Why Brady Hoke joins Brandon on sideline

by | Dec 3, 2014 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

The other shoe dropped. The coach who was supposed to be the savior, brought in by the athletic director who was supposed to be the savior, is now history, just like the man who hired him.

Michigan football, the Brady Hoke/Dave Brandon edition, is officially closed for business.

The team itself is as open as it has been in decades.

A news conference was held Tuesday afternoon, three days after the final game of U-M’s season, a bad loss to Ohio State. Here’s what we learned that we already knew: that Hoke is a good man, that he is a classy man, that he instilled important values.

And that he lost too many football games.

Here is what we didn’t already know: that an interim athletic director named Jim Hackett sounds more in charge than the last three guys to permanently hold the job.

“I believe that Brady had enough time to produce results and they’re just not there,” Hackett said, neatly summing up in a single sentence why Hoke, despite his engaging persona, is gone. “My next focus is to make sure that this exit for Brady is handled in a first-class way.”

Hackett spoke of class like that. He spoke of character. He even called Hoke a “hero,” a term rarely used for someone dismissed. He paid homage to the values Hoke taught his players, reminding those listening that teaching is a part of college coaching, too. And he attacked the sense of doom that has hung over Michigan ever since Hoke’s 11-2 first season melted to 8-5, then 7-6, then 5-7.

“It’s true the pendulum has swung into the negative,” Hackett said. “However, one truth in physics is that as a pendulum is in a negative state; it’s always building energy for its eventual move into a positive arc.”


Unless someone is holding it back.

Vocabulary lesson

Which is why it was a great relief to hear Hacket say, “I want to get rid of the word Michigan Man.”

That phrase, and all that it implied, was the giddy backdrop to the hiring of both Hoke and Brandon. It was alumni fever gone askew. The bluer, the better. The heck with Rich Rodriguez and the outsider point of view. Connections to Bo Schembechler were seen as bare minimum credentials. Having played or coached at U-M moved you up the scale.

But Bo is not a stem cell. And his football DNA need not flow in the veins of the next coach hired in Ann Arbor. As Hacket pointed out, the qualities of what a “Michigan Man” stood for were selflessness, the ability to win and values.

You don’t have to come through Ann Arbor to have those.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about Hoke, a Michigan Man in every sense. He had to go. He knew it. You can’t win two out of eight games to your archrivals and expect to stick around. The 2014 team was particularly disorganized, bad at execution and mistake prone. At times, Michigan was truly painful to watch.

But not once during a terribly difficult season did Hoke turn ugly, point fingers or present himself as anything worse than slightly baffled at why everyone wanted to push the pillars down on his head.

The Shane Morris incident was one of the worst examples of America’s overblown media jumping into a situation they didn’t understand. In an instant, CNN and MSNBC analysts were experts on concussions and coaching staffs, calling for Hoke’s job without the slightest idea of how a football sideline worked.

What had to crush Hoke was the suggestion that he ever would sacrifice a kid’s health for a few extra yards. That cuts to the core. It was mean. It was unfair. And he took it.

He deserves kudos for that. He deserves kudos for saluting his team’s hard work. He deserves kudos for standing by his players — even Devin Gardner, whose play let him down week after week. No, he wasn’t perfect. No, he wasn’t always forthright with the media (a tradition for Michigan football coaches) and this reflected poorly in the Brendan Gibbons dismissal and Doug Nussmeier hiring situations.

But the bottom line is his record, which shows he simply didn’t coach or delegate well enough to produce a winner. That is indisputable. The Wolverines lost frequently and badly. They were barely in games against Notre Dame, Michigan State or Ohio State, and it didn’t look like the sides would balance any time soon. Hoke had four years to recruit. Instead of improving, his players lived down to their expectations. His offensive line — a Michigan staple — was horrendous. His skill players paled in comparison to years past. And he never found a quarterback. Not a real one. Not the kind that you need to lead your team. There were no Braxton Millers here, or J.T. Barretts, or Jameis Winstons or Marcus Mariotas. It’s not an accident teams with players like that are in the national championship conversation this week.

Hoke had Gardner and Denard Robinson.

End of subject.

The right résumé

So now, to the next step. Hackett will make the decision, even though he is officially an “interim.” He will use a head-hunting firm to narrow the field. He has charts and graphs and “swim lanes” and other corporate tools to make the process as professional as possible.

But none of that, in the end, will ensure a wise choice. That is in his hands alone, and some of it will come from his feel for the person.

In my opinion, the first things to pursue are great character and great accomplishment. This is not the time for assistant coaches to be elevated. This is not the time for a small school guy to get his big chance. This is time for experience. This is time for track record. This may be time — as much as Michigan dislikes this — to pursue a big name who seems safely ensconced in an existing program. Is it the most ethical thing? No. Is it done all the time? Yes. One way or another, we will see whether the job Michigan lovers all claim is irresistible can be resisted.

Hackett summed up the position with these words: “This is a place that does not need to cut corners to win. You come here, you know now you’re signing up to be the best in the world without any kind of shenanigans going on.”

Of course, they said that before hiring Hoke.

The other shoe dropped. It was not a day to cheer. It was a tough luck day for a good man, who tried, who tried hard, who tried well and who tried his best. If you have something ugly to say about that, say it to yourself.

The brand lives. The branding dies. Five years ago, folks were celebrating Brandon. Four years ago, folks were celebrating Hoke. It doesn’t take long for things to change in college sports. We’ll see whether that pendulum Hackett mentioned is ready to make a swing.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter@mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go tofreep.com/sports/mitch-albom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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