Michigan welcomes back football 'family'
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke welcomed back more than 350 former players for a "team meeting" the night before the spring game last weekend.
Now, Hoke and his staff plan to reach out to Wolverines around the country.
"We want to touch players," Hoke said. "It's important because we need everybody in this family.
"There's going to be good and bad days ahead, but we have to everybody stay together and keep pulling in the same direction."
Hoke, a former Michigan assistant coach, was hired this year after three bad seasons doomed Rich Rodriguez.
Soon after Rodriguez replaced retiring coach Lloyd Carr, some former players returned to campus but a slew seemed to stay away.
"I worked out here all the time. I never had an issue with that," former Michigan star Mike Hart said. "Everybody kind of knows coach Hoke because he was around -- coached a lot of guys. I think that's why they feel that way. I think it's always been a welcome-back atmosphere, I think guys just chose not to come back."
"I can't tell you why, but I think it's because he didn't value the tradition like coach Hoke does," said Hart, an Indianapolis Colts running back. "Rich Rod let you come back, but he never really valued the tradition of Michigan. Coach Hoke is all about tradition."
Hoke drills his current players on Michigan's tradition each day he's with them.
He expected them to shout "42" when asked about championships the program has won; "132" when asked about years Michigan has been playing football; and "Ohio" when quizzed on the team to beat.
"We do that all the time, when we break down as a group whether it's a workout or we're out on the field," defensive tackle Mike Martin said with a grin. "It's a big part of our program."
Rick Leach has been a part of Michigan football for more than 30 years and became a fixture at Schembechler Hall during Rodriguez's three seasons, developing an affection for the embattled coach.
The former quarterback, though, put his personal feelings about Rodriguez aside when he showed up at the school's indoor practice field to hear what Hoke had to say.
"His message was," Leach said, "that he wants everybody on the same page moving forward to get this turned around like we all want to see it."
Does Leach think that will happen?
"I hope so," he said after a long pause, standing on the home sideline at Michigan Stadium. "I'll let everyone else comment on that."
Hart said everybody he knows is behind Hoke, but added a key caveat: "As long as he wins, that's all people care about," Hart said. "Winning cures everything no matter who you are or where you're at."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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