Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan has been terminated, finally. The school’s interim AD Jim Hackett opted to move in a different direction. The decision, a fait accompli for quite a few weeks, surprised no one.
Things weren’t all bad. Hoke managed the Rich Rodriguez tradition well. Players with every reason to check out bought in. Michigan won 11 games his first season. Some of that was fumble luck. Some of that was his staff improving yards/play defense from 101st to 46th. His 2012 team went a hard luck 8-5 against a brutal schedule. Hoke was 12-4 in the B1G (compared to 6-18 in the B1G under Rodriguez) in his first two seasons. He was recruiting well. His appointment was kismet, until it wasn’t.
Hoke laid the foundation. The house never materialized. The Wolverines beat Notre Dame his third season, jumped the track against Akron and, with more than a calendar year of coaching, never recovered. Michigan won just three of his final 16 games against power five opponents in regulation. The most impressive performances happened in losses to Ohio State. This dry spell came with his recruits running his system, such as it was.
Michigan stressed returning to “Michigan Football” under Hoke. It was never quite clear what that meant. His staff struggled developing and deploying recruited players at almost every position, including his specialty defensive line. The most notable problem was at quarterback. Many staffs would embrace working with talented athletes such as Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner. Only one staff saw fit to shoehorn both into a bog standard drop back passing game.
The Wolverine offense, under multiple coordinators, plodded forward with a grim, Douglas Haig-like determination. The Wolverine defense, decent on paper, never quite mastered deception, the spread or the accurate forward pass. When not outplayed, the team was plagued by a myriad of game management and special teams errors. Initial rhetoric about the B1G title being the ex-pec-ta-tion, became a pure struggle to avoid embarrassment, often unsuccessfully.
Hoke’s finale against Ohio State provided a fitting capsule. Michigan gave a spirited effort and had little to show for it. Teams need an edge and attention to detail to compete at the top level of FBS football. Unlike rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, Hoke’s Wolverines failed to display that week, after week, after week.
Where does Michigan go from here? No one has a good read. Michigan would like Jim Harbaugh. So would anyone with an opening. Les Miles would do his alma mater the courtesy of talking. What is clear is that a return to greatness will require bold, decisive action. That’s the precise sort of action one never expects from someone with an “interim” label and no experience.