Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Welcome to the world of ‘The Brady Bunch’

If opposites attract, the Michigan football program has hired a polar opposite of the man it fired one week before. In former UM assistant coach Brady Hoke, they found, and the public heard, someone who could NOT have been more different and more direct than the coach from the last three seasons, Rich Rodriguez.
And if first impressions are the most lasting, the Wolverines, starting in the fall, will be a very tough-minded squad on BOTH sides of the football … because that is exactly the impression delivered by Hoke in his initial Ann Arbor press conference Wednesday.
Interspersing sly and some self-deprecating humor with lectern pounding emphasis, anyone involved with the university, past and present, had to feel good about the future of the football program. If not, they need to find another school to follow.
He is a man who will LOVE to go to work every day to the job he had dreamt about for years. Jokingly, but truthfully, he said he’d walk from San Diego to Ann Arbor to accept the position. One look at his mannerisms suggests such a proclamation was true.
Hoke made five important points that cannot be overlooked:
First, he is about toughness and his team will be about toughness – a commodity lacking in the final games over the last three seasons. Michigan might have been fleet of foot in some spots, but “tough” was not an accurate moniker to attach to Rodriguez’ teams. Michigan has never been about finesse; it has been about rolling over people with all the weapons at its disposal.
Otherwise, the U-M defense would not have suffered so much and the kicking/special teams game been so rancid. There are scores of good running backs but not enough strong-willed offensive lines to open holes. There are lots of swift defensive backs but not enough strong-willed defensive linemen to apply the pressure needed to produce turnovers and stop opponents.
Second, Hoke pointedly said the program was not about him; it was about the school and the team. It was the first of many (perhaps unintentional) body slams delivered to the RichRod legacy. You know damn well Josh Groban is persona non gratis at future banquets. Hell, by the time, Athletic Director Dave Brandon finished his Q&A portion of the afternoon, Rodriguez’s memory got body-slammed more times than Andre the Giant.
Third, Hoke said the goal is to win the Big 10 title “repeatedly, successively.” When Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press tried to grill him on winning national titles, Hoke correctly noted that before one can leap tall buildings at a single bound, you must first take the first step – winning the conference crown, which will lead to all things glory.
With Nebraska’s entry into the conference, the Big 10 will be able to go nose-to-nose with the SEC in terms of quality programs; it won’t be a cakewalk to enter the BCS lottery.
Fourth, he WILL recruit Michigan because he understands its ultimate importance to the Wolverines’ future. Finally, for the first time in three years, a head coach acknowledged that horribly-neglected aspect. The current roster is highly devoid of in-state talent and the state’s top players will no longer be dismissed while chasing some pipe dream in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and elsewhere. In fact, it should become a mantra among ALL Michigan programs – to keep the best in the state IN the state.
Hopefully, Hoke will begin that process immediately and try to fill the Class of 2011 with as many local products as possible. I always point to the late Bo Schembechler’s recruitment of a player from the worst team within the Michigan high school ranks, a 0-9 Saginaw unit, to secure its best player, linebacker Calvin O’Neal, an All-Big 10 performer and U-M captain. You CAN find such talent IF you look.
Finally, Brady Hoke made his strongest remarks about the importance of rivalry games, especially the final encounter on the annual schedule (that other team, he said, much like Bo and Woody). He spoke very slow, and slammed his fist on the podium with each word when speaking about the need, and the attitude, to beat Ohio State (something sorely missing three years before when Rodriguez said it was just another game on the schedule).
It left a mark on the furniture and hopefully, it left a mark with the team, media and U-M fans.
We learned he can get emotional (when speaking about players’ lives he and other coaches have touched), he makes up words (“I’m good at Scrabble”), and he knows how to run the same defensive scheme that has baffled U-M players at a much more proficient and effective rate. Watch for the name, Rocky Long, to perhaps be the new defensive coordinator in Ann Arbor. The entire question of which assistants are retained will say much about Hoke’s approach to coaching.
It can be absolutely said that Brady Hoke is no mouse; his voice doesn’t just speak, it barks, it roars. You can feel the energy coming from him, even through the Big 10 Network into homes across Wolverine Nation.
And all I can say … it’s about damn time!
Go Blue!

No comments: