When you step in as head coach of a football program like the University of Michigan, the expectations start almost immediately, and the margin for error is slim. Michigan fans, supporters and boosters expect to win – and win now.
Brady Hoke took the reigns as the Wolverines’ head coach in 2011, and at that point, there was little he could do to make himself look bad given the dumpster fire that was left behind by previous head coach, Rich Rodriguez. And Hoke, who had always thought of coaching at Michigan as his “dream job”, got off to a running start.
The passionate Hoke led Michigan to an 11-2 record, including a victory over Ohio State (or that “school in Ohio” as Hoke refers to them) for a first time since 2003. He swept the Big Ten Coach of the Year awards, winning the Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year, which is chosen by the coaches, and the Dave McClain Coach of the Year, picked by the media.
In 2012, things leveled out a little, with the Wolverines going 8-5 (6-2 B1G), including an opening week embarrassment against the Alabama Crimson Tide, and losses to rivals Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State. The season closed with a deflating loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
But still, Michigan believed in Hoke. A blip in the radar after only two seasons was no reason give up. Hoke was still listed among the top 25 coaches in college football, and seemingly had the Wolverines on the right path.
In 2013, that blip turned into the start of a trend. Michigan finished the season 7-6, going 3-5 in conference games, and lost to every big rival on the schedule not named Notre Dame. The heat was beginning to rise on Brady Hoke’s chair, and the lackluster performance and 31-14 loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl cranked the temperature up even more.
Entering into 2014, Hoke is no longer being viewed as the medicine man that the Michigan football program needed. As more of Rodriguez’s recruits move on and Hoke’s recruits enter, the Wolverines seem to struggle further.
The Michigan head coach is going to be scrutinized closely and kept on a short leash this season, but just how short will it be?
There is no question that anything short of a 2-3 game improvement in wins will probably result in the coaching search in Michigan to begin again, and another consecutive loss to Ohio State could be the catalyst to end things in a hurry, depending on how bad things are leading up to The Game.
But if you want to get an idea of how quickly things could deteriorate for Hoke, you need look no further than week one. On August 30, the Wolverines will host none other than Appalachian State, in a game that is sure to draw a lot of national attention.
In case you need a refresher, it was the Appalachian State Mountaineers who marched in to Michigan Stadium in 2007 and pulled of what was considered by many to be the upset of the century when they beat the then-No.5 Wolverines, 34-32, and probably helped seal the fate of 13-year Michigan head coach, Lloyd Carr.
A loss to the Mountaineers in 2014 may have the same effect on Hoke’s career.
Hoke knows the gravity of the situation, and like all good coaches, he’s shouldering the blame himself. In an interview with Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News, Hoke brought the hammer down on his own performance.
“I think I could have been a better leader,” he said, “I just think I should have done a much better job. It goes back to consistency.
“We could have won the daggone Rose Bowl, and we still would have gone back and evaluated, (and asked) ‘Did you lead the right way?’ ”
Losses and admission of poor leadership do more than just damage the future prospects of the coach in question, they also hurt recruiting, and with coaches like Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, Penn State’s James Franklin out there vying for the same kids, Hoke can’t afford to get behind.
The seemingly endless trail of blue chip athletes who had Michigan at the top of their list has dwindled to nearly nothing – two seasons with five or more losses will do that.
So what will Hoke have to do in 2014 to insure that he’s back in Ann Arbor next season?
For starters, don’t lose to Appalachian State.
Beyond that, win at home…a lot. Undefeated if possible. After the Mountaineers come calling, the Wolverines host Miami (Oh), Utah, Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana, and Maryland (in their first season in the Big Ten). That’s a very winnable home slate for Hoke’s squad, and nothing will make the Wolverine faithful more happy than a lot of wins at the Big House.
Then there’s the rivalry games; Notre Dame, Michigan State, and that Ohio school. If Michigan can win two out of three of those, then Hoke is probably pretty safe (assuming the rest of the season hasn’t turned into a maelstrom of losses). [Related-tag tag="big ten football"]
In short, it’s going to be a long season and a pretty short leash for the Michigan head coach.
The thing that is going to haunt Hoke moving forward is that first season at the helm – was 2011 just lightning in a bottle, or was he legitimately ready to take on this huge job and be the next great name in Michigan head coach history.