Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke has a lot riding on the 2014 season. Even though University of Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon may say otherwise, could Hoke be resting firmly on the hot seat entering the college football season?
There are justifications for doubting Brandon’s reassurance that Hoke is not coaching for his job this year. Since his impressive 11-2 debut season that included a Sugar Bowl win, he has overseen two seasons of decline, with the Wolverines going 8-5 and 7-6 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Although there was only one win difference between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, they were of a very different nature.
In 2012 Michigan was blown out by a powerful Alabama team and crumbled against Nebraska when QB Denard Robinson was knocked out of the game, but kept things close in the other three defeats.
In 2013 Michigan struggled to assert their superiority behind a very inconsistent offense right from the start of the season and lost six of the final eight matches in a dismal second half of the 2013 season. They rallied to narrowly lose 42-41 in a classic at the Big House against Ohio State, but that improved performance wasn’t enough to erase the memory of those that had preceded it. The fairly easy 31-14 win for Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl merely provided confirmation of the malaise that had taken hold in Ann Arbor.
At 7-6,Hoke’s 2013 record matched that of Rodriguez’s final season, however the two seasons that preceded it were far superior to those produced under Rodriguez, who went 3-9, 5-7, and 7-6. In his three-year reign in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez finished with a 15-22 record, the worst in the program’s history.
Hoke has also attempted to bring back a more traditional style of play to Ann Arbor. That appears to be an ongoing process, having been hobbled by inheriting a roster ill-suited to a pro-style offense along with one of the worst defenses in the country. It has taken time to rebuild the squad with the necessary size, power, and athleticism to excel, a process that should be reaching fruition over the next two seasons.
Hoke’s performance will ultimately be judged by the product on the field, which to date just hasn’t been good enough.
Entering 2104, it’s rather clear that season with losses to Michigan State, Notre Dame and/or Ohio State will be awfully hard for Hoke or Brandon to justify.
Michigan QB Devin Gardner was asked about his head coach Brady Hoke’s “hot seat” status during Big Ten Media Days in Chicago:
“My job’s to make sure he’s not on the hot seat,” he replied. “I’m going to make sure we win enough football games. And I’m going to play as hard as I can with my teammates, and I’m going to encourage my teammates, and my teammates are going to encourage me, and we’re gonna make sure that’s not a talking point.”
A big reason why Gardner is so confident he and the Wolverines will have a bounce-back season after going 7-6 last year, and just 3-5 in Big Ten play, is the arrival of new Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who comes from Alabama and has a strong track record of improving QBs.
Had Hoke remained stubborn in his support of Borges then he would have been squarely on the hot seat for the 2014 season. Instead, Hoke recognized that change was necessary.
Gardner, who has bulked up this offseason to 220 pounds after playing last season at 204, will be an interesting project for Nussmeier. In his first full season as a starter, Gardner had some stellar moments and some shaky ones too. He accounted for 32 TDs (running and passing) while throwing 11 INTs. He also averaged a Big Ten-best 8.6 yards per attempt and completed over 60 percent of his passes. In the Wolverines’ game against arch-rival Ohio State, Gardner was brilliant, throwing for 451 yards and four TDs, going 32-of-45 despite breaking his foot in the game and playing through the pain.
However, Gardner was also sacked a whopping 34 times — a number he admits was on him just as much as it was on the patchwork O-line — and he made too many foolish decisions that led to cringe-worthy turnovers.
Whether you’re a Hoke supporter or you’re not, barring a complete disaster type season in 2014 Michigan and Dave Brandon will likely keep him around for a fifth year and beyond. By the 2015 season all the key positions will be occupied by players he has recruited, the schedule will look favorable, and it will be time for Hoke to prove he has what it takes to return Michigan to the top.