|This is the way I want to remember Brady Hoke.|
Hoke released a statement shortly after the news became public:
I feel very fortunate to have been an assistant and head coach at the University of Michigan. I will always support the University and this football program. This is a special place and one that Laura, Kelly, and I have enjoyed representing during our time in Ann Arbor. I want to thank all of the sons that played for our teams and appreciate the commitment that our coaches and support staff made to the program every day. I will miss the relationships that I've been fortunate enough to make within the university and community. I additionally appreciate all of the support that our fans, alumni, students, administration, and former players have provided our Michigan. I leave with fond memories of my time at Michigan. Thanks and Go Blue!Hoke was hired in January 2011 (check out my introductory post on Hoke) after Rich Rodriguez was fired. Rodriguez was 15-22 from 2008-2010, incurred NCAA sanctions, and did not fit well with Michigan's established administration, but he did have increasing win totals (3 in 2008, 5 in 2009, 7 in 2010) during his career. As for Hoke himself, he had gone 47-50 during his head coaching career with Ball State and San Diego State, taking those teams from 4-8 in his initial years to 12-1 and 9-4, respectively, in his final season at those schools. Despite the losing record, he was considered to be a coach who could build a program.
Bucking his own established trend, Hoke led Michigan to an 11-2 in his first year, beating Ohio State and winning the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. He followed that up with an 8-5 year that ended in an Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina. The 2013 season saw Michigan fall to 7-6 with a loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Wolverines completed a 5-7 season this past Saturday with a 42-28 loss to Ohio State, dropping him to 1-3 against the Buckeyes - not to mention 1-3 against the intrastate rival Michigan State Spartans. Hoke finishes his Michigan career with a 31-20 overall record and at 18-14 in the Big Ten. That includes records of 12-13 and 6-10, respectively, over the past two seasons.
As for the reasons Hoke was fired, the problems were multiple. One of the biggest symptoms was the failure to develop a solid quarterback. Hoke inherited Denard Robinson in 2011, and while Robinson won a lot of games and had pretty good overall numbers, he regressed in the passing game. Due to injury, Robinson and Devin Gardner split time in 2012, when Gardner looked like a future star. Unfortunately, he also regressed in 2013 and then even more so in 2014. That seemed largely to blame on Michigan's offensive line, which was among the worst in the country despite having 1st and 3rd round NFL Draft picks as the bookend tackles in 2013. Some improvement occurred in 2014, but not enough and not quickly enough. Unhappiness was rumbling prior to this past season, and the calls for Hoke's head were exacerbated by anger at then athletic director David Brandon - which seemed to be aimed at Hoke and the team at certain points - and some very questionable in-game decisions that made Hoke look overwhelmed.
I have mixed feelings about Hoke's firing. Hoke was too often unsuccessful on the field, but he has been universally acclaimed for the relationships he builds with his players and the leadership he provided for them. Michigan improved their academic standing and generally kept players around under him, which was a huge problem during the Rodriguez administration. He liked to claim that 69 out of 69 seniors graduated during his tenure (although Frank Clark and his domestic violence situation might mar that perfect record).
Hoke also had some admirable personal traits. He was obviously elated to be hired by Michigan in 2011, saying he would have walked from San Diego to Ann Arbor. It's hard to find major faults in someone who is that unabashedly excited to be doing his job. Furthermore, he referred to his players as "sons" and genuinely seemed interested in seeing them succeed. He usually refused to wear long sleeves on game days, presumably because he wanted to lead by example in getting players to tune out the weather. Unlike some coaches around the country who berate players on the sideline or call them out in press conferences, Hoke kept criticism behind closed doors.
Ultimately, the goal at Michigan should be to win national championships. If not, then at least Big Ten championships. If not, then at least beat Ohio State and Michigan State. Unfortunately, Michigan never won any kind of championship under Hoke and went 2-6 against those rivals. Hoke's time had come. It isn't fair, but it's the way the world works.
Wherever Hoke ends up next year or in two years, I hope that Brady, his wife, and his daughter find happiness and success. His next team will be my second-favorite team.*
*Unless it's Ohio State or Michigan State