Commentary

Brady Hoke the right choice

Originally Published: January 11, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, a former CEO of Domino's Pizza, wasn't necessarily interested in hiring a football coach who will deliver a winning team in 30 minutes or less.

Apparently, Brandon didn't want -- or couldn't hire -- a coach who seems capable of botching a sure victory in 30 seconds or less.

On Tuesday, the Wolverines hired San Diego State's Brady Hoke as their new football coach, one day after Brandon interviewed LSU's Les Miles, a former Michigan player, who guided the Tigers to the 2008 BCS National Championship.

Neither Brandon nor Miles is saying whether Miles was offered the Michigan job. While Hoke hasn't won a national championship and has a 47-50 record as a head coach, he's the right fit for the Wolverines.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireBrady Hoke is the right man at the right time for Michigan.

And Miles made the right decision in staying at LSU, if he was indeed offered a chance to coach his alma mater.

The Wolverines won't want to admit it, but LSU is a much better job than Michigan. LSU is the flagship university in a recruiting hotbed and is much closer to competing for a national championship than the Wolverines are. With the talent the Tigers have coming back in 2011, they might very well become the SEC's sixth consecutive BCS national champion next season.

Michigan isn't anywhere close to competing for a Big Ten title, let alone a BCS national championship.

After what the Wolverines endured the past three seasons, Hoke is exactly what they need.

Hoke spent eight seasons working as Michigan's defensive line coach before manufacturing two of the best turnarounds in recent college football history at Ball State and San Diego State. He is familiar with the Michigan program and knows what it takes to compete in the Big Ten.

Brandon, who fired former coach Rich Rodriguez six days ago, will probably be criticized for failing to deliver Jim Harbaugh, a former Wolverines quarterback, or Miles, a former Michigan player and offensive line coach.

Harbaugh, who guided Stanford to a 12-1 record and Orange Bowl victory this season, never seriously considered returning to coach his alma mater before he was hired by the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.

If Brandon couldn't lure Harbaugh to Michigan, Hoke was the next-best choice. He's a "Michigan Man" and wanted the difficult job of trying to restore the Wolverines' once-proud tradition.

Brandon took a calculated risk in hiring Hoke, who has coached for more than a quarter century. Before becoming a head coach, Hoke worked as an assistant at places like Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan, Western Michigan, Toledo and Oregon State. He paid his dues and worked his way up the coaching ranks.

After working as Michigan's defensive line coach on Lloyd Carr's staff from 1995 to 2002, Hoke took over the woebegone Ball State program in 2003. The Cardinals won only 15 games in Hoke's first four seasons combined, but then went 7-6 in 2007.

The next season, Ball State was the biggest surprise in the country, finishing 12-0 during the 2008 regular season. The Cardinals were ranked No. 12 in the country before losing to Buffalo 42-24 in the MAC championship game. Ball State finished 12-2 after losing to Tulsa 45-13 in the GMAC Bowl.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Tyler Kaufman/Icon SMIThe Hat is not leaving Baton Rouge for Ann Arbor.

Hoke produced similar work in his two seasons at San Diego State. He inherited a program that hadn't had a winning record in 11 seasons. The Aztecs went 4-8 in Hoke's first season in 2009 and 9-4 in 2010. He was named Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year this past season after leading the Aztecs to their first bowl game in 12 years. San Diego State blasted Navy 35-14 in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, its first bowl victory since 1969.

The last time Michigan went searching for a football coach, it quickly focused on Rodriguez, who was the hottest name in the country. But the Wolverines sold their tradition for a big name when they lured Rodriguez away from West Virginia after the 2007 season.

Rodriguez tried to reinvent the way the Wolverines played football, recruiting faster and prettier athletes to run his fast-paced spread offense, abandoning the power running game that Bo Schembechler installed at Michigan decades ago.

Never mind that Rodriguez didn't bring a defense or kicking game with him to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines might have scored a boatload of points with quarterback Denard Robinson running wild this season, but they never had a chance to win many games because of their porous defense and inexcusably woeful special teams.

Rodriguez was fired after going 15-22 in three seasons. Under Rich Rod, the Big House never seemed so small as his teams went 11-11 at home. His teams were 0-6 against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State and 1-11 against ranked opponents.

Hoke won't bring a fancy spread offense or marquee last name to Michigan, but he might bring what Rodriguez lacked: a winning formula.

And while Hoke doesn't have Miles' résumé or bowl victories, he seems to have a better command of the play clock.

By hiring Hoke, Michigan might be able to salvage some of what Rodriguez tried to do during the past three seasons. If Hoke brings San Diego State offensive coordinator Al Borges with him, Hoke might be able to adjust his offense to fit the skills of the players Rodriguez recruited.

At least Michigan fans know Hoke won't be bringing defensive coordinator Greg Robinson with him.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. He co-authored Bobby Bowden's memoir, "Called To Coach," which was published by Simon & Schuster. The book is available in stores and can be ordered here. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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