A Deeper Shade of Blue- Brady Hoke Returns Michigan Football to its Roots

The aura surrounding the Wolverine Football program is a deeper shade of blue.

There is more confidence, more appreciation.  There is added optimism that the team has the ability to compete in its conference, offensively, defensively and on special teams.

QB Devon Gardner

There is more swagger, as well as more quiet confidence, among those that have earned and worn the M, and among the fans that fill those expensive stadium seats.  High school coaches are warming to the program.  Recruiting is prospering as far as instant analysis of the process can divine.  Hoke’s judgment in hiring his staff is beyond reproach.  Their coaching abilities are universally respected, and those abilities are put to full use.

As Coach Hoke steps into his second season, he has raised perceptions, expectations, and realities regarding his program.  People can actually believe it when the Wolverines state their goals are a B1G Championship and beyond.  It appears to many that the Wolverines might realistically be a factor again, might really be able to compete at significantly higher, or the highest levels, now.

Coach Hoke appreciates how far his current group has progressed since they struggled last spring with new coaches and new systems, but he is not satisfied.  Hoke will never be satisfied.  The necessity to improve and compete is as much of a mantra for him as demanding that tough guys play for him.

Coach Hoke has been able to figuratively clear all the first year hurdles to success in unexpected fashion.  Hoke running hurdles does conjure up a visual doesn’t it?

It is hard to think his first fourteen months at the Michigan helm could have been done better.  Hell yes, a victory over MSU would have been sweet, and knocking off Iowa last season also would have been sweet, but we are looking at the big picture here.  Look where the Wolverines were defensively the year before, and the year before, and the year before.  In fourteen months great strides have been made.

His teams have always done better the second year, and that will probably be true of the upcoming season.  That applies to Borges, and Mattison, and maybe some of the other coaches.  Progress is being made, and this team of Wolverines is assisting in its manufacture and propagation.

Improvement is palpable everywhere, including the improved stadium, bigger scoreboards, in the merchandising of the program.  No yellow ring around the stadium, no NCAA sanctions, the BuckNuts humbled.  That too, and waiting in the wings is….what?  Likely more success.

Even Rich Rodriguez deserves some credit.  Of course not defensively, but the acquisition of Denard Robinson, and others who have stuck it out and contributed deserves credit.  RR deserves extra credit for Denard.  Robinson is the best dual threat QB in the country, and improving. And he is not the only RR acquisition that is benefitting this team.  Think Roundtree and Kovacs, and more.

Notwithstanding this, Rich does have the ability to stick his foot in it public relations wise.  Like reported comments that he said he baked the cake, and iced it, but someone else got to eat it, when commenting on last season’s Michigan football success.

This doesn’t have legs when one considers his team’s defensive ineptness, his lack of defensive recruiting.  There is no excuse for Michigan being one hundred tenth in the nation in defense.  I have a feeling he will do better with Casteel as his DC in Arizona.  Casteel has made the 3-3-5 come alive at times.  Wouldn’t it be something to meet Arizona in the Rose Bowl someday?

Much credit for the Wolverines success the last fourteen months must go to the personality, work ethic, values, and football acumen of Brady Hoke.  He has proved to be the right man, at the right time, in the right place.

QB Denard Robinson

The Wolverines should be one of the teams to beat in the B1G this year if Denard has a big year.  If they can find effective replacements for center Molk, receivers Stonum and Hemingway, defensive lineman Heininger and VanBergen, nose Mike Martin, and if some freshman not on the scene yet can shore up the two deep for those disabled by injuries yet to happen.

The depth of the offensive and defensive lines is a concern, and Will Campbell and Ricky Barnum both have huge shoes to fill, as Molk and Martin were the best linemen on last year’s team.

Barnum muffed two snaps Saturday.  Coaches say he fits his new position perfectly.  When he was interviewed post spring game, he brought the subject up himself and shouldered responsibility: said it was his fault, said it had not been happening, and would stop there.

Center Rickey Barnum has huge shoes to fill replacing David Molk

Campbell’s defensive line was identified as too soft in the middle by both Coach Hoke and Mattison, but they still looked pretty good.  Gang tackling is back. Strong side end Keith Heitzman was mentioned by Coach Hoke, and I could not help but notice Richard Ash at DT.  On the OL, Joey Burznski, Junior/Sophomore, started at left guard.

The players I talked to said that players improve under the expectations of this staff in the summer.  Team 133 is still a work in progress, but it is a work in progress at a higher level than last year.

Saturday, as you are probably well aware, the “spring football game” was held in Michigan Stadium, with the offense winning 17-0.  It is not a game, but a glorified practice.  Attendance was estimated at 25,000 and undoubtedly was not improved by the dire weather forecasts the night before that said the game might be cancelled.  Thunder storms did not appear as forecast and the day proved a decent replica of a fall day-dry but not pretty and, gray.  The new lights were on.  Almost $250,000 was raised for Mott Children’s Hospital.

A flag football game with 100 former players filled the morning, Maize against Blue, with the Blue prevailing 33-19. Alijah Bradley won the MVP award, again burdened this year with the 10 foot tall statue he also won last year.  David Brandon did his part. There was a band, announcers, both scoreboards were working.  The end zones were roped off due to the pending lacrosse game.  There is danger to fans from over thrown balls in that game.

This spring event is not a game, but a glorified practice, with some frills and two 30-play segments.  It is difficult to judge much about the quality of a football team under this format.  Something similar has long been excused because of the effect of 85 scholarships instead of 115.  That heightened the nasty effect of injuries to a team.  But it also seems that lack of depth plays a part. Alabama held its spring game before 80,000 and reports indicated it was a game, not a glorified practice.

Some press reports indicate Coach Hoke has said he wished an “exhibition game” against another team was allowed.   This certainly would peak interest, but whether it would aggravate injuries would remain a question.

QB Russell Bellomy

This year was unique in that under studies got huge chunks of playing time.  For example Russell Bellomy got extensive opportunity at QB, and Devin Gardner got some.  Obviously they are confident Denard and others know the system well enough to sit. Many played and got their first exposure to playing in the Big House under game conditions.

Thomas Rawls had two runs for TDs and 42-yards on 10 carries.  His slashing, hard nose running style fits the system perfectly.  Justice Hays got some carries. Fitzgerald Toussaint looked like, well, the Fitzgerald Toussaint you know.  Coach Hoke identified FB Paul Gyamati as a tough runner, and lauded FB Stephen Hopkins as having a good spring.

Asked if any receiver was going to wear the Number 1 this year, Coach Hoke reminded that he has 115 worthy players, all trying to earn honors.

Vincent Smith, Jerald Robinson, and Jeremy Gallon collared passes, none of which were deep.

The switch of Craig Roh to strong side defensive end seems to have benefitted him, Jabreel Black is doing well with his hand down, and on the weak side there is a prospering competition between Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer, with Beyer starting this time, but Clark close. Keith Heitzel, a reserve strong side DE was mentioned by Hoke.

Blake Countess grabbed a pick.  Brandon Hawthorne made his presence felt with five tackles and an interception.  He has been tolerating some dings.

It is difficult to predict future success or failure from “spring games”.  Players that have a strong spring game may falter in the fall.  The same can happen to a team.  The whole body of work has to be considered including the results of competition.

Sometimes the defects revealed in the spring are glaring.  Such as defensive deficiencies in the spring game at Saline a few years ago.  Not so this year.  It seems that the Wolverines are going to be a highly competitive team in the B1G this year.  Whether they will be able to compete at a national level won’t be validated until after their appearance Arlington, and even then the team that ends the season may be much stronger than the one that started the season.

What we do know is that something good is being built in Ann Arbor.  How good only time will tell.

Go Blue!


Dear Rich, good luck and some words of advice…

Former Wolverine Head Coach Rich Rodriguez has been hired to lead the Arizona Wildcats.

Rich had a tumultuous tenure in Ann Arbor. He seemed like a good guy who made some mistakes.

Rich Rodriguez at his first Michigan press conference

I wish him the best at his new job.

Here are some recommendations to ease the transition.

  1. Hire somebody who knows defense, you don’t. To quote the immortal Dirty Harry, “a man has to know his limitations.” Running a defense and managing a defensive staff is beyond you.
  2. Let your defensive coordinator hire his own staff. See #1, read and repeat. If by some circumstance you hire some of your old friends to be part of the defensive staff, don’t allow them to undermine your defensive coordinator.
  3. Don’t expect conditioning to win games for you. The world has caught up to  the conditioning you had at West Virginia and Michigan. Skill and coaching wins, conditioning is now a given.
  4. Get out and meet people. As the situation deteriorated in Ann Arbor, you took refuge in your office. Take that sparkling personality out on the town. Eat at the local restaurants. Visit some classes, shake hands and kiss babies. You figured this too late in Ann Arbor.
  5. Open up your inner circle. You have a loyal group of friends and coaches. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that they give  you the best advice. You need someone who will disagree with you.
  6. Stop whining and use your agent. At Michigan you fought with the administration over details like the wording of press releases. If you want approval of such things, get it in writing. Whining doesn’t change things.
  7. Pare down your inner circle. Some of the people you brought with you to Ann Arbor did you no favors. They did you more harm than good. They were more concerned with blaming others than helping you succeed.
  8. You don’t have a reality distortion field. When you were in West Virginia the press took your word as gospel. Those times are over. You can’t be fuzzy on details and gloss over reality. It makes you look dishonest.
  9. Don’t bend NCAA rules. The last thing you need to bring with to Arizona is an NCAA investigation. You need to be an expert on all compliance issues.
  10. Win.
Rich, make these changes and hopefully we’ll never see you like this again…
Rich Rodriguez after his final game as Wolverine Head Football Coach

Brady Hoke – Last Stand of the Michigan Man?

I grew up with Saturdays being “days of holy obligation.” When I played football in high school I wore a Michigan t-shirt to counter the bad karma of our very Buckeye-looking uniforms. On a recruiting trip to Michigan I made my case for how Bo needed a 5′ 8″ linebacker with above average speed to play football for him. When I attended the University of Michigan I did my best to spread the Wolverine gospel to my classmates. I followed Moeller, initially scoffed at Lloyd’s appointment but happily celebrated in Pasadena as the Wolverines led by Charles Woodson won the National Championship (KMA coaches poll!!)

When Lloyd retired, I understood that the line of Michigan Men coaching the Wolverines was probably over and that the Michigan Football program was fundamentally changing.

I questioned whether I was fan of Michigan Football or Michigan Football as defined by Bo Schembechler.

Continue reading “Brady Hoke – Last Stand of the Michigan Man?”

Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football

This book by noted author John U. Bacon promises to be the most complete and revealing account of the turbulent tenure of Rich Rodriguez as Michigan head football coach.
Weighing in at 448 pages, I expect an unflinching account of exactly what happened. Bacon had amazing access to Michigan administrators, coaches, and players. At the beginning of the project few could imagine how badly things would turn out.
Was the hire doomed from the start? Did Michigan insiders who disliked RichRod from the beginning undermine him? Did RichRod’s loyalty to his assistants doom the defense to failure? How much did RichRod’s inner circle contribute to his public relations gaffes?
I can’t wait to find out.
Available for pre-order now

Three and Out tells the story of how college football’s most influential coach took over the nation’s most successful program, only to produce three of the worst seasons in the histories of both Rich Rodriguez and the University of Michigan.  Shortly after his controversial move from West Virginia, where he had just taken his alma mater to the #1 ranking for the first time in school history, Coach Rich Rodriguez granted author and journalist John U. Bacon unrestricted access to Michigan’s program.  Bacon saw it all, from the meals and the meetings, to the practices and the games, to the sidelines and the locker rooms.  Nothing and no one was off limits.  John U. Bacon’s Three and Out is the definitive account of a football marriage seemingly made in heaven that broke up after just three years, and lifts the lid on the best and the worst of college football.

From the Back Cover

Sports fans invest great hopes and dreams into their teams. College football fans invest even more, I think, because of the stronger connection they feel with the school and the players. But I’ve never seen any fans ask more of their teams than Michigan football fans ask of theirs.
There are only two groups who are more devoted to the Wolverines, and demand more in return: the coaches and the players. They have the most to gain and the most to lose. They know the stakes. And they accept them—even embrace them. It’s why all of them, from Rich Rodriguez to Tate Forcier to Denard Robinson, came to Ann Arbor. Not to be average, or even good, but “the leaders and best.”
Anything less would not do.
This book attempts to explain how the coach and his team fell short—and what happened when they did.

2011 M Football Brady Hoke Succeeds Rich Rodriguez

To the delight of many Michigan Football players who played for or watched Brady Hoke while he helped lead the Blue to a National Championship in 1997 as the Wolverine Defensive Line Coach, and to the chagrin of some Michigan fans who had their caps set for Jim Harbaugh, or Les Miles or anybody but Hoke, Brady Hoke has been named University of Michigan Football Coach.

It seems to me that all of us will find that Brady fits the ?Michigan Mold? and he will represent the University of Michigan and its football program, its traditions and values, with honesty. He will restore the program to its former toughness.

He has family values in spades, wants tough guys on his defensive line, and on his team as a whole, and will toe the line to stay inside the NCAA rules.

He will bring a diverse offense and use personnel in a system that utilizes a player?s talents to best advantage.

He has the kind of personality that invites people to like him, but make no mistake he can be tough when tough is called for.

He is not Lloyd Carr and will not play Lloyd?s brand of football. He is not a Lloyd Carr crony. He is his own man.

He does not tolerate losing and will do all that is within the rules to win. He will work hard and his team will work hard.

All that being said he has a tough row to hoe. He is behind in recruiting for this year. Way behind.

More importantly he has to assemble a staff. That might be the most important thing that he has to do, to provide a staff that is all on the same page and which can produce in the Big Ten.

I would be remiss if I did not thank Rich Rodriguez for his effort in Ann Arbor. Even if the results in the win column were not what we, or he, wanted for the past three years, he worked hard, and did what he could to remain in Ann Arbor. And lets quit dumping on Lloyd Carr, and appreciate the only National Title Michigan has managed in fifty years. And let’s forget Les Miles, and Jim Harbaugh as coaches, but, of course, not as people and Michigan men.

It is past time the Michigan Wolverines snarled with one voice. I am sick of forums with conspiracy theories, Brandon bashing, complaining about that ho hum Hoke, kicking Carr, and insulting Rodriguez. The Free Press remains fair game.

AD Brandon thinks that Brady Hoke can do it. Let?s give him a warm welcome and all the help we can in what will be no minor task.

How soon he wins is an issue, because we have three years of frustration behind us.

Fans want winning sooner than later. Their irritation is also understood.

Things can only be accomplished through wins.

Welcome aboard Head Football Coach Brady Hoke!

Good Luck, and Go Blue!