My operative theory on why the Big Ten underperforms despite outpacing every major conference other than the SEC in revenue generation is that the conference’s members do not spend their lucre on hiring brand name coaches. Rather, because of the Midwestern cultural bias towards blandness, they hire guys like Tim Brewster and Danny Hope instead of Bobby Petrino and Steve Spurrier because G-d forbid we pay for clothes and a car that make us look … flashy!
Michigan’s hire of Brady Hoke might have been the result of simple desperation. Dave Brandon assumed that he had Jim Harbaugh in the bag and when Harbaugh had second thoughts after NFL teams started chasing him, Brandon was left without a Plan B. However, the Hoke hire might also have been a classic example of what I’m talking about. With the money that Michigan potentially has to spend on a head coach, Brandon could have gone from candidate to candidate with the pitch “how would you like $4 million per year to coach a famous program in a famous stadium?” Instead, he picked the desperate girl whom he knew would go home with him the minute he raised the possibility. (Who knew that Dave Brandon and Cristiano Ronaldo have something in common?) To speculate for a moment, Brandon’s Midwestern sensibilities made him more likely to pick an unassuming guy without, you know, a big ego caused by numerous on-field successes.
With Hoke onboard and the rational members of the Michigan fan base thoroughly unimpressed, the PR machine has to go into full swing. What better way to sell the guy to your fan base than by portraying the new coach as a simple everyman? Short of finding a picture of Hoke driving into the parking lot of a Meijer in a Dodge Stratus, Michael Spath hits all of the notes with a frankly ludicrous piece. Spath’s thesis is that “almost everyone [in Michigan’s athletic department] is already impressed.” (Thank heavens that the athletic department won’t be acting to undermine the head coach by cooperating with the Detroit Free Press on a chilling expose that leads to the conclusion that Michigan was misclassifying ten minutes of stretching at the start of each practice! I guess that’s progress.) Spath’s evidence? I hope you’re sitting down for this: Hoke didn’t play Score-O at a Michigan hockey game. I shit you not, the following two paragraphs made it into a major online publication:
Three years earlier, Rich Rodriguez donned a Maize and Blue hockey jersey and took a stab at Score-O - the second-period intermission game in which three contestants attempt to slide a shot from the blue-line through a tiny opening into the net. The student section roared with delight. That was Rodriguez's way and that didn't make it wrong but his occupation of the spotlight did offend some folks.
Flash-forward (or rewind) to Friday night. Hoke stepped onto the ice from the north entrance wearing jeans and an untucked collared blue shirt. He looked uncomfortable as the patrons rose to their feet just as he appeared a bit out of sorts at a men's basketball game a few weeks ago. Hoke probably would have retreated quickly, disappearing out of sight, but the band broke into a rendition of The Victors and Hoke was soon pumping his fists in unison with the crowd.
If there are actually a non-trivial number of Michigan fans who were offended that Rich Rodriguez played Score-O between periods at a hockey game, then the program has bigger problems than I thought. Heaven forbid that the highest-paid employee at the University of Michigan, the man up front for the winningest program in college football history actually acknowledges that he is in the spotlight! Thank goodness that we’ve hired a guy who is going to do his work in front of 110,000 paying customers and millions watching on TV, but is uncomfortable with attention. This is bound to work out well!
Spath’s second piece of evidence is testimony from a current Michigan assistant coach that Hoke doesn’t engage in self-promotion. Leaving aside the obvious “what the hell do you think an assistant coach is going to say to a reporter about his boss?” factor, it seems fairly clear to me that Hoke doesn’t engage in self-promotion because he has nothing to promote! On a related note, I would like to brag that I am a committed husband because I haven’t slept with Salma Hayek. Thank goodness that Michigan doesn’t have a larger-than-life figure as its head coach. We all know that the program couldn’t prosper with a guy like that.
As with Dave Brandon’s "I stared into his eyes and saw his soul" defense of an indefensible hire, there are two possibilities here. One is that Spath is doing his best to make the best of a bad situation. Michigan has hired a coach with an underwhelming resume, so let’s find some way to build the guy up. How about the fact that he looks like a slob!?! The second is that Hoke’s underwhelming persona is actually a positive. If that’s the case, then Spath’s mindset is the Platonic ideal of why Big Ten football fails. It is generally (but not universally) true that successful head coaches have big egos. The level of adulation that fans and the media heap on coaches who win makes this a natural result. If having an ego is a red flag for Big Ten programs, then they’ll just keep hiring guys who get broiled 49-7 in Orlando. If the focus is on having rock-ribbed, square-jawed Midwesterners instead of guys who have actually won things, then the league can look forward to more 0-4 New Year’s Days. Southerners can be as provincial as anyone, but at least we demand that our ADs hire on the basis of credentials instead of stereotypes.