and every player he coached no matter what the situation.”
When Brandon resigned, Mark Schlissel, the school’s president, said the athletic department was in great financial condition, but the results at the Big House have not measured up. Brandon, a former CEO of Domino’s Pizza Inc., and a player under Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, had less than a year on the job when he made the decision to fire Rodriguez after three seasons.
Less than two weeks after Brandon stepped down, Schlissel expressed concerns about the relationship between athletics and academics at the university, pointing specifically at the football program.
“We admit students who aren’t as qualified, and it’s probably the kids that we admit that can’t honestly, even with lots of help, do the amount of work and the quality of work it takes to make progression from year to year,” he said then. “These past two years have gotten better, but before that, the graduation rates were terrible, with football somewhere in the 50s and 60s when our total six-year rate at the university is somewhere near 90 percent, so that’s a challenge.”
Schlissel later issued an apology to Hoke and the football program via the university’s website for not clearly stating that the situation has gotten significantly better since Hoke replaced Rodriguez.
Hoke was an assistant at Michigan before turning around San Diego State and Ball State, his alma mater, as a head coach. When he left San Diego State to take over the Wolverines, he made little secret of his excitement about the job. His habit of referring to rival Ohio State as simply “Ohio” quickly caught on, and Hoke was a hit when Michigan beat the Buckeyes in his first season.
The Wolverines won the Sugar Bowl and finished the 2011 season 11-2, but that was with some talented holdovers from Rodriguez’s teams. Hoke’s recruits were well regarded, but the results on the field didn’t measure up. Michigan went 8-5 in 2012 and 7-6 in 2013.
The Wolverines made a major change this past offseason, firing offensive coordinator Al Borges and hiring Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama. But even with a senior quarterback in Devin Gardner, the Michigan offense was anemic at times. The first sign of trouble this season came when Michigan lost 31-0 to Notre Dame in the second game, and back-to-back home losses to Utah and Minnesota left the Wolverines looking like a team in crisis before September was even over.
Fan reaction ranged from apathy to open hostility. A loss to Maryland in the team’s home finale was played before the smallest crowd at Michigan Stadium since 1995.
Whoever takes over at Michigan now faces the same challenge Hoke encountered and never fully conquered: Make the Wolverines matter nationally again.
Michigan has not won the Big Ten since 2004, and the Wolverines are now 1-10 in their last 11 games against Ohio State.
Even in-state rival Michigan State — which for so many years played second fiddle to the Wolverines — has been superior to Michigan recently, winning six of the last seven meetings.
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