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B1G 2012 // Michigan's Smartest Guys in the Room

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Brady Hoke wasn’t Michigan’s first choice – Jim Harbaugh and, depending on who you ask, Les Miles were sought after by Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon before he settled on Hoke – but the Brady Hoke era has gone as well as what could have been reasonably expected. Michigan’s defense has done a complete 180 from the horror show that was the Rich Rodriguez/Greg Robinson era, the Wolverines beat Ohio State for the first time in forever, and Michigan finished 11-2 with a Sugar Bowl win. Hoke’s first campaign really couldn’t have gone that much better – sure Michigan State extended its winning streak over Michigan, and yeah, Michigan did ride an easy schedule (and some fluky wins) to 11 wins, but Michigan’s trending upwards and there’s optimism in Ann Arbor for the first time in years.

Michigan’s turnaround under Hoke has been incredible: the last season under Rodriguez was a disaster, there wasn’t much elite talent on the roster, and Michigan had absolutely no momentum moving forward after getting embarrassed in the Gator Bowl. To go from that to the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten in just one season would have been pretty much unthinkable, and if you’d told me that Michigan’s defense and kicking game would win a BCS Bowl in 2011, I’d have laughed. Brady Hoke wasn’t the most popular coaching candidate and it wasn’t the flashiest hiring, but Hoke loves Michigan, happens to be a pretty darn good coach, and it has proved to be the right decision so far as he's done a terrific job.

Head Coach -- Brady Hoke

The Skinny:

A lot of the initial consternation over the Brady Hoke hire was the thoroughly underwhelming coaching resume that he had compiled over his career. Hoke played his college football at Ball State and was a standout linebacker for the Cardinals in the late seventies, and proceeded to start his coaching career immediately after graduating from Ball State. From 1983-1994, Hoke was a position coach at Grand Valley State, Western Michigan, Toledo and Oregon State, mostly dealing with the defensive lines at those programs. He then spent seven years at Michigan, moving up from defensive ends coach to defensive line coach in 1997, and then to associate head coach in 2002. While at Michigan, Hoke coached under Lloyd Carr, and was on the staff for Michigan’s National Title in 1997. In 2003, he was given his first shot as a head coach at his alma mater and coached there from ’03 to ’08 (in 2008, Ball State started off with a 12-0 record before losing in the MAC Championship to Buffalo. He left for San Diego State before the bowl game). He was only at San Diego State for two years, but in his second year, Hoke led the Aztecs to their first nine win season since 1971. When Brady Hoke was hired by Michigan, he was 52 years old, hadn’t been a coordinator, let alone a head coach at a BCS school, and had compiled a career head coaching record of 47-50. MGoBlog had this to say when Hoke was hired:

This is a stupid hire. It will always be as stupid hire and David Brandon just led the worst coaching search in the history of Michigan football. He managed to chase off half of an already iffy recruiting class, hired a Plan C coach on January 11th, probably ensured the transfer of the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, and restricted his "national search" to people who'd spent at least five years in Ann Arbor. Michigan just gave themselves a year of USC-level scholarship reduction voluntarily.

What are the chances that the best available coach is a 52-year-old with a 47-50 career record and no experience as a coordinator? Why weren't a half-dozen coordinators with time and results on their side given the opportunity to interview? Why did Brandon waste time with Les Miles, a guy on the downside who may not have even gotten a serious offer? After learning a hard lesson about program continuity with the last hire why did Michigan hire a guy who professes to hate the spread 'n' shred a day after two spread teams played for the national title?

Brian overreacted here, but the sentiment was understandable: other than being a former coach on Michigan’s staff, Hoke didn’t appear to have done anything that merited consideration for the job. The hire reeked of nepotism, but hey, going outside of the program for Rodriguez was disastrous.

Brady Hoke made a couple of excellent moves after being hired: he insisted upon the exceptionalism of Michigan in his first interactions with the press, winning over the former players, alumni, and fans who were dissatisfied with Rodriguez and "uniting" the fanbase. He also placed a huge emphasis on the rivalry with Ohio State, which was something that Rodriguez was accused of neglecting. He got Denard Robinson to stay, instead of transferring to a place with a spread offense. Most importantly, he hired Greg Mattison as the defensive coordinator -- more on him later -- and assembled a staff of impressive recruiters. From there, Michigan built up plenty of momentum on the recruiting trail; they gained the commitments of Mario Ojemudia and Devin Funchess (they went to Farmington Hills Harrison, a Michigan State feeder, and were long considered State leans), got the blue-chip trio of in-state stars (James Ross, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and Terry Richardson) to stay at home, and managed to flip Kyle Kalis from Ohio State after Jim Tressel was forced out. Despite having less time to build relationships with these prospects than other staffs, Michigan assembled a stellar class early and finished with a top ten class nationally. 2012 has been even better: the Wolverines have 21 commits for the Class of '13 and have the #1 class in the country by all four major sites. 18 of those commits are four stars to at least two of those sites. Hoke is a terrific recruiter, but so are Mattison, Jeff Hecklinski, Curt Mallory, and Jerry Montgomery.

As the head coach, Hoke doesn't handle the play-calling on either side of the ball -- Al Borges has complete control of the offense and Mattison calls the defensive plays. I hate to use the term "CEO coach" (mostly because it makes me think of how bad of a coach Mack Brown is), but Hoke essentially just lets his experienced and well-paid coordinators handle a lot of the work for their respective units. He still makes time to give personal instruction to the defensive line -- essentially the Michigan defensive line has three position coaches, as Montgomery, Mattison, and Hoke each give the unit a lot of attention -- and outside of that, he lets his assistants do a lot of the work. Hoke doesn't wear a headset on the sidelines and doesn't call any plays; he's in a much more administrative role on the sideline than anything else, although he has made some great decisions on whether or not to go for it on fourth down. Whatever his approach is, it worked: he received the Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year award in 2011.


"I don’t think we’re rebuilding. Period," Hoke said before a record attendance of reporters at the Big Ten media days in Chicago. "We’re Michigan. We have kids who know they’re Michigan. So, I don’t put any stock into (the notion we’re rebuilding)."

Most people scoffed at these remarks this time last year, but I'd say that Hoke was right: there wasn't much of a rebuilding process because he won immediately.

Twitter: None, and surprisingly, there aren't any good parody accounts. Michigan State and Ohio State fans, I expect better.

Offensive Coordinator -- Al Borges

Al Borges was Hoke's offensive coordinator at San Diego State, and came over with Hoke to Michigan. He's been a journeyman offensive coordinator for the last 25 years -- Borges has coached at Portland State, Boise State, Oregon, UCLA, Cal, Indiana, Auburn, and San Diego State. His most notable offenses were the UCLA units with Cade McNown as an All-American quarterback and the Auburn teams with the unfairly talented triumvirate of Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, and Jason Campbell. Throughout his career, Borges has been known as a West Coast guru, so the transition from Rich Rodriguez's spread offense was supposed to be pretty messy.

To Borges's credit, the transition wasn't too bad (outside of Denard's 15 interceptions, most of which came when he was battling a staph infection in his throwing arm). Under Rodriguez, there were few running backs who managed to make any impact at all; during the first year under Borges, oft-injured Fitzgerald Toussaint emerged as the feature back and rushed for over 1,000 yards. Robinson did as well, making that the first time that Michigan's had two 1,000-yard rushers since 1975. The passing game revolved around Junior Hemingway, a deep ball threat that had a knack for grabbing 50-50 heaves into coverage. Over the course of the season, Borges was able to adapt the offense to his personnel -- the amount of plays run from under center and the amount of plays with more than one fullback or tight end drastically decreased as the season wore on. I'd say that what Borges did to make Denard comfortable in the offensive schemes was commendable as he essentially tailored his offense to Denard's strengths (namely running the ball and making quick easy throws). We won't see what Borges's real offense looks like until Denard graduates, although we can probably make an educated guess based on who Michigan's recuiting -- tall, strong-armed quarterbacks, mostly power running backs with a few short, quick, 3rd down backs, tall, rangy receivers, "Y" Tight Ends and H-Backs. It will be a versatile offense with many pro-style and West Coast concepts, but for now, we'll have to live with the makeshift Denard offense.



Unresearched O/U on years it will take to be a head coach:

Since Borges is 55 and has never been a head coach on any level, I'm guessing that this will probably be his last gig.

Defensive Coordinator -- Greg Mattison

When Hoke was hired, he brought along most of hi staff from San Diego State, but defensive coordinator Rocky Long decided to stay in San Diego and became the Aztecs' head coach. That left Michigan with a vacancy there, and Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke made a huge hire and lured Greg Mattison away from his spot as the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. It was the first time that Michigan's paid SEC-level money instead of Big East-level money for an assistant coach, and it has certainly paid off -- Michigan's defense improved from 110th nationally in total defense and 108th in scoring defense in 2010 to 17th in total defense and 6th in scoring defense in 2011, largely with the same personnel. Mattison coached at Michigan from 1992-1996 but left to coach at Notre Dame. He later was Urban Meyer's co-defensive coordinator at Florida and was the architect of the defense that completely dominated Troy Smith and Ohio State in 2006. Meyer has also called Mattison the best recruiter in the country, which is high praise from a guy who's not bad at the recruiting game himself. It's really hard to argue that Mattison wasn't worth every penny when he was hired as one of the top five highest-paid assistants in the country, and there's a reason why Michigan fans can't stop talking about him: he's the best coordinator in the Big Ten and one of the best in the whole country.

Mattison quickly scrapped that atrocious 4-3/3-3-5 hybrid that was designed to bend-not-break but broke all the time, and implemented his 4-3 under that saw success in his previous stops. A renewed focus on defensive line play along with some clever blitz schemes made the same defense that was so horrible in 2010 look completely different last year. There were still some issues, notably in the secondary (which basically has two strong safeties, because no one can play the deep half), but the difference was light-and-day: J.T. Floyd couldn't cover anyone in 2010 and shut down A.J. Jenkins in 2011, Jordan Kovacs emerged into a stellar box safety, Ryan Van Bergen had a breakout year, Jake Ryan looks like a young star at the SAM position, etc. Greg Robinson and the rest of Michigan's defensive coaching staff under Rodriguez was terrible (Jay Hopson and Tony Gibson were popular scapegoats), but Greg Mattison and his staff managed to teach the Michigan defense how to tackle, how to cover receivers, and how to run a competent defense. With the stellar recruiting classes coming in, the Michigan defense will soon have elite players like incoming 5-star NT Ondre Pipkins, and will soon be one of the nation's best.



Unresearched O/U on years it will take to be a head coach:

Like Borges, Mattison is more of a veteran than and up-and-comer, and hasn't ever been a head coach. This will probably be his last stop as well.