Late last week Michigan head coach Brady Hoke was named Big Ten Coach of the Year. This is the third time that Hoke has earned his conference's coach of the year award. In 2008 he won the Mid-American Conference's Award at Ball State. In 2010 he won the Mountain West Conference's Award at San Diego State. And now he won it in the Big Ten.
I will admit that I was not a fan of Hoke's hiring back in January. I thought grabbing a head coach who had a career sub-.500 record (he was 47-50 at the time but now stands at 57-52) was a bad idea for the country's all-time winningest program. Of course, that was before anyone knew that defensive coordinator Greg Mattison would be joining him in Ann Arbor, a fact that would have likely softened my stance. Regardless, Hoke's hiring has been a good one by almost all standards.
Whether it's good or bad, I like the return of "The Fort" mentality. As a fan I want to know the inner workings of the team, who's hurt, who's healthy, who looks good in practice, etc. But I don't need to know. Hoke realizes that what goes on in the locker room and on the practice field doesn't need to be known by the media and Michigan's millions of followers. Things are handled internally, and that's the way it should be when you're talking about student-athletes. That's one of the biggest things I like about Hoke.
I'm also a fan of his leadership style. He is a very grounded, stern coach. He doesn't get too high or too low. Whether things are going well or poorly, he stays on task. When the quarter ends, he points to the other end of the field and tells his players to get down there. When there's a turnover, he claps his hands and tells his team to get going. The look on his face is almost always the same - not a scowl or a frown. He doesn't slump his shoulders in disappointment. He looks focused on the task at hand. Players buy into body language, and the fact that he doesn't focus on past plays but looks forward to the next one is an important message for players to learn.
Of course, winning helps. If this team were 6-6, I wouldn't be quite so high on him. But he took a team that many projected to be 8-4 (like me) or 9-3 and ends the regular season 10-2 with signature victories over Ohio State (for the first time in years) and Nebraska (45-17 over the #16 team in the country). Meanwhile, the two losses were to solid teams, not teams that should have been overmatched (like Appalachian State in 2007, Toledo in 2008, Purdue in 2009, and Penn State in 2010). I'm hoping for - but not expecting - regular double-digit victories from Michigan in the coming years, and Hoke has at least shown us that it will be possible to do that.
Hoke likes to say about his players that the expectation is for the position. Well, the head coach at Michigan is expected to win. So far, so good.
Congratulations, Coach. Here's to many more coaching awards.