It’s finally game week and I feel as if I have to give some grand overarching piece on Michigan. There must be some theme or mantra that must encapsulate what Michigan is trying to accomplish in 2013. To be honest I am having a hard time doing so and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Michigan isn’t at the “crossroads” but it isn’t at the “top of the mountain” either.
Its year three of the Hoke era and if you asked any Michigan fan how they felt about him so far and how they feel about the future under him most would give you a positive response. Each person would give you various responses but I whittled it down to three main reasons Hoke is well liked; rhetoric, recruiting and results.
We will delve into each but lets start at the beginning, a very good place to start…
Three Years Ago
I have already written too much about the past and don’t want to go to much into the break up with Rich Rod. It has all been well documented and it clearly didn’t work out from either side. (Is it sad that this is the biggest breakup of my adult life? Don’t answer that.)
When Brady was hired three years ago he walked into a divisive situation among all those involved with Michigan football. The former players barked at each other, the big money donors were unhappy with the product on the field and going on the Michigan message boards was so utterly depressing you would have thought we were Pitt fans. (Zing!)
Basically the Rich Rod era brought out the worst in just about everyone and showed that without a stabilizing figure Michigan can fall into a pit of despair just like any other fanbase. (As much as we like to think we are different than other schools we found out just similar we are without a Bo like figure to tell everyone which direction to go in.)
It was ugly and it took some work to do but the direction got put back by a few simple words.
Before Rich Rod and Hoke I never thought that you could either lose or win a press conference. Lloyd’s press conferences were filled with an amusing tension as he bickered back and forth with them trying not to give away some secrets that I don’t think actually existed. This led to some fun exchanges though.
I was there when Rich got hired and his press conference was the complete opposite of Carr’s. Initially he was relaxed, open and even quoted the Lion King. It was such a stark contrast and as his tenure progressed he got exploited for this and would constantly “lose” the press conference. (I know realize Lloyd treated every press conference like he did the games, play not to lose.)
To many, Hoke “won” his first press conference. This may not have been hard to do considering the circumstances but its interesting looking back how many of his phrases were immediately implemented into Michigan culture. The marketing department used the “This is Michigan” as slogan and even I was part of this process as I used the term “fergodsakes” every five words. (Hoke and I are overweight brothers. We can sense each others thoughts.)
The phrase that stuck out most nationally is that he refused to refer to OSU by any other name than “Ohio.” He kept calling it that and soon everyone affiliated with Michigan started calling it that.
Hoke has done his best to keep up these phrases and now three years later they are imprinted in Michigan fans and part of the University’s own rhetoric.
I am a big believer that recruiting matters but on a macro level. While it is hard to project each individual kid the more top rated kids you bring in the higher chances you have of being successful. One class doesn’t make a program good (see Tennessee in 2005 and Miami in 2008) but continued success over a four or five year period is how teams sustain success from year to year. (See Alabama)
For those of us that follow college football 365 recruiting is another scoreboard that we fans can point to as an indicator of success down the road. A lot of times it is just talk but Hoke has given Michigan fans hope that they can be a top ten program consistently and go toe to toe with the hated Buckeyes. Because of such success on the recruiting trail fans are able to get behind Hoke and are starting to see the vision for the football team he plans to build. (Power run game, Pocket passing QB throwing to big tall WRs and TEs and a defense that consistently is one of the most stout in the country.)
Of course not all of Hoke’s best recruiting jobs have been players but include his staff as well. Recruiting Mattison to coach the defense has perhaps been his biggest move and has led to successful results.
Ah yes the word we all hear all the time whether it be sports or from your boss at work. All the phrases and recruiting rankings get flipped and used against you if you can’t produce wins on the field. (See Mack Brown.)
Hoke was able to go 11-2 his first season with wins over ND, OSU and a BCS win. (Albeit, an ugly victory but hey we got to eat sugar and dance for a night so it counts.) That first season no doubt has given Hoke the credibility he needs with both the fans and recruits.
Still, according to Hoke’s standards his first two teams were failures. Neither won the Big Ten title and Hoke has made it clear to everyone with his rhetoric that winning the conference is the standard. (Insert Mike Tomlin quote here (Yes I just combined my two coaches, deal with it))
So Hoke had put himself out there with such a statement of Big Ten titles or bust. Everyone is clear of the expectation but if the results don’t follow then all of the good will and happiness will turn into frustration and finger pointing.
For Hoke his this year will be the last one without real expectations. With all the big talk and big time recruits 2014 and beyond will be where that internal expectation is a constant outside pressure. Lets see if he can stay one step ahead.
Meaningless 2013 Prediction: So here we are, the part where I say stuff that I hope happens. While the Buckeyes are still a force, albeit led by a different coach with no vest, most Michigan fans anticipate success in the coming years. As for this year I really don’t know. Like most fans I have things I like about this team and things I don’t. (the free safety position, have I made that clear yet?)
If you want me to say a win total just so you can pin me on something I will be optimistic and say ten wins. As usual that ND game will have a huge influence on that number as a win over the Irish gives Michigan margin for error along the way.
I hope Gardner can live up to hype and make the transition to Borges’’s actual offense as seamless as can be. If you are Blue enjoy the season and hopefully I will see you in Pasadena Jan 1. If you hate Blue enjoy your hate and I wish you luck along your way as well.