Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Brady Hoke, Big Ten Coach of the Year

Brady Hoke

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.


  1. I ask a serious question here: how is Brady Hoke not the perfect coach? I don't say this out of obsequious fawning over Hoke, but as an exercise in how we would assemble an ideal head coach or how we would judge the ideal characteristics of a head coach.

    Hoke as a figurehead - he appears to be about flawless here. Loves the school genuinely, avoids the pitfalls that plagued RR with the media, avoids bad judgment calls regarding tradition, etc.

    Hoke as a delegator - anyone who follows sports knows that the Peter Principle tends to apply with coordinators who fail as head coaches. The get promoted for their success as a coordinator and, because of their brilliance in that role, they do not relinquish it. They unbalance their management of the team and overwhelm themselves. Hoke selects strong assistants and lets them do their job.

    Hoke as the final decision-maker - despite the delegation, the Buck stops with Hoke. He makes calls on 4th down, key fakes, strategic adjustments. And he tends to make the bold (and largely, so far, correct) calls.

    Hoke as a people person - who cannot watch MM and Molk and see how they speak of Hoke as a man they almost worship for his sincerity and genuine commitment to his players. So have spoken other players/coaches. Does anyone doubt that Brandon heard a cacophony of voices screaming that Hoke was the real deal when he went through the process? Does anyone think this devotion to the man isn't a real dividend of his integrity and commitment?

    Hoke setting the tone - he focuses players and coaches, he focuses on the right things, and he emphasizes silly cliches (toughness, accountability) that, when truly implemented, make a big difference.

    All-in-all, I am hard pressed to find a weakness in his "game" at this time. Maybe a little slow in the middle of the year to go with the offense's strength? Not much. I am sure it will change - no one is perfect; but damn, who would have thunk it?

  2. Well deserved. Just wanted to mention that many of us were hoping for 8-4 but maybe expecting 7-5. For me the season was probably a 2-3 game "over achievement." I tend to think that UofM is not as good as the 10-2 record indicates but even if the bowl game is a loss, it's been a pleasant season. There will be holes next year and the schedule is tougher but I can't wait to see what they can achieve again.

  3. @ Meeechigan Dan

    I was just telling my close family and friends the other day this very thing. There are a lot of schools who cannot afford to hire a head coach and two coordinators. For those schools there are good coordinators who can fill those roles, some successful and some not.

    Once read a book that said this, "Just because you like donuts doesn't make you a great baker, just because you are a great baker doesn't mean you can run a bakery." I believe this applies here. Hoke may be a good coach at some level, but as a head coach he is GREAT. He has made solid decisions and surrounded himself with great leaders. He knows when to get out of the way and let his appointees do their jobs and when to step in and offer assistance.

  4. Well put. The part about his even demeanor is spot on. Sometimes I want to see him rip into a ref for a bad call, but the benefits of that are probably marginal compared to the message he sends to his players by looking forward.

    In August, Vegas had Michigan at either 7 or 7.5 wins, so the extent Hoke exceeded expectations is probably even a step higher than what you said. Fans generally tend to overrate their own, so you're probably right that 8 or 9 was the fanbase's expectation but the objective consensus was 7 or 8.

    My initial reaction to the Hoke hire was disappointment but it was more about the whiff of Harbaugh. I never thought Harbaugh was a sure thing, but it did seem favorable. Once Harbaugh was off the table, I was content with Hoke. As I argued at the time, he made every place he went to steadily better. It may not happen overnight but it happened in the MAC and in the MWC. To me that was enough. Record is overrated. With Moeller, Carrol, Rodriguez and many others we've seen that past performance isn't a great predictor of future results. Character and fit matter in a great deal, particularly in college, where the head coaches job is as diplomatic as it is tactical.

    Hoke gets an A+ for year one. Time to win that bowl game and finish the recruiting class of strong...then on to motivating the team for the offseason and avoiding complacency coming of a hugely successful season.

    Hoke will probably never win another coach of the year award again. It's hard to do at a place like Ohio State or Michigan because of the high baseline expectation. He basically has to go undefeated which is unlikely for a team playing an expanded B1G conference schedule with a championship game, plus at least one legitimate non-conference opponent.

  5. @Meeechigan Dan

    Hoke's done a great job but if one is nitpick there are a few:

    1. The 2011 recruiting class was the worst in recorded history for Michigan. Most of that can be blamed on Dave Brandon's process, but Hoke failed to close the deal with key players like Jake Fisher, even with a proven recruiter like Mattison on his side.

    2. His success is due in large part to a) the players he inherited from Rodriguez and b) his assistant coaches. These are more questions than critiques but the coronation shouldn't take place just yet. The OC and DC hires look brilliant but at the same time these were safe choices from close contacts - the kind of thing that got Carr in trouble at the end. Since they're both older guys retiring in a few years, it'll be interesting what kind of replacements are named.

    As for Rodriguez's players, he has a lot of upperclassmen, especially on offense, but also on defense and will again next season. How the DL does in 2012 will be interesting. How the 2013 team does with a depleted OL and new starters at QB, TE, WR will also be. Their coaching mettle will be tested then.

    3. His insistence, along with Borges, of running pro-style elements seemed rather stubborn and probably cost Michigan the Iowa game and maybe MSU as well.

    Off the field - I agree with you. Hoke has been perfect. On the field - we need to give it a few years; but things do look extremely positive.

  6. @ Lankownia 12:41 p.m.

    1. You've brought this up before, but you really should let go of the 2011 recruiting class for Hoke. He was hired in the second week of January and only had about 3 weeks to recruit for Michigan. He was able to grab a few additional guys, but he can't be blamed for any of the class's shortcomings. Blaming him for Fisher is just kind of silly and the nit-pickiest of all nit-picks.

    2. A head coach's job is to hire good coordinators. He got good coordinators. Therefore, he gets an A+ in that regard. Or at least an A. It doesn't matter why or how he hired those guys. All that matters is that they're in Ann Arbor and doing a good job. And the players he inherited were turnover-prone and sucky at defense. This season the QB continued to be turnover-prone, but the running backs and returners were more reliable. The players he inherited were subpar but were somehow molded into being pretty darn good.

    3. Perhaps agree, although it's hard to say. Iowa and MSU have both beaten Michigan in recent years when Michigan was spread-only, so I don't think that a simple change in offensive philosophy would necessarily have done the trick. Iowa's defense gives Denard fits, and MSU was in the Big Ten championship game.

  7. Hmmm, the first response post I wrote seems to not make it through. I'll restate what I wrote.

    1. Very well put, Thunder. Good post. I think the point about his even-keeled demeanor is an excellent one. As much as I sometimes want him to rip into an official there's probably more benefit to keeping your players looking proactively forwarded.

    2. Objective national expectations (i.e. Vegas) had UM at 7 or 7.5 wins. Fanbases tend to overrate their own so you may be right that M fans expected 8 or 9, but the degree that Hoke went past expectations might even be understated.

    3. Hoke will probably never win another coach of the year award. It's too hard with the level of expectations at Michigan or Ohio State. You generally have to exceed expectations by a lot to win coach of the year and for Michigan that means going undefeated - which is damn hard to do with a tough bowl game, the conference championship game, AND a tough non-conference opponent or two.

    4. I was disappointed we didn't get Harbaugh even though I never thought it was a sure thing, it did look promising with him. With Harbaugh off the table, I thought Hoke was a good hire. We've seen that past performance isn't a great predictor of future results many many times (Moeller, Carrol, Rodriguez, every former Boise coach). Especially in college, diplomacy and leadership are more important than being a tactician or great football mind.

    Plus Hoke improved, steadily, over-time, the programs that he coached at. It wasn't always over night, but I didn't see that as an indictment. To me, Hoke was a guy proven to make things better and that's what Michigan needed.

    5. Hoke has done a good job but we have to admit he's been extremely lucky. The collapse at OSU and the amazing health of the team this season (which hardly ever gets mentioned), plus the seniors decision - even prior to Hoke's arrival, to stick together and take ownership. It's better to be lucky than good, but best of all is to be lucky AND good. I think Hoke has been.

  8. @Thunder

    1. I think Hoke has some blame for 2011, but definitely not all. He's doing a fine job in 2012 so far. I'll let go of 2011 as more results become available. But so far, that's all we got.

    2. I agree, but I think its OK to look a little deeper at the coordinator hire. Both guys were very SAFE hires. SAFE can be good, but it can also be troublesome. Hoke doesn't seem to be risk-averse or anything, so I'm not pulling my hair out thinking about who the DC will be in 2014 or 2015, but I am curious about how it all plays out. We'll see.

    Martin and Van Bergen were sucky at defense? Demens sucks? Lewan is turnover prone? Come on! The talent was there and the staff did a great job utilizing it. I'm not saying that's going to change, but Rodriguez left this coaching staff a well-stocked cupboard of mostly veteran players. On offense you had no major improvements from last year and the team worked best running what it already knew from the last staff. That's because they're 4th and 5th year guys on the OL and returning starters everywhere else (except Toussaint who was hurt.) This was a proven and experienced offense. The defense had exceptional talent and experience on the DL. Demens was already good. The coaching staff did use Ryan exceptionally well but WLB remained a weakness and so did overall talent in the secondary. The secondary improved by leaps and bounds in part due to coaching but also because a) Kovacs is a rock b) Woolfolk was healthy c) Gordon was properly utilized d) Countess (who was a RR commit) and e) Floyd's improvement (which you hardly want to acknowledge.) Most of that would have happened to whoever Rodriguez's DC would have been too.

    3. I do agree, it's pure conjecture to say things would have been different with this or that. However, Iowa feels like a team we were better than. Whenever you lose to someone like that coaching is the first place a fan looks and there were some big differences in scheme that game. While we did lose to Iowa in years past we always moved the ball well but were undone by turnovers and bad defense.

    MSU - we were clearly beaten by, but did have a shot to come back against. Who knows...

  9. Oh so that first comment I wrote didn't disappear after all. Glad I wrote the same thing twice!

    Feel free to delete one.

  10. @ Lankownia 1:57 p.m.

    Yes, the players were there that turned into a good defense, but come on...the defense underperformed and is STILL lacking in overall athleticism. Mattison made good defense happen with career backups like Hawthorne and Herron, freshmen like Desmond Morgan and Blake Countess, and former walk-ons like Heininger and Kovacs. This defense is a mish-mash of a few talented players, so-so players, freshmen, and career backups. There's a dearth of NFL-ready talent on this squad. The upperclassmen were left by Rodriguez, but they weren't good at football by the time he left. Rodriguez gets credit for recruiting the guys, sure, but he didn't develop them at all.

    To put it another way, Rodriguez got the canvas, the paint, and the brush...but then let it all sit in the attic for a few years. Then Hoke found it in the attic and painted the "Mona Lisa."

    (I know it's a lame, cliched reference...but I'm not an art guy. So shut up.)

  11. How Lankownia can hold Hoke accountable AT ALL for losing Jake Fischer is beyond me. That's just dumb. Hoke had less than three weeks to assemble a coaching staff and recruit before signing day, for chrissakes. I guarantee you thst when our defense struggles next year because of RR's utter failure to adequately recruit defensive linemen (especially DTs, Lankownia will be in here blaming Hoke & Mattison for it.

  12. I don't agree the D is lacking in overall athleticism. LB may lack in elite talent, but athleticism? Herron and Hawthorne are extremely athletic. That's not their problem.
    Look at DL - you have 4 or 5 star talents making up the bulk of the rotation (Roh, Black, Martin, Van Bergen, Campbell.) Yes, you have Heininger but he's beating out talented players AND he's a 5th year senior.

    NFL talent: Martin is a lock. Countess looks like one. Demens and Van Bergen will get shots. Campbell...has the talent. Ryan, Black and Roh could get there.

    This may not be up to Michigan standards, but for most teams have that many future NFL guys is good. For Iowa, that's good. For Illinois, normal. For Northwestern, it's unchartered territory.

    And while, Kovacs and Heininger might not be NFL caliber players, you win with smart veterans like that. Guys like that are glue that make everything else work by doing their jobs effectively and reliably.

    We also can't underestimate the value of age and experience here. Kovacs is a 5th year senior brain with junior eligibility. Heininger and Van Bergen have seen it all. Woolfolk's been around. Floyd and Gordon experienced baptism by fire and have the scars of opposition highlights as souvenirs.

    Countess may be a freshman but he outplayed a decent 5th year senior. He appears to be a special player, not playing out of need like Vinopal, Christian, Talbott, etc.

    The staff did make due at WLB, but that the only position that was clearly deficient relative to conference average.

    Beyond Heininger, who are the 'career back-ups' that became starters this year? Herron and Hawthorne? Guys you called defensive MVPs to start the year?

    For Rodriguez the defensive personnel was younger, injured, and/or ineligible. Yes, his coaching wasn't as good, but that's just part of the picture.

    Any DC worth a lick would have done a decent job with 3 seniors like RVB, MM, Heinger on the DL plus a bunch of talented guys like BWC and Black to rotate in. Most coaches would happily take Demens and Ryan. Countess is special, Kovacs is a rock, and Gordon, Woolfolk, and Floyd are serviceable as average Big Ten starters.

    The coaching staff did a great job. They turned personnel that should have been in the 40-70 range nationally and did way better than that. Healthy played a huge part in that. But the tackling, decision-making, technique, personnel decisions and scheme all appeared to be vastly improved.

    I think they deserve a great amount of credit and I think Mattison should take assistant of the year, nationally. But they can't take ALL the credit here. These are quality players with excellent experience, above average talent, and world-class leadership and character. These guys got better through all the crap that they had to deal with and that set up the new coaching staff well.

    They were put into a position to succeed. That's, to borrow your usage of the word, a fact. That said, not only did they not screw that opportunity up, they made the most of it.

    Credit goes all around.

  13. What I like best about Hoke are his "intangibles." He seems to have a great natural grasp of humanity (for lack of a better word). In business it might be called "soft skills."

    I see only one potential issue with him: I wonder about his bandwidth and cognitive capacity relative to other coaches. Not saying that those are the most important attributes of a coach (or even close), but he doesn't seem to have either one in abundance. I'd guess that (say) Urban Meyer would easily beat him in both measures.

  14. I think Hoke/Mattison/we were awful lucky this year in that Kirk Cousins was probably the only solid/veteran/healthy QB we saw all year. The rest were not very good which made our linebacking and cornerbacking look a lot better than it really was.

    One thing you can't take away from this staff is the relentless week over week improvement in this team in all phases and at all positions with the possible exception of QB, and it is impossible to deny that the last game of the season was Denard's best game of the season if not his career. Which is what coaching is all about.

    I was a Rodriguez supporter and am not looking forward to running into him in the future, especially if he comes equipped with a real defensive coordinator, but you absolutely can't say any of the above about any of the prior three years.

    I can't keep the names straight, but whoever was coaching our young linebackers gets my vote for assistant of the year. I know Thunder could find plenty enough mistakes, but I really liked both of our young outside guys and really all of our linebackers for the first time in years.

  15. Once again, Lankownia's opinion is the most important opinion on this board.

    Rodriguez left a well stocked cupboard?! You've got to be kidding me. Look at our D-Line, and you tell me there is adequate depth there. We're starting Heininger on the DLine for chrissakes! Ryan, Beyer, Morgan, Countess. All received very meaningful playing time, all freshmen. Would we need to be starting two true freshmen if we had a well stocked cupboard?! Get out of here.

    You take a look at our OL, and tell me you're not worried about potentially playing true freshmen next year. If Barnum and Mealer go down, what then? Kalis? Yeah, that cupboard is stocked so full, I don't know how any coach wouldn't succeed.

    "Look at how many players we have at offensive skill positions though!" Oh, ok Rich Rod. I forgot that you don't need to stop other teams' offenses when you run a no huddle, and have a small army of slot receivers. That's why we won so many games 2008-2010.

  16. @Roanman:

    The case could be made for quarterback death in the conference, but some of the guys we faced put up some seriously scary numbers on other teams. At the very least, we didn't make mediocre players look like All-Americans like we did in the past.


    I understand frustration with Lankownia, but your comment is more irrational by a long shot.

    We have walk-ons and freshman playing on defense, yes. But even a cursory glance at the depth chart reveals that it's because they beat out older and/or scholarship players to do so. Morgan and Countess didn't need to start...they did because they were the best at their position. Deal with it.

    OL is a concern, but the way you presented your argument is laughable.

    Also, there's no debate over whether defense was terrible during Rich Rod's tenure. It's another to pretend that it was intentionally sabotaged by the head coach.

  17. @David

    I would not call it pretending when it can be seen that RR had his idea of how his defense should run and the scheme they should use, only to hire two defensive coordinators who did not run his system. Intentional would depend exactly on how you want to define it, but he did hire these guys and he did try to shove a square peg into a round hole. Unintentional would have been to hire a guy who ran his system and still fail.

    By no means do I think he sabotaged the team intentionally (I like to believe the best in people), but your argument holds no more water than Anon 12:00am. The evidence may actually support him more than you.

  18. @Lankownia I really hope you are just playing devil's advocate because you are board and not because you actually believe what you are typing. In your first post you credit Hoke with the crappy 2011 class and in paragraph "2" of your rebuttal to Thunder you call 2011 recruit Blake Countess a RR recruit. Which way is it? Are you a RR apologist? RR had three years and tried to make Michigan something it wasn't, a spread team that would out-score everyone and didn't even have anyone coaching special teams. The point is Hoke and his staff had roughly the EXACT same players and put them in the best place to succeed! That what coaching is, playing players to their strengths. Did Borges and Hoke do too much Pro-style? Maybe. Or maybe the LONG-term and short term plan is to win as many games as possible while also getting Michigan back to what Michigan is all about, Smash-mouth football with NFL-caliber pocket-style passers. The RichRod that you so desperately are loving on was SO stubborn he used Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan in his spread and didn't adapt to their skill sets at all. Hoke and Borges showed NO pride. They saw what Robinson was and tried to implement their scheme in pieces, not a wholesale sell out, my way or the highway approach. And to say the defense was loaded with talent makes you look even more ridiculous. Yes, the talent was there, but RR had NO clue how to utilize it. Seriously, a 3-3-5 in the Big Ten? Craig Roh as an OLB? JT Floyd still has his struggles at times, but OMG what a difference between this year and last year. Have you ever seen a 4-star DB look as bad as Cullen Christian before? He may have been Blake Countess with proper coaching?! The point is RR knows offense and didn't give a sh&t about defense or special teams. Look at the SAME Kicker in Brendan Gibbons. Yes he was talented, that is why RR offered a schollie. But he was never coached, developed or given what he needed to succeed. This staff coaches and makes its players better. Rich Rod sucked at this and Hoke and his staff have already proven that they are vastly superior to his staffs.

  19. @ David

    I appreciate you understanding frustration with Lankownia.
    But, I think my argument holds more water than Lankownia's, and to say otherwise is insulting. What's irrational about pointing out depth issues? For 5 positions on the OL, we have 10 scholarship players this year, 2 are freshmen. For the slot, we have Grady, Odoms, Rountree, Robinson, Gallon, Dileo, I don't know if you want to include Hayes Stokes and Williamson. Williamson was definitely a slot, I'm not sure about Stokes though. That's 7 - 9 slot receivers. That's one position. That's 8 - 10.5 % of our allotted scholarship roster, for 1% of the team. You may think my argument is irrational, because that situation is ridiculous, but I believe it's a valid point to bring up.

    Walk-ons playing isn't always a bad thing, you're right. Kovacs is an incredibly smart safety, with so so athleticism, and that makes him a very serviceable safety. Heininger is not a good player though. I think Hoke was trying to send a message to the team that you have to practice right to get a starting spot on this squad. I believe Campbell would be a much better replacement than Heininger at DT, but a GA friend of mine says it's because Campbell takes a lot of plays off in practice that he's not starting. Hopefully he gets his act together next year, because he's going to be an INTEGRAL part of next year's success, probably top 5 on Thunder's countdown to kickoff.

    Freshmen can be the best at their position, but it's not often. Alabama's defense doesn't have an sophomores starting this year, let alone freshmen. LSU has one freshmen starting for them, a 5-star D tackle.

  20. @Anon 3:29pm

    Williamson and Stokes are both off the team. Hayes is listed as a running back. We used to have a bunch of slot dudes, but only for about a year.

    Why did you go on another rant about O-line depth when I agreed with you?

    Alabama is Alabama, not Michigan. They cheat and haven't gone through a serious of coaching/philosophical changes recently.

    You're right, it's not often that freshman are the best at their position, but Countess may very well be the best cover corner on the team, WLB is weak but Morgan is the best of the bunch, and Jake Ryan is turning into a monster. There are multiple players behind all of them. THIS was my point and you apparently chose to ignore it.

    @ Caleb

    Crediting Hoke and Borges for Gibbons' turnaround is nothing short of ludicrous. There is still no kicking coach and Hoke has already said he knows nothing about kicking. Why do some of the irrational Rich Rod-hating crowd (there are enough rational reasons to feel animosity towards Rich Rod without inventing more like you fools do) like to belabor that particular point?

  21. @ David 6:19 p.m.

    Well, Gibbons was a horrible kicker last year. This year he was pretty solid. I don't think anyone would suggest that Hoke is an excellent kicking coach, but you know what? Gibbons had some confidence this year. It might have less to do with mechanics and more to do with the attitude that he was treated. It's such a mental position that perhaps Hoke deserves credit for instilling confidence in Gibbons.

    I'm not an expert on kicking, either, but my general impression is that good kickers are good throughout college. For Gibbons to improve from 1/5 last season to 10/14 this season is a significant improvement, especially with two 40+ yard field goals in important situations late in the season.

  22. Thunder,

    Reports are that Gibbons spent the last year with a sport psychologist.

    I played soccer in high school with Jason Olesnavage. I can say with a good deal of confidence that the biggest factor behind Gibbons' success is Gibbons.