Aw, he’s perfect. Look at that neck. Look at those jowls. Listen to that raspy, passionate voice that sounds like Chris Farley’s burly motivational speaker on “Saturday Night Live.” He’s got the look. He’s got the clenched fists. He’s certainly got the fever. And he’s got the pedigree for a Michigan fan base suddenly desperate for a return to the Bo Schembechler lineage.
I mean, even his name. Hoke. Come on. You can hear Bo bounding down the hall, screaming it out: “Hoke! Damn it! We gotta block better, Hoke!”
“Something tells me Bo never called you ÂBrady,'” I mentioned to Michigan’s new coach on Friday.
“That’s exactly right,” he said, laughing.
I have been around Michigan football long enough to sniff a certain coaching trait, the one that binds “Michigan Men” together. It usually begins with a Midwestern backdrop (Brady Hoke grew up in Ohio). Has some connection to Bo or Woody Hayes (Hoke’s dad played for Hayes at Miami, Ohio, and Brady did eight years at U-M with Schembechler down the hall). It’s devoted to toughness (check). Loves defense (check). Talks about character, accountability, doing things the right way…
“Those NCAA rules are there for a reason, and we’re gonna abide by them,” Hoke told me. “We’re gonna do things the right way. We’re gonna do things that make Michigan proud.”
Check, check, check.
Always a matter of W’s
What I don’t know is whether Brady Hoke can win championships at U-M. Nobody knows that. He has yet to win a clear conference championship anywhere as a head coach, and in eight years as a top dog, he has had only three winning seasons. He seems to be good at turnarounds -having re-steered Ball State and San Diego State – but as any rabid Wolverines fan will tell you, turning things around in Ann Arbor is like wiping snow off the windshield.
It’s where you go next that matters.
“What won’t you put up with?” I asked Hoke.
“A lack of effort or competitiveness,” he answered quickly. “How we lift. How we go to class. How we treat people with respect. That’s all part of accountability. If you’re a guy who’s not going to be accountable to your teammates, we’re gonna have a problem.”
You see? Those sentences are perfect – for January. But I caution the often fickle maize-and-blue crowd to remember that Lloyd Carr had sentences like that for years. Years. In fact, you could take so much of what Brady has espoused this past week and find an exact parallel to what Carr, Bo and Gary Moeller said throughout their careers.
And yet, just four seasons ago, many around here wanted Carr on the next bus out of town. They were tired of Michigan rhetoric. Tired of doing things “the right way” and finishing with a 9-3 record.
Well, a 9-3 record would be the second-best season Brady Hoke has produced. And victories, in the end, will be how this coach is judged, just as Rich Rodriguez – last seen donating his Michigan gear to the Salvation Army – was judged.
Echoes from the past
That said, what’s not to like about Brady Hoke for now? You can picture him at this moment, walking alone down the corridors of Schembechler Hall, fists clenched, inhaling the scent, grinning like a man who just tasted his favorite pie.
He wants to be here. He’ll throw himself into it. He’ll chew out any kid who doesn’t share that passion. He’ll be a stickler for details (something Rodriguez was not). And a tight ship? Heck. When Hoke graduated from Ball State, he became an intern for the federal probation and parole department.
“My goal,” he said, “was to get into the Secret Service.”
Is that how you’ll run your program with the media, I asked? He broke out laughing. “Probably so!”
You could hear Bo in that sentence. You could hear Mo and Lloyd in the way he addressed his new players this past week.
But remember that, not long ago, these were the very things that made Rodriguez seem like a breath of fresh air, and got Michigan fans all giddy about a new direction.
Now the new direction is finding the old direction. When Dave Brandon called to offer the job Tuesday morning, he began by saying, “I hope I’m talking to the new coach of Michigan.”
And Hoke said, “Oh, yes! Most definitely!”
It was the perfect answer from the perfect mold. And Hoke’s record at Michigan is perfect so far. But nothing is won in January, just as nothing is won by a neck, jowls, voice or a speech. The best anyone can do is wish him luck and enjoy his enthusiasm, as he tries to steer the future into the past.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.