The 'Hokeification' of Michigan
Football coach's ways go viral, spark marketing turn for Wolverines
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Hunter Lochmann worked at Michigan barely a month when his job marketing the Wolverines' football program became somewhat easier.
When Michigan hired Brady Hoke in January 2011, Lochmann searched for reaction from old colleagues at Madison Square Garden who were Michigan graduates. Opinions, he said, were mixed.
"I got back from that meeting and MGoBlue.com had the press conference on and I sent [my former colleagues] the link and I said, 'Guys, I want to run through a wall for this guy. Watch this,' " Lochmann said. "They all wrote back pretty much the same thing.
"There was something magical that just set the tone in the room that day, at least in my mind."
Hoke won the news conference -- an important step for any new coach, especially when there isn't unanimous support among a fan base about a hire. Considering Hoke entered Michigan with an under-.500 career record, there were questions.
Hoke's message from his first day soon transcended his program in Schembechler Hall and became a major marketing point throughout the university's athletic department and beyond.
Less than two years after Hoke was hired, the "Hokeification" of Michigan has been almost universal. Coaches use his slogans. His terminology has penetrated other programs. Michigan has used his signature saying from his first news conference as a major marketing strategy both inside and outside the athletic department.
'This is Michigan, fergodsakes'
Of the takeaways from Hoke's first news conference on Jan. 11, 2011, none resonated quite as much as a response to a question about whether Michigan was still an elite job.
Part of his answer became a campaign-launching soundbite.
"This is Michigan, fergodsakes."
When Lochmann and Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon heard the snippet along with Hoke's story about how he would have walked from San Diego to Ann Arbor for the job, they knew they had potential marketing slogans.
Soon, "This is Michigan" showed up on posters promoting the program and on the sides of buses. It ended up in promotional videos and commercials.
"For most of our fans and for us in the role of communicating what we're about with our fans, I think we were all incredibly moved and impressed and pleased with the words that he chose," Brandon said. "We began to repeat them and use them.
"It became a great theme for a lot of things that we were doing and continues to be today."
Not since Bo Schembechler's two more well-known slogans -- "Those who stay will be champions" and "The team, the team, the team" -- has Michigan latched on to something a coach said so intently and so program-wide.
The clip from the news conference is played before football games as part of an introductory video. When new Michigan women's basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico was hired in April, she did her homework.
In response to a question about why she left a top 25 program, St. John's, for a perennially struggling one at Michigan, she acknowledged stealing how she then illustrated her point: "It is the University of Michigan, fergodsakes."
The most controversial change adopted due to Hoke has everything to do with Michigan's rival, Ohio State.
For years, players and coaches called Ohio State either "Ohio State" or "O-State." Not under Hoke. Hoke called Ohio State merely "Ohio," and the phraseology carried from football across the Michigan program.
Michigan basketball coach John Beilein started calling Ohio State "Ohio." So did Brandon. Both Beilein and Brandon have said there is no directive within the Michigan athletic department to call Ohio State "Ohio."
"I've received no direction from anyone," Beilein told reporters in January. "I've just adopted it myself. So there's some uniformity with what Brady's done."
It landed Michigan in a quandary in March, when the Wolverines played Ohio University in the NCAA tournament. Beilein said at the time he was not concerned with whether it rubbed Ohio University the wrong way.
Then the Bobcats upset Michigan. Losing to Ohio University didn't damper using Ohio to reference Ohio State. With the exception of one time publicly, he still calls Ohio State "Ohio."
So do others in the athletic department.
Number The Team
Around the time Michigan football started fall practice last season, the Michigan men's lacrosse program began preparations for its first season.
Its coach, John Paul, is a longtime Michigan employee, a season-ticket holder for football and the former club lacrosse coach at Michigan before he was promoted to varsity head coach when the program gained varsity status.
Paul had an idea after seeing Hoke name his 2011 football team "Team 132," as an homage to representing the history of the program. He flipped it and called his first varsity lacrosse team "Team One."
The marketing department used it as a slogan on posters.
"I made sure every time I talked about how we approached this year, I talked about what an important role and how an important influence Brady Hoke has been on what we're doing. There's no question," Paul said. "I have to thank him for that idea. We just took his idea of instilling the center of history and tradition in his team, which I think he did an incredible job of, and just flipped it on its back and said the opposite.
"We're not Team 132, we're Team One. We have to look ahead to Team 132 and imagine what those guys will be looking back at and how important Team One will be."
Paul said using the slogan is likely a one-off idea -- he doesn't plan on outwardly calling next season's squad "Team Two" -- but the idea of building a tradition and culture from using the Team X slogan helped through a rough first season.
Hoke also reached out to the lacrosse team, speaking to them before they played Ohio State following the Michigan spring game in Michigan Stadium.
The lacrosse program isn't the only one to borrow the team numbering idea. Briefly following this basketball season, Michigan assistant basketball coach Bacari Alexander began tweeting about Teams 95, 96 and 97 in the basketball program.
Is this a good thing?
The biggest concern, from the outside, would be what happens if too much power and influence is exerted by one coach or program over an athletic department or university.
If through his message, he becomes bigger than the university like Joe Paterno did at Penn State or Jim Tressel did at Ohio State. Hoke has a ways to go before he reaches that kind of iconic status, but it is worth watching.
"It's how they look at their leader," said Jarrod Chin, the director of training and curriculum at the Center for Sports and Society at Northeastern. "If it's a situation where somebody comes in and is elevated to a position where they become almost saintly on campus, that's a problem.
"But if it is somebody who is talking about leadership and responsibility that is really unifying the campus and can be inclusive of everyone, that can be a really positive thing. That's a really fine line that they are going to have to walk at the university and at any situation at any university."
Thus far, Hoke has appeared all-inclusive when it came to Michigan staffers and those at the university, and that has been a unifying force among the athletic department and fan base -- a marked change from both his predecessor and how the fan base initially felt about his hire.
But how this progresses is worth keeping an eye on.
Why is this happening?
Paul suggested this is the first time he had seen a Michigan coach's message grab hold of an athletic department since the Schembechler era. Understanding why is an explanation of the man as much as the message.
Paul spent a week with Hoke on a tour of alumni groups on the West Coast last month.
"There's no question about it. It's a credit to the type of person he is and the type of passion he has for Michigan and that is immediately apparent when you spend time with him," Paul said. "Having just spent a few days with him, I think there are so many lessons to be learned just by watching the guy do what he does from a Michigan perspective.
“"There's no question, you hear everybody here echoing things they hear from the football program. We haven't heard that in a long time here."
He has this personality that is sincere and genuine as can be.” -- Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon on Brady Hoke
He isn't the only one.
When Michigan won a share of the Big Ten basketball title -- coincidentally with help from Ohio State beating Michigan State -- one of the first people to reach out to Beilein was Hoke.
After the media left and the players departed, Hoke showed up at the basketball offices to congratulate Beilein.
"Brady drove over there to give him a hug and almost dislocated John's shoulder when Brady patted him on the back," Brandon said. "That's how Brady is. He has this personality that is sincere and genuine as can be. Loves Michigan and cares about his colleagues who coach the other sports and building relationships with all of them.
"In the coaching community when you see someone saying something, using something, creating something that works and is respected, they emulate it. Every coach I know will tell you where they picked up things that they do from other coaches. That's how you learn and develop your own approach."
Hoke's style has been well crafted, and as his football team rose back to relevance in one season so did Hoke's message storm through the athletic department.