(Written by Tom Shanahan)
It’s tough to pinpoint, but somewhere along the line Michigan fans turned as nutty as the zealots of Alabama football and Kentucky basketball.
Michigan has one of the best football coaches in the country in Brady Hoke, but fans are turning up the heat as he prepares for his fourth season in Ann Arbor. Funny, two years ago Michigan fans thought Hoke was their savior. He quickly erased vestiges of the Rich Rodriguez experiment-gone-bad with an 11-2 season.
Hoke’s first season in 2011 included beating Ohio State, ending a seven-year losing streak to the Buckeyes (four losses in the skid were under Lloyd Carr, by the way). Hoke won his first BCS bowl appearance with a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
Alabama and Kentucky fans have long been known for short memories and unrealistic expectations. The pendulum of poor fan behavior has been swinging their way nationally for years and is taking on partisans from the august Big Ten.
Michigan fans used to be better than that.
Speaking of changing circumstances, what I am I doing defending a Michigan man? I’m atMichigan State graduate.
I’m the first one to point out Bo Schembechler’s 0-5 Rose Bowl record in the 1970s as Michigan’s coach. All Big Ten fans can blame the national sport of Big Ten bashing on Schembechler and his fellow sideline lunatic, Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. They were a combined 1-9 in 1970s Rose Bowls with losses to four schools USC (5), Stanford (2), UCLA (1) and Washington (1).
Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That was Bo and Woody taking their Neanderthal offenses to Pasadena for a decade to compete against West Coast speed and advanced offensive schemes.
And the rest of us in the Big Ten are still paying the price in the 21st century for their ineptitude. But I digress. The facts are Hoke’s overall track record explains why he remains the man for the job in Ann Arbor.
He took over a losing program as a first-time head coach at Ball State and built a 12-0 team with a Top 25 ranking as high as No. 12 before two season-ending losses in the Mid-American Conference championship and a bowl game under an interim coach.
Hoke’s Ball State success landed the San Diego State job, but he left in place a foundation that the Cardinals are still thriving on.
At San Diego State, the Aztecs were perennial under-achievers. In Hoke’s second season, he guided San Diego State to a 9-4 record and bowl game victory, the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl win over Navy. It was the Aztecs’ first bowl trip in 12 years.
Again, Hoke left a foundation in place before he took his dream job at Michigan. The knock on San Diego State for many years was the Aztecs were soft. No one has accused the Aztecs of being soft since Hoke arrived and left the program in the hands of his promoted defensive coordinator, Rocky Long.
I covered Hoke’s teams in San Diego for the Rivals.com network. He explained on his first national letter-of-intent day at San Diego State that you judge a recruiting class at the end of five years. For example, he pointed out his successful 2008 Ball State team had 19 of 22 recruits who played out their career contributed.
“That’s a great class,” he said of a group that was lightly recruited but were cohesive and became overachievers.
By contrast, Hoke said Michigan’s 1997 recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the nation by some services but suffered from attrition.
“Out of 19 we signed, 10 left before their senior year,” Hoke said. “So you tell me how good that class was.”
Under those recruits, the Wolverines dropped from 12-0 and a national championship in 1997 within a five-year period to 9-3 in 2000 and 8-4 in 2001.
A bad recruiting class appears to have afflicted Michigan’s 2013 roster that Hoke inherited. Michigan signed 22 players in 2009 under Rodriguez and a respectable 16 finished their career (five in four years, 11 in five years), but they weren’t Hoke-type players.
He wants to run a pro-style offense and hasn’t had a quarterback to play the scheme. He doesn’t like the spread offense because the practice time leads to a soft defense. A soft defense certainly defined Michigan last year.
Hoke also was big on building leadership at San Diego State to turn around the culture. As for leadership, the more we learn about Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, the more there is to question his role in the 7-6 season last year.
Hoke met with the media on Friday and shouldered some of the blame for the leadership deficiencies. That’s a head coach.
“I think I could have been a better leader,” he said. “I just think I should have done a much better job. It goes back to consistency.”
A head coach that turns around a program quickly inherits a roster that matches his personality. Without that, patience is required until the coach finds the right mix. Hoke needed time at Ball State until the needle turned his fifth and six seasons in Muncie, but his San Diego State players bought into him right away.
Something else to point to about Hoke’s 2008 Ball State senior class was an NFL third-round draft pick from the offensive line, Robert Brewster, and a fifth-round draft pick at quarterback, Nate Davis.
That’s better than any draft class Hoke has played with in 2011 and 2012. Taylor Lewan will be a first-round pick from the 2013 season, but Lewan failed to carry the team. And Michigan’s quarterbacks haven’t even sniffed the draft. Denard Robinson had to change positions to get drafted last year.
What? You think Hoke forgot how to coach once he landed his dream job?
Settle down Michigan fans. Otherwise you’re stooping to Alabama and Kentucky levels.