Hoke not the popular choice but may be right choice for Michigan
Brady Hoke is a very good football coach. He led Ball State to a 12-win season. He went to San Diego State and, within two years, led it to a nine-win season, marking its first winning record in 12 years.
But Brady Hoke is not coming off a 12-1 season and Orange Bowl win, like Jim Harbaugh. He doesn't own a national championship ring like Les Miles. Suffice to say, Brady Hoke is not what most Michigan fans were hoping for.
He hasn't even coached a game and he's already suffered his first defeat in the court of public opinion.
But Michigan fans would be wise to warm up to Hoke in a hurry. He's already got a tall order in front of him in rebuilding the fallen Wolverines on the field, and after three miserable and polarizing seasons, the one thing the program needs more than anything right now isn't hot-shot recruits or new defensive coordinators. It needs support.
It's no coincidence that Michigan's new coach has Michigan ties. After the failed tenure of outsider Rich Rodriguez, it seemed evident that AD Dave Brandon was intent on bringing in a so-called Michigan Man to help heal the wounds. He wanted Harbaugh, everyone's reigning coaching darling, but unfortunately, so did half the NFL. That door closed quickly.
The question is, what happened after that?
We know Brandon spent the better part of Monday in Baton Rouge, La., meeting with former Wolverines teammate Miles. The assumption by most (myself included) was The Mad Hatter would head to Ann Arbor in a heartbeat. He's spoken openly of his affection for his alma mater. He wanted the job three years ago but the timing didn't work out. Yes, he's got a huge contract and a BCS title contender on his hands at LSU, but this would presumably be his last shot at his purported dream job.
On Tuesday, however, he announced he's staying at LSU. Rodriguez's tenuous job security had been well known for more than a year, so it's not like Miles hadn't had time to consider his future. And it's hard to believe he would have entertained Brandon's company for the day, putting his program in limbo during the heart of recruiting season, if he wasn't seriously entertaining the possibility.
Which leads us to believe that Michigan didn't offer him what he was seeking. It could be that Brandon didn't offer him the job, though that seems unlikely. More plausibly, he didn't offer the kind of money for himself or potential assistants, or perhaps just the sense of confidence Miles needed.
He had to appease his constituents and at least pursue Miles, even with the sting of apparent rejection. But here's guessing he did so knowing full there was a perfectly good candidate waiting in San Diego. Hoke may be a tougher sell, but there's always one sure way to win over the skeptics: Win.
This is hardly the first time a major football program had to settle for its third- (or possibly fourth- or fifth-) choice, and history shows it often works out just fine. Former USC AD Mike Garrett never originally planned to even contact Pete Carroll. Former Ohio State AD Andy Geiger interviewed a whole slew of more high-profile candidates before settling on a little-known I-AA coach named Jim Tressel.
Meanwhile, the early backlash I've seen from Michigan fans on Twitter and message boards over hiring a career 47-50 coach reminds me of a similar situation two years ago, when a certain SEC school's fan base couldn't fathom the hiring of a guy with a 5-19 record at Iowa State.
On Monday, Gene Chizik led Auburn to a national championship.
Like Chizik, Hoke will need to find ways to win over a skeptical public. The Auburn coach did it by hiring a renowned offensive coordinator (Gus Malzahn) and initiating several creative recruiting endeavors (a couple of which admittedly crossed NCAA lines) that excited the fan base. Hoke, an unflashy, 52-year-old native Midwesterner, isn't likely to rent out a set of limos. But it will be interesting to see how he handles his first few months on the job.
His predecessor, Rodriguez, could not have started much worse. Some of it was beyond his control (like the ugly backlash from West Virginia) but the inordinate attrition his first winter and spring in Ann Arbor set the program back considerably. His radical change from a pro-style to a spread-offense created his own set of headaches.
Hoke faces a stiff challenge salvaging a recruiting class that already lost its top commitment (running back Dee Hart) with just three weeks until Signing Day. It's unknown yet what type of offense he'll look to run, but Wolverines fans certainly hope it will appease reigning Big Ten player of the year Denard Robinson. Losing Ryan Mallett and Robinson within a three-year span will be a tough pill to swallow.
But mostly, Michigan fans want to win, and Hoke is more than capable of doing that, if not this coming year than next. The program Rodriguez left behind is a far different cry from the ones Hoke inherited in Muncie and San Diego. There's a lot of potential here if they'll just give it a chance.