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Brady Hoke Hits First Pitch Out Of The Park

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Brady Hoke won over a lot of diehards with a rousing press conference on Wednesday when he was introduced as Michigan's 19th head football coach.

ANN ARBOR MI - JANUARY 12:  New University of Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke talks during his introductory press confrence at the Junge Family Champions Center on January 12 2011 in Ann Arbor Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
ANN ARBOR MI - JANUARY 12: New University of Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke talks during his introductory press confrence at the Junge Family Champions Center on January 12 2011 in Ann Arbor Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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This is Michigan.

That was new Michigan football coach Brady Hoke, responding to whether the university's football program was still amongst the nation's elite jobs at his introductory press conference on Wednesday.

"This is an elite job. This will continue to be an elite job. This is Michigan for God's sake."

With that, Brady Hoke officially sold himself as Michigan's man.

He's yet to coach a game in Ann Arbor, and in fact he's yet to speak to any new recruits for his 2011 team. But Hoke jumped over his first big obstacle on Wednesday, perhaps the biggest of all: winning over the fan base.

Former coach Rich Rodriguez, who was fired one week ago today, did not accomplish that feat. Rodriguez was the hot new coach on the market when he was hired in 2008. He brought a flashy offense and a lopsided win-loss record that heavily leaned toward the "win" column. 

Brady Hoke is 47-50 in his career as a head coach. But he's already a better fit at a program that prides itself on winning.

Rodriguez was not from the Bo Schembechler tree of coaches, a deficiency that already gave him a bad shake before he was even introduced three years ago. A smooth talking West Virginian with a hint of a Southern drawl, Rodriguez was not a Michigan Man. Rodriguez was asked if he thought you had to be a Michigan Man to coach in Ann Arbor when he was introduced three years ago. His response?

"Gosh, I hope not."

When Schembechler fired head basketball coach Bill Frieder on the eve of the NCAA Tournament back in 1989, he proclaimed "a Michigan Man is going to coach a Michigan team." Little did he know, he would doom all coaches who followed that did not adhere to that lineage.

But even worse for Rodriguez, he made mistakes right from the get-go that riled up the fan base. They were mistakes he never fully recovered from.

He tried changing some of the traditions, such as the way captains were named. He ignored the defense for the better part of three years to focus on the offense. He made questionable coaching changes, firing defensive coordinator Scott Shafer in favor of Greg Robinson. He then made Robinson run a 3-3-5 defensive scheme, a scheme he had no clue how to run. Games against Ohio State and Michigan State did not seem to have the same emphasis as in years past. 

Most egregious of all, he brought shame to the Michigan brand by violating NCAA rule limits on practice time, drawing the first major sanctions issued against the program in over 130 years.

Brady Hoke did not make those mistakes Wednesday.

He referred to Ohio State, which has beaten Michigan nine of the past 10 games, as "that school from Ohio." He did not mention the Buckeyes by their proper name, invoking memories of Woody Hayes.

"It is the most important game on that schedule," Hoke said, pounding the podium after each word. 

After Michigan swung and missed on Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles, there was understandably a little disappointment from the Michigan faithful. Hoke, a former Lloyd Carr assistant with an all-time losing record at mid-major programs, seemed like it was Michigan's Plan C. He definitely did not appear to be the type that would motivate the fan base.

At least, on first glance. 

Instead Hoke came out firing on all cylinders Wednesday, delivering exactly the type of press conference you would hope for from a Michigan coach. He talked about the positive meeting he had with the current team and got choked up talking about his former players. And of course, he talked about "that school from Ohio."

"That rivalry is special," Hoke said. "It's almost personal."

And when Hoke says it's personal, you can believe him. An Ohio native himself, Hoke did not grow up an Ohio State fan like many of his friends did. Hmm, an Ohio native coming to Ann Arbor to revive a once-proud program? That sounds eerily familiar.

Whether Hoke was Michigan's first, third or 20th choice is irrelevant now. Athletic Director Dave Brandon has put all his chips on Hoke being the guy that can turn Michigan around. If you look past the overall wins and losses on his resume, you might come to that conclusion as well.

Let's get this out of the way: 47-50 is not a good record at all. People looked at Les Miles' sparkling 62-17 mark at LSU and drooled. They saw Andrew Luck and Harbaugh's pro-style offense pick apart Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. 

But Miles works in the Deep South, where football recruiting is a gold mine no matter what state you walk through. Harbaugh is a former NFL player with a fire and passion for the game. Who wouldn't want to play for that? 

Hoke started his head coaching career at Ball State. Ball State is not by any means LSU. Not only did Hoke have to fight with Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame for recruits in the Hoosier State, but he also had to fight with other Mid-American Conference teams that were simply better. During Hoke's first years at Ball State, more established MAC schools like Central Michigan (which won three of four league titles from 2006-2009) were winning with star players like Dan LeFevour.

It took four years for Hoke to compile a winning record in Muncie, and at 7-6 it was a modest record at best. But the next season, he took his team to a 12-0 start, the first perfect regular season at BSU since 1949. They lost their last two games (the MAC title game and the GMAC Bowl), but it was an astounding feat nonetheless.

When he moved on to San Diego State, his first season was an again unimpressive 4-8 stumble. But this past year he took the team to a 9-4 mark and the school's first bowl win in 37 years. When he took over SDSU, they hadn't compiled more wins than losses since 1998.

Before Hoke came along in 2002, the last winning season Ball State had was in 1996. Hoke had to break a culture of losing and disappointment in Muncie. He did it again in San Diego. He'll have to do it again at Michigan, which has gone into a rut no one ever would have foreseen. 

His second major obstacle will be getting a recruiting class together in less than three weeks, all while keeping players on the current team together. Judging by first reactions, the players seem happy with the new guy.

Defensive tackle Mike Martin already announced he's staying, saying that he was excited to learn under Hoke, a former defensive line coach himself. The team applauded and cheered when Brandon told them that Hoke was his guy. Defensive end Will Heininger hailed a return to the old school Michigan.

"Well, we know who our next coach is going to be — man, I’m so happy," Heininger said, still grinning. "This is the Michigan we grew up watching. It’s coming back here, and it was a happy room. It was a real happy room."

Wide receiver Darryl Stonum was equally impressed.

"(When) I was recruited here I knew all about the tradition. And all about the winning. And all about everything else that Michigan has to offer. From what I hear, (Hoke’s) going to bring that back."

Not the typical reaction you'd expect from a team that just lost the guy that recruited them here.

Of course, quarterback Denard Robinson wasn't so enthused. The perfect fit for Rodriguez's spread offense, Robinson has been mum on his future at Michigan. Hoke hopes that Robinson will stay after learning that Tate Forcier is no longer on the team, calling him a "special player." He would be well served if he started immediately re-recruiting the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year.

That's a big turn from three years ago. When Rodriguez came into the program, highly touted quarterback Ryan Mallett was essentially told that he had no place in Michigan's offense. Mallett transferred to Arkansas, where he led the Razorbacks to a BCS bowl berth this past year. With Robinson, it's obvious that Hoke has something in mind for him.

Former Michigan players such as Charles Woodson and Tom Brady have raved about Hoke. Offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson reportedly threw in his two cents for Hoke to Brandon before he was even hired, calling him the best coach he ever had. Retired coach Carr expressed his pleasure with the hire via text message (what, wait a minute, Lloyd Carr texts? That's not very Michigan Man-like).

If you think you're noticing a difference between now and three years ago, don't adjust your computer screens; you are. But this time the difference is a return to the old ways, the comfortable ways, the winning ways. Hoke is everything that Michigan alumni wanted three years ago. He is everything Rodriguez is not.

Hoke won't ever forget about Ohio State. He certainly won't blast questionable music at the football banquet and plead for his job.

This is exactly what Michigan needs. 

No, he's not the big name of a Harbaugh or Miles, but Hoke won't ever forget where he came from. Harbaugh told Brandon straight up that he was NFL-bound. Miles seemed like he just wanted the Wolverines to stroke his ego. Hoke said that he would have "walked to Michigan" if he had to. 

 

Hoke owned the room at his first press conference. When Detroit Free Press writer Drew Sharp brought up the notion that Michigan should be vying for national titles, not Big Ten titles as Hoke said, Hoke responded by quickly shooting it down.

"If you don’t win your conference championship, you’re not winning the national championship. Our goal is to win the Big Ten championship multipley and consecutively," Hoke said. "Because if you don't win your conference championship, you don't have a chance to go after the next one." 

Hoke then joked about making up the word "multipley," (pronounced MULT-i-PULL-e, by the way) drawing a round of laughter from the gathered media. Win over the local media--check. Well, except for Sharp. 

He didn't shy away from any questions and he was even humorous at times. He didn't say "gosh I hope you don't have to be a Michigan man." He is a Michigan man.

More importantly, he didn't quote Josh Groban. This is Michigan.