NCF Nation: Brady Hoke

Jordan Howard rushed for 1,600 yards at UAB this season, and now that the program has been shuttered, recruiters are lining up to get his transfer. Plus, with the Brady Hoke news, Michigan lost four-star tight end commitment Chris Clark. So where do recruits think he’ll end up?

State of the team: Michigan

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
Michigan will search for a new coach this month for the third time in seven years. New faces in positions of power give the Wolverines a chance to start over with a clean slate if they want to do so with their next hire.

The resources, support and tradition in Ann Arbor make it easier for Michigan than most programs to reroute itself in a positive direction. Expectations will always be high, but the current roster may not be built for an instant turnaround.

Here is where the rest of Michigan stands while its leaders search for a new head coach:

[+] EnlargeShane Morris
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesShane Morris struggled in his only start this season, leaving an uncertain future at quarterback for Michigan.
Offense: A young offensive line returns intact next season (barring transfers) after showing marked improvement in November. The Wolverines have several capable running backs, including USC transfer Ty Isaac, who did not play in 2014. The wide receiver corps was disappointing in its production this season but has the raw talent to improve under the right direction.

The big question mark is at quarterback. The only starter on offense who ran out of eligibility this season is Devin Gardner. His backup, Shane Morris, struggled in his one career start earlier this year. Brady Hoke never succeeded in recruiting or developing a program-changing quarterback. It doesn't appear there is a white knight on the way next year. Michigan's offense might be trending in the right direction, but without a talented quarterback in today's college football world it will take time for a new coaching staff to make the Wolverines competitive with the best in the Big Ten.

Defense: Michigan loses its top tackler, its two best pass-rushers and a veteran in the secondary this year. Hoke and coordinator Greg Mattison left a well-stocked defensive line with young players who had a chance to gain experience in 2014. Some of those young guys will need to take a step forward in producing more pressure to replace Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark.

The Wolverines' biggest loss on defense is Jake Ryan, their leader and middle linebacker. Junior Joe Bolden is equipped to step into Ryan's place after finishing this year with 102 tackles. The secondary returns a strong mix of experience and young talent, especially when five-star recruit Jabrill Peppers gets healthy. Hoke definitely leaves the Michigan defense better than he found it. This side of the ball is a conference championship-caliber unit.

Special teams: Punter Will Hagerup and kicker Matt Wile are both out of eligibility. Both Michigan return teams finished 11th in the conference in production but could get a boost from a healthy Peppers. Special-teams play didn't win any games for Michigan. It didn't lose any either. A new coach could make improvements here if he wants to focus his efforts on the third estate. He might be better served focusing on other issues to start.

Fan base: This season was the first time Michigan didn't lead the nation in home attendance in more than a decade. The student section was notably thinned throughout the regular season. Much of the fan angst was directed at former athletic director Dave Brandon, who alienated alumni, students and former players during his five years in office. The Michigan faithful are a confident bunch, but an impatient one as well. Hiring a big name would go a long way in reigniting hope among the fans.

Leadership: Dysfunction among the higher-ups in Michigan's athletic department is, as much as any other single cause, the reason why the last two coaches failed. Brandon's resignation helped clear out a large chunk of those problems.

The university has a new president and an interim athletic director, neither of whom has significant experience in leading a major athletics operation. Jim Hackett, the athletic director, is the former CEO of Steelcase and has inspired confidence during his first month on the job. It's not clear how long he'll be around, and it's still too early to make a judgment on how well equipped he is for the position. The administrative leadership for Michigan is a mystery right now, which is better than anything you could say about it a year ago.

Recruiting: Hoke's tumultuous final year took a major toll on Michigan's recruiting. When four-star tight end Chris Clark reneged on his commitment Tuesday, the class shrunk to six prospects planning to play for the Wolverines next season. That's the smallest group of committed players among any Power 5 conference team at this point.

Michigan has top-notch facilities and is a well-respected university. Hoke's staff could go head-to-head with anyone in the Big Ten when it came to recruiting. The next staff should be able to have the same success but probably won't have time to salvage the 2015 class.
The Big Ten can't move its campuses closer to the top recruiting hotbeds. It won't stop caring about or investing in sports that don't make money. It won't compromise academic standards.

But there's one element the Big Ten can upgrade as it tries to improve its football fortunes: coaches. The resources are there, thanks to the Big Ten Network and other revenue streams. The demand is there from many fan bases.

It's time for the Big Ten to aim higher with the head coaches it courts and ultimately brings into the conference. That means looking beyond the MAC coach of the moment or the affordable coordinator. That means sparing absolutely no expense to lure top candidates.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMichigan can't afford to hire a coach without top-notch credentials as it did with Brady Hoke.
Nebraska and now Michigan have the opportunity to reshape the quality of coaching in this conference. Both programs are viewed as great, if not elite, jobs. Both programs are dripping with tradition, fan support, facilities, and, well, just about everything else a coach could want. Both have gone far too long without competing for conference championships, much less national championships.

This is the time for both to start moving toward college football's upper crust again. The first step: bringing in the right leaders.

Some disagreed with Nebraska's decision Sunday to part with a coach (Bo Pelini) who had won nine or 10 games in each of his first seven seasons. But the move signals that Nebraska wants to be better than good, and is willing to take a big risk to reclaim elite status. A coach close to Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst told me Sunday that Eichorst is aiming for a big name to replace Pelini. Whether he lands him remains to be seen, but it's encouraging that Nebraska, without many obvious candidates, is thinking big.

Michigan faced a much easier decision with Brady Hoke, whose program had backslid since winning 11 games and a Sugar Bowl in his first season. Hoke checked a lot of boxes that Rich Rodriguez didn't in Ann Arbor, but his Michigan Man schtick quickly grew old once the wins stopped. Did Michigan settle for Hoke, a 47-50 coach prior to his arrival? Perhaps. It cannot settle this time. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett must start his search with prominent candidates who will listen.

If you want to be great, you have to commit to being great. Look at the Pac-12. Not only has every school made significant investments in facilities -- some Big Ten schools have done the same -- but the quality of coaching has skyrocketed in recent years.

Recent coaching additions include Jim Mora, Chris Petersen, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham and Mike Leach. Not every move is working out to perfection, but there are more proven winners in the Pac-12 than the Big Ten. Rodriguez, while struggling at Michigan, certainly belongs in the proven winner category after leading Arizona to the Pac-12 championship game in his third year.

Big Ten schools, meanwhile, too often take the bunny slope instead of the double black diamond when it comes to finding coaches. There have been plenty of practical hires but not enough brazen ones.

There are also some Big Ten programs seemingly satisfied with their place in the college football world.

Iowa fans should be furious right now. Their Hawkeyes managed to go 7-5 despite the most favorable schedule they'll ever have to the Big Ten championship game. Plus, their neighbors to the west sent a message that very good isn't good enough. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, meanwhile, faces no internal pressure despite a top-10 salary, no top-10 finishes since 2009 and just one such finish in the past decade. Ferentz's compensation and a beautiful new facility suggest Iowa wants to be elite. But if that expectation were real, wouldn't there be more outcry?

Illinois' decision to retain Tim Beckman for a fourth year makes sense, as Beckman's team improved down the stretch to become bowl eligible. But another jump in wins is a must in 2015, perhaps a run for the West Division. If not, what message does it send to an already apathetic fan base?

Pat Fitzgerald should be feeling some pressure to make changes after consecutive 5-7 seasons. How can Northwestern raise its profile without some expectation, some tension, in and around the program?

Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Indiana's Kevin Wilson must make bowls in 2015 to keep their jobs. If not, what's the point?

I recently had lunch with a top coordinator from another conference and asked what he wants in his first head-coaching job. His answer: a place with unrealistic expectations.

How many Big Ten programs can say they do right now?

Coaches always talk about controlling the controllables. The Big Ten always will have certain factors working against it, but it can control who leads its programs. The league remains very appealing to top coaches.

It's time for an upgrade. Your moves, Nebraska and Michigan.

Make them bold ones.
After months of speculation, Michigan players finally learned Tuesday afternoon that Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke has been fired.

Most current Michigan players took to Twitter to express their thanks toward Hoke and their sadness regarding his exit. Here's a look at some of the best of those tweets:

Top stats to know: Hoke out at Michigan

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
After an 11-2 record in his first season at Michigan, coach Brady Hoke’s record slipped each season. The university fired Hoke on Tuesday after four seasons and a record of 31-20 with the winningest program in college football history.

Couldn't maintain early success
Michigan won 16 of its first 20 games under Hoke, including the 2012 Sugar Bowl (2011 season), but the Wolverines are 15-16 in 31 games since then.

Michigan won its first 19 home games under Hoke but has gone 4-5 at the Big House since, including a 4-3 mark at home this season.

Couldn't beat the rivals
Hoke -– like Rich Rodriguez before him -- struggled against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, going 2-6 against those schools (Rodriguez was 0-6). Those were games won regularly under Lloyd Carr, Gary Moeller and Bo Schembechler (who were a combined 16-7-1 against the Spartans and Buckeyes). Hoke became the third coach in program history to lose at least three times in the first four meetings with Ohio State.

Michigan lost each of its two trophy games -- to Michigan State (Paul Bunyan Trophy) and Minnesota (Little Brown Jug) -- in the same season for the first time since 1967.

Could have kept Rodriguez?
Rodriguez was fired after three seasons at Michigan in 2010 despite his record improving each season. After a year off, Rodriguez was hired at Arizona in 2012, and the Wildcats have had the better record since, posting a .684 winning percentage to Michigan's .526. Rodriguez has six wins against AP-ranked teams in that span. Hoke had one.

The difference was most stark this season: Arizona will play for the Pac-12 title Friday, and Michigan fell short of bowl eligibility.

Why the Wolverines struggled
Michigan had the worst turnover margin in the Big Ten this season at -16. That tied for fourth-worst in the nation.

The Wolverines ranked 88th in offensive efficiency this season; their offense was about two points per game worse than that of an average FBS team. In 2013, Michigan ranked 47th in offensive efficiency and contributed about six points per game to the team's scoring margin more than an overage offensive unit would.

And the fans stopped coming
Michigan’s streak of 16 years leading the nation in average attendance was snapped this season by Ohio State. The Wolverines last failed to lead the nation in attendance in 1997 (Tennessee), the only time in the previous 40 seasons Michigan was not tops in the country.
Michigan has made the difficult but correct decision to part with one of its own, a man who took the Wolverines' head-coaching job without discussing salary, who said he would have walked to Ann Arbor from San Diego for the gig.

"Getting over the Rockies would have been a little tough," Brady Hoke said in January 2011, "but we would have figured that out."

Hoke delivered that and other memorable lines during an introductory news conference that he won by four touchdowns, mainly because he accentuated his love and appreciation for Michigan's traditions and history. His three-digit labels for his Wolverines teams nodded to the past -- Team 132, Team 133 and so on -- and his refusal to call Michigan's rival by its full name delighted the fan base.

This guy gets us, they said, unlike that last guy. Never mind those unremarkable head-coaching credentials (47-50 at Ball State and San Diego State).

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsAs Michigan searches for Brady Hoke's replacement, winning should be the focus, not ties to the program.
"He doesn't have to learn the words to 'The Victors,'" then-athletic director Dave Brandon said at the time. "He has sung it many times in the locker room."

But Hoke didn't sing "The Victors" enough during his three-plus years at Michigan, and that's why he's out of a job. Appreciating and extolling Michigan's tradition isn't enough when you don't add to it. Dinging Ohio State isn't enough when you don't beat the Buckeyes very often. Defining successful seasons by Big Ten championships isn't enough when you don't deliver any. Wearing legends jerseys isn't enough when the current players aren't performing anywhere near legendary levels.

Hoke fit Michigan's culture better than Rich Rodriguez did. But neither man restored the glory. Michigan hired the opposite of Rodriguez in Hoke -- a defensive coach with deep roots in the program -- but got similarly underwhelming results.

As Michigan embarks on its third coaching search in seven years, it must truly look outward rather than inward. The school must cast a wide net and not eliminate candidates just because they've never set foot in Schembechler Hall and can't recite how many Big Ten championships the Wolverines have won.

It's 42, by the way. Michigan's top priority must be finding the guy who can win No. 43.

I'd be all for Michigan hiring Les Miles as its next coach or, as farfetched as it sounds, Jim Harbaugh (I don't consider John Harbaugh even a fringe candidate). But not because Miles and Harbaugh played at Michigan, or because Harbaugh grew up in Ann Arbor while his dad worked as a Michigan assistant coach.

Both are good hires because they win. Harbaugh transformed the Stanford program and has guided the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance and three NFC title games. Miles owns a national title and 103 wins at LSU.

Their Michigan connection is a nice bonus, but not the driving force.

If both men say no -- a likely possibility for Harbaugh, who will have other NFL opportunities if he parts ways with the 49ers; Miles, meanwhile, might want to stay with his damn fine football team in Baton Rouge -- Michigan must cast a wider net. Insular thinking will hurt Michigan in this search. So will arrogance.

Any coach interim athletic director Jim Hackett hires will have at least a decent knowledge of the program's tradition. Hackett, who, like Brandon, is a former Wolverines football player under Bo Schembechler, will make certain of it.

But celebrating what Michigan used to be ultimately isn't enough. Hoke showed that. It's about transforming what Michigan is -- a program that, despite every imaginable resource, has failed to win the Big Ten in a decade -- into something more successful.

Tradition is a great thing in college football. It also can be a crutch. Michigan's next coach should emphasize forging a new chapter in program history, while maintaining respect for the past.

If the right coach has no previous ties to Michigan, so be it. Alabama fell out of relevance when it made hiring its own -- Mike DuBose, Mike Shula -- a priority. Nick Saban was an outsider, and he's done OK in T-Town.

Former USC assistants Paul Hackett and Ted Tollner didn't work out as Trojans head coaches, but Pete Carroll, a first-timer at Heritage Hall, certainly did. Oklahoma has had more recent success hiring outside the Sooner family (Bob Stoops) than inside it (John Blake, Gary Gibbs).

College football history is filled with outsiders who pushed tradition-rich programs into the future, from Ara Parseghian at Notre Dame to Mack Brown at Texas to Schembechler at Michigan.

"I'm sure a job of that magnitude, that'll be a national search," an agent who represents college football coaches told me. "That'll be a big one."

During his introduction, Hoke bristled when told of the perception that Michigan is no longer an elite job.

"This is an elite job and will continue to be an elite job," Hoke said. "This is Michigan, for god sake."

He's right. But what Michigan is and what Michigan was are different things. Michigan fans hate the notion that the program is stuck in the past.

This hire is a chance to move Michigan forward. The right hire might happen to a Michigan Man, but it can't be the other way around.
Since late October, Tuesday has been reserved for speculation and anticipation over the release of the College Football Playoff rankings. But not this week.

Michigan reluctantly takes center stage hours before the committee releases its sixth set of rankings.

Next week, the four-team playoff will be set. If things fall right Friday and Saturday in each of the Power 5 leagues, next Tuesday could be epic.

TCU or Baylor? Will Ohio State remain a factor? The debate alone over the order of the top four, which determine the semifinal matchups, will make it a day like no other in college football history.

Sadly, though, we’ve seen plenty of days like this Tuesday.

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If multiple media reports on Sunday are correct, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is on the verge of becoming the first FBS school to eliminate its football program since Pacific in 1995.

Although UAB students and fans held a rally on Sunday night in a show of support for the football team, Sports Illustrated reports that the school will fire athletic director Brian Mackin and announce the elimination of football this week.

Sunday’s news was not a shock, as word began to spread around Birmingham a month ago that the university was studying football’s long-term financial viability. Although first-year coach Bill Clark led the Blazers to a remarkable turnaround, finishing 6-6 and achieving bowl eligibility for just the fourth time since UAB joined the FBS in 1996, UAB noticeably refused to commit to Clark or to the program’s future.

At the root of the issue are the decades of distrust between UAB, its supporters and the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, which governs UAB, Alabama and Alabama-Huntsville. Blazers fans claim that the Board not only offers preferential treatment to the football factory in Tuscaloosa, but that it frequently undermines the UAB program -- and they cling to numerous conspiracy theories as to why that might be the case.

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- We've learned in recent weeks that Jim Hackett, Michigan's interim AD, is the man who will decide coach Brady Hoke's fate -- and execute the coaching search if Hoke isn't around for the 2015 season.

In all likelihood, though, Hackett's permanent replacement will be in place by the start of the 2015 football season.

What does that mean? Michigan has to hire a coaching Superman. It needs someone bigger and more established than the AD's office. Otherwise, the coach could wind up looking over his shoulder because his new boss did not hire him. The new AD might have a different idea about whom the school would like as a coach.

That requirement narrows Michigan's candidate list to two:

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No. 6 Ohio State ended its regular season -- and likely Brady Hoke's tenure at Michigan -- in what might end up being a pyrrhic 42-28 victory against the Wolverines in Columbus.

The Buckeyes (11-1) scored 21 unanswered points to avoid a rivalry upset before Michigan scored the last touchdown of the game. The win came at a great cost, though. J.T. Barrett, at the tail end of the most productive season ever for a Buckeyes quarterback, needed a cart and an Aircast to make it off the field after his leg was twisted awkwardly beneath a defender on the first play of the fourth quarter. He scored two rushing touchdowns and threw for another before leaving the game.

Game ball goes to: Even though he missed the fourth quarter, Barrett still stood out as the game's top performer. His 25-yard scramble for a touchdown in the final minute of the first half kept Michigan from taking a lead into the locker room. He set up his second rushing score with a perfect deep ball to Devin Smith. His cool demeanor after the injury mirrored the calm that he provided for an Ohio State team that could have stumbled further when its first starting quarterback was hurt in the preseason.

What it means: For the Buckeyes, a trip to Indianapolis, and perhaps beyond, awaits. The offense will have to prove it can be prolific without Barrett to keep playoff chances alive. For Michigan, the loss makes its decision on whether or not to keep Hoke an easier one. Hoke's win totals have fallen in each of the past three seasons, and this group finishes 5-7.

Playoff implication: Ohio State remains in the playoff conversation, but its stock will likely decrease after Barrett's injury. Ohio State's offense clearly won't be the same if its Heisman candidate is unable to play. The committee will have to take that under consideration if it has to choose between the Buckeyes and a Big 12 team or a second SEC school.

Best play: With five minutes to play, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer decided to go for the kill. He called sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott's number on a fourth-down play. Michigan's defense bit on some backfield misdirection, which gave Elliott the space he needed to bust a long run. Forty-four yards later, the Buckeyes had a two-score lead.

What's next: Ohio State advances to the Big Ten championship game next Saturday with its playoff hopes intact for now. Michigan will get a jump on what promises to be a busy offseason. The Wolverines will be searching for a new athletic director and more than likely a new football coach.

National links: Calm before the storm 

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
Let’s just get this out of the way: Last week in college football was kind of dull.

Unless, that is, you’re into watching the single-game FBS rushing record fall for the second straight Saturday. (So who breaks it this week?) Yes, last week was dull, unless, of course, you’re into Florida State’s weekly high-wire act, re-awakenings at Arkansas and Minnesota or UCLA’s continued stranglehold on Los Angeles.

My point is, the latest set of games didn’t significantly impact the College Football Playoff picture -- at least in comparison to the past few weeks. Barring some craziness at the selection-committee table, the top four on Tuesday night is going to look no different than last week’s edition.

But Week 13 was simply the calm before the storm. Not so sure? Check out first nine paragraphs Gene Wojciechowski’s BMOC column. The rocky road to Dec. 9 is enough to make a fan of any playoff contender choke on his or her turkey dinner.

And it starts in two days.

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National links: Who's No. 4? 

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
We’re inside of two weeks until Dec. 7, when the College Football Playoff selection committee announces its four picks to appear in the sport’s first national semifinals.

There will be teams left out who can make perfectly compelling cases to be playoff participants. There will be voices raised and criticisms leveled regarding which program truly deserved the final spot in the playoff. This much is a certainty.

But which teams have the best chances of cracking the field? It still seems to be a matter of conjecture beyond the top three teams: Alabama, Oregon and Florida State.

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This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16