As I have tried to come to grips with Brady Hoke as Michigan’s head coach after some initial misgivings, the most comforting analogy has been between Hoke and Les Miles. No one would accuse Miles of being an x’s and o’s savant, but he does three things very well: (1) he recruits; (2) he hires good coordinators and position coaches; and (3) he makes ballsy end-of-game decisions (although the ‘09 Ole Miss and ‘10 Tennessee games damaged that last reputation severely). The early returns are positive in the first two categories and Saturday night, he checked the third box emphatically.* So yeah, Hoke’s upside is Miles. His recruiting base isn’t as good, but he can make up for that with Michigan’s national profile and an “I love the s*** out of this school” pitch that worked for Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. His predecessor didn’t leave the program in as healthy a condition as Nick Saban did, but Rodriguez did leave Hoke with Denard Robinson.
* – For those of you who (quite rationally) gave up on the game with Notre Dame leading 24-7 in the fourth quarter, Michigan had the ball on the Irish 16 with eight seconds left, plenty of time to take a shot at the end zone. Kirk Herbstreit, who is usually on the right end of the bell curve for intelligence for color guys, immediately advocated for Michigan to center the ball, kick the field goal, and go to overtime. Is this some sort of rule for analysts that they need to take the Rick Perryiest position when it comes to risk? Let’s review the facts. Michigan has not kicked a field goal all year. They were 4/13 on field goals last year and have the same starting kicker this year as they did at this time last year. They had momentum. They had rallied in the game with a series of jump balls. As Miles intuited four years ago, a fly pattern to the end zone is a very safe play with eight seconds remaining.
But what if the better analogy isn’t to Miles, but instead to another SEC coach who ultimately won a national title: Gene Stallings. Here are the parallels:
- Stallings had a losing record as a head coach when Alabama hired him. If Michigan fans think that Hoke’s 47-50 record is bad, then imagine how Tide fans felt when Stallings was hired with a 27-45-1 record at Texas A&M and a 23-34-1 record with the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals?
- Stallings was replacing an outsider who was fired after three years because of a lack of success against the in-state rival. We’ll see what details emerge from John Bacon’s soon-to-be-released book, but there is a good argument to be made that Rich Rodriguez was never accepted by large segments of the Michigan fan base and the local media because he did not have any ties to the Schembechler-Moeller-Carr lineage. Does that sound like Alabama fans rejecting Curry because he was the coach of Georgia Tech (a major rival for the Tide in previous years; look at the lyrics of their fight song if you need proof) and had no ties to the Bear? Stallings didn’t have a great resume in terms of wins and losses, but he did bring the possibility of unifying a fractured, somewhat disgruntled fan base.
- Stallings was a defensive coach who didn’t wear a headset (although that was more common in the 90s than it is today) and relied heavily on his assistants.
So obviously, Michigan is going to have an epic defense in 2013 and win the national title with Blake Countess stealing the ball out of the hands of an opposing receiver en route to the end zone.