Can Brady Hoke bring Michigan back to elite status?

Brady Hoke SSH

Should Brady Hoke still get a pass as he tries to undo the damage Rich Rodriguez did to the Michigan program? Or should he be help accountable for the mess we’re still seeing in Ann Arbor?

Michigan fans are losing patience, though Big Ten fans are also getting frustrated. Sure, as an Ohio State fan, it’s always fun to watch the Buckeyes stomp Michigan, and that has become a regular occurrence in the past 15 years. But the strength of the conference is seriously compromised when Michigan consistently plays like Purdue. Beating Michigan becomes an afterthought as opposed to a quality win that impresses around the country.

Jason Whitlock is a friend of Hoke’s, and he believes that Hoke will ultimately be successful at Michigan, but he has some harsh words for what’s going on now with the programs.

Brady Hoke, lost in the riches of Michigan, has momentarily lost who he is.

Hoke walked on at Ball State. No one wanted him. He turned himself into a starting linebacker on the 1978 Ball State team that finished 10-1. He was the captain of the 1980 squad.

As coach at Ball State, he didn’t have an office. The school barely supported the football program. He took a bunch of kids few programs wanted, won a dozen games, and produced a crop of players that included three NFL offensive linemen, an NFL tight end, an NFL quarterback, and a receiver who would’ve played in the league if not for a neck injury. At San Diego State, he did the exact same thing, and the Aztecs didn’t even have their own stadium.

Brady Hoke is an underdog. He has an attitude, a chip. He’s self-made. He always has something to prove. It’s one of the reasons he connects with Tom Brady, a kid Hoke recruited to Michigan, a QB who plays with a massive chip in the NFL.

For three straight years, Hoke has been a recruiting star, landing high-profile recruits from all across the country, swiping talent from Ohio State and other blue-chip programs. Hoke might get the No. 1 class in 2014.

He’s five-star struck. On the recruiting trail, he has sacrificed character, grit and maturity for ratings stars. His top recruit in 2013, freshman running back Derrick Green, reported to camp 20 pounds overweight. Green is soft. On Saturday, the 245-pounder dove at the ankles of a blitzing linebacker and whiffed. Green barely plays.

He goes on to rip other Michigan recruits from the Hoke era along with stars on the team like Taylor Lewan who he accuses of “coasting.” I have no idea whether Whitlock is right here. He may be going too easy on his friend and taking out his frustrations on the players. Would Urban Meyer be having these problems?

Bob Wojnowski is harsher when evaluating Hoke, blaming the problems at Michigan on “poor coaching.”

Hoke came to town with some bluster and bravado, refusing to call “Ohio State” by its proper name bu instead just saying “Ohio.” Perhaps he should focus more on fundamentals as opposed to making waves at press conferences. In the end, the losses with drown out everything else.

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Michigan’s Denard Robinson dilemma

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (16) runs the ball by Ohio State defender Johnathan Hankins (52) during the second quarter of their NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio, November 27, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Michigan’s new head coach, Brady Hoke, is facing a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, he needs to bring Michigan back to playing Michigan football after the disastrous RichRod experiment. That means moving back to a pro style offense and moving from the absurd 3-3-5 defense that stopped nobody in the Big Ten back to a traditional 4-3. Michigan needs to get bigger, and Hoke has started that process with his 2011 recruiting class.

Yet with respect to the offense, Hoke also has Denard Robinson, one of the most explosive college football players we’ve seen in years. He was perfect for RichRod’s offense, even though that offense and Robinson sputtered against better defenses. It was an all-or-nothing proposition, and naturally Hoke is anxious to move on.

So how does he use Denard Robinson going forward? Hoke says “We’re smart enough to have elements he does well from what he did in the past in our offense.” But he plans on using Robinson as the quarterback in his pro style offense, which will have Robinson taking snaps under center instead of the shotgun and relying on play action.

I’m skeptical this can work. Sure, he’ll still unleash Robinson at times, and I suspect they might use the option play, but Robinson’s effectiveness will likely suffer dramatically under this system.

Robinson made big plays in the passing game last year, but that was because he found wide-open receivers when defenses tried in vain to slow down his running game. This year he won’t have that luxury. I don’t see Robinson consistently making the tough throws demanded in a pro style offense. He’s also very short and that will limit him as well.

We’ll see how this experiment plays out, but I suspect that Hoke will regret taking Robinson out of his element.

A better option might be to have a traditional quarterback run Hoke’s new offense, and keep a version of RichRod’s system around for Robinson to run as a Wildcat formation. He could also use Robinson as a Slash-type weapon in the traditional offense.

Right now their odds of winning the Big Ten are set at 15/1, so few are expecting a breakout year.

With this transition and the drama surrounding the Big Ten this year with the addition of Nebraska and the troubles at Ohio State, Michigan should be one of the more intriguing stories of 2011.

Ohio recruiting battle heats up

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel celebrates with his team after their NCAA football game against Indiana University in Columbus, Ohio in this October 9, 2010 file photo. The Ohio State University announced on May 30, 2011 that head coach Tressel had resigned and that Fickell will take over as interim head coach for the 2011 season. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan/Files (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Things have changed dramatically in the Big Ten since Ohio State defeated Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl last year behind Terrelle Pryor and other Buckeyes who were set to start suspensions at the beginning of the 2012 season. The ensuing scandal has claimed Jim Tressel’s job, sent Terrelle Pryor to the NFL supplemental draft and has added uncertainty to Ohio State’s 2012 recruiting operation. Ohio State vacated last season’s wins and Gene Smith is hoping the NCAA won’t impose more sanctions, but there’s uncertainty and it’s impacting Ohio State’s recruiting.

Meanwhile, the powers that be at Michigan came to their senses and parted ways with Rich Rodriguez. They hired Brady Hoke, and now they’re going after 300-pound linemen again. At Michigan State, Mark Dantonio continues to turn that program around as well.

With the problems at Ohio State, Hoke and Dantonio are going after the talented recruits in the state of Ohio that were mostly locked up during the Tressel years. Michigan just landed Kyle Kalis, a huge lineman from the Cleveland area who is a top-150 recruit according to ESPN. He had originally committed to Ohio State, but then changed his mind in the face of potential sanctions.

Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski is giddy in his recent column as he explains the potential for Michigan and Michigan State to turn the tables on the Buckeyes if more Ohio recruits shun the Buckeyes. As he points out, “since 2001, Michigan and Michigan State are a combined 1-15 against Ohio State.” Part of it was coaching, but recruiting was very important as well as Tressel did a great job of keeping the best Ohio players in Ohio.

There’s no doubt that the Michigan schools will get a boost, but even Wojnowski admits it will likely be temporary, and it might not affect the balance of power much at all.

First, consider that Ohio State had a monster recruiting class last year, and they were already loaded with young talent. The Buckeyes picked up two quarterbacks last year that could make them set at the position for the next six years! Braxton Miller was a top-ranked recruit last year, and many think he can start this year as a true freshman. He’s a mobile quarterback, but he’s also a pure passer with great instincts as well. He’s not a physical specimen like Pryor, but he’ll likely be a better all-around quarterback.

The Buckeyes also picked up Glenville’s Cardale Jones who many see as a Pryor clone. He’s big, strong and fast, and many think he has a better arm than Pryor. He’ll be grayshirting as he needs to go to a prep school to work on academics. If that works out, he can redshirt the following year and then be available for the following four years.

Next, Ohio State is still getting recruits. Kalis was a huge loss, but the other nine 2012 commits have decided to stay with the Buckeyes. They are all Ohio kids but they aren’t top-150 stars, and the Buckeyes aren’t getting an national recruits. Instead, they’re getting kids who bleed scarlet and gray. Just this week they added two more recruits, Luke Roberts and Patrick Elfein. Neither of these guys were snagged away from top programs like USC or Alabama, but they are solid recruits from the state of Ohio. Ohio State has plenty of blue-chippers from the previous three recruiting classes, having one “down” year where they load up on high-character kids who love the Buckeyes can actually be a positive.

This brings us to Luke Fickell, Ohio State’s “interim” head coach. Fickell is determined to infuse the team with values like toughness and character, and he recently brought on Mike Vrabel as an assistant coach. This was a real coup, as Vrabel brings his three Super Bowl rings and a ton of credibility to the coaching staff. Wojnowski had a peculiar reaction, calling the hiring of the “inexperienced” Vrabel an act of “desperation.” This is where the optimism in Michigan might be getting a little overblown. Vrabel played with Fickell, and hiring a 14-year NFL veteran with three Super Bowl rings as linebackers coach is hardly a desperate move. Also, Vrabel will be a huge help in recruiting, as Luke Roberts stated when he committed to OSU this week.

Unless Ohio Sate gets massive additional penalties from the NCAA, I doubt the recruiting landscape will change much as a result of the scandal after this year. Ohio State will get back to landing the best recruits out of Ohio, and that will give them a big edge against their rivals.

The factor that will have an effect on the balance of power is coaching. Michigan made a huge mistake going to RichRod and getting away from physical football. They panicked when Tressel was racking up wins against Lloyd Carr, so they made things worse by bringing in a coach who thought he could win with Big East tactics and players. With Brady Hoke, Michigan has a good change of at least getting back to a competitive rivalry just by playing Big Ten football. Hoke is taking advantage of the current situation, so that will help speed up Michigan’s anticipated comeback. Dantonio will keep Michigan State competitive, and Ohio State will be fine either with Fickell if he proves himself or another coach next year.

Rich Rodriguez admits leaving West Virginia for Michigan was a mistake

Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez watches his team during their NCAA college football game against Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, November 27, 2010. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan (UNITED STATESSPORT – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Rich Rodriguez told that in hindsight, leaving West Virginia for the head-coaching job in Michigan was a mistake.


“I think it’s easy to go back now and say, ‘Gee, made a mistake.’ And you can say that now because of hindsight,” Rodriguez told “But at the time, some of the things I was looking to do and the opportunity that was there, you kind of make the move.”

“Hindsight is always easier to look back and say, ‘It was a mistake,’ ” Rodriguez said. “Because we did have a good thing going at West Virginia, and we really enjoyed it. As you look back at it, wasn’t the best move. Easy to say now.”

I think the mistake was on Michigan’s part for hiring him in the first place. He wasn’t a fit for the program, or the Big Ten, and his record in Ann Arbor speaks for itself.

There are many Wolverine fans that believe RichRod would have eventually gotten the program pointed in the right direction. And maybe he would have. But the fact of the matter is that under his watch, the defense was historically bad, the special teams were an utter joke, and the Wolverines went a combined 0-6 against Ohio State and Michigan State. That’s the ultimate sin for any Michigan coach, nevertheless one that was hyped as being someone who could potentially bring a national championship to Ann Arbor in 3-4 years.

Brady Hoke might not wind up being the answer either, but at least he knows what the Michigan program is all about. He knows that he has to beat Ohio State regularly. He knows he has to beat Michigan State yearly. And he knows he has to win some Big Ten championships or he’ll eventually be replaced by someone who will. He certainly has his work cut out for himself, especially with Nebraska set to join the conference this year. But at least the program should have some direction under his supervision.

RichRod defends Jim Tressel

Former Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez recently appeared on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio show and wound up defending Ohio State coach Jim Tressel in the wake of “Tattoogate.”

From the Detroit News:

Cowherd told Rodriguez he no longer trusts Tressel; Rodriguez responded by defending Ohio State’s coach.

“If you run a program at Ohio State or at Michigan or something like that, so much of what you do is public,” Rodriguez said. “There’s not all this crazy cheating and things like that going on that people think. There are some guys out there that bend the rules a little bit or they get around the rules and try to get a competitive advantage. I don’t think that was the case in this at all. There were five guys who sold items who shouldn’t have sold it. And they were wrong for doing it. Did that give Ohio State a competitive advantage? I don’t think so.”

Rodriguez continued: “There’s coaches out there that are trying to get a competitive advantage the wrong way, a handful, and they seem to get away with it. And there are other coaches that are really trying as hard as they can, doing everything in good faith, and they seem to get nailed. I think that’s the thing that frustrates coaches, like, ‘Geez look at what these guys did, and they’re winning and they did all that.’

“How do we fix that?”

Rodriguez’s overall point is correct. The NCAA has a much, much bigger problem on its hands than what Tressel did. He broke rules, made a poor decision and deserved to be punished. But he’s not in the same stratosphere as the coaches who are flat out cheating when it comes to signing recruits. I think it’s safe to say that there are a lot of coaches out there doing a lot worse.

But even though I agree with some of what he said, I think RichRod is missing the bigger picture when he talks about how there are coaches out there that “bend the rules a little bit or they get around the rules and try to get a competitive advantage.”

Rules are in place so that everyone has a fair playing field. The fact that some coaches have done far worse than what Tressel did isn’t the point: If you break rules, you should be punished. Granted, there are different degrees of punishment but nobody should be “bending the rules a little bit” or “getting around the rules” to try to get a competitive advantage. Play within the rules and then you won’t wind up embarrassing your program like Tressel did.

Now, if the NCAA decides to crack a stronger whip and terminates Tressel’s contract, then that’s a whole different can of worms. But until then, it would be nice if college coaches made wiser decisions when it came to running their programs and then something like “Tattoogate” wouldn’t be an issue.

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