You know it. I know it. Brady Hoke knows it. Dave Brandon knows it. Jim Harbaugh was the first choice to be Michigan's next head football coach.
Harbaugh would likely have bridged the divide between the warring clans in the Michigan football camp. He would've been the nod to the past that satisfied those who wanted a "Michigan man." But he also would've been been the young, exciting figure that pointed to an exciting future for Michigan football.
Alas, it didn't work out that way, as we all know now. Some believe Harbaugh and Brandon had a secret handshake agreement worked out sometime in December, until the NFL walked by in a tight red dress, flashing volptuous money and power. Others think Brandon never really had a chance at Harbaugh, whose ultimate goal was always to coach in the pros, but still put on a show to placate those who wanted a favorite son to return to Ann Arbor and save the kingdom.
But maybe, as inexplicable as it seems, Brandon never really wanted Harbaugh as his coach. That is, if you think Brandon took veiled shots at other coaches he talked to during Hoke's introductory press conference on Wednesday.
Was Harbaugh one of those whose "hype and PR didn't match the person," or who was more about himself than a team, players or program? Maybe, maybe not. Brandon actually displayed a rather thin skin at the presser, tearing other coaches down to build his choice up, coming off as someone who thinks he's the smartest guy in the room.
But in making those remarks, Brandon also explained why he tabbed Hoke as the next man to lead the Michigan football program. In light of Hoke's hiring, Brandon's supposed national search has the look of a charade. Were the last 10 to 14 days really about Brandon trying to find the best coach or more about humoring the different factions that had their own man in mind?
The drawn out process ended up feeling like a hostage crisis. Although for many of us, that was probably a self-inflicted imprisonment. I don't think I've ever been more attached to Twitter than I was over the past two weeks, between the Rich Rodriguez firing and the search for his replacement. Nothing seemed more important than trying to find the latest kernel of news or rumor in the "Where In the World is Dave Brandon?" saga.
(And when I say "nothing," I mean that I may well have been mad at my sister had she gone into labor this past week. Hell, I think she kept the kid in there until our long national nightmare was over. She is now free to give birth any day she pleases. That girl is ready to pop.)
Of course, we'll never know just how many people -- coaches, players, etc. -- that Brandon talked to as he labored through his beloved process. (Or maybe we will, eventually, if John U. Bacon ends up writing about this whole ordeal three years from now.) We only know who publicized Michigan's interest.
Northwestern surely doesn't mind people knowing that Pat Fitzgerald decided he wanted to stay in Evanston and probably be the Wildcats' football coach-for-life. Gary Pinkel chose to remind everyone that he was still the coach at Missouri by announcing he'd turned down an interview with Michigan. And then there was Les Miles.
What was that song and dance all about? We've heard that Miles would've taken the job three years ago, only to be spurned by Bill Martin. But with LSU in the midst of a national championship run, would he really have left? Three years later, Miles got another chance to return to Ann Arbor. Yet the tone had clearly changed. There wasn't nearly as much furor to hire Miles as there had been after Lloyd Carr's retirement. But Miles still apparently had a sizable contingent in the Michigan football culture that wanted him to get the job. If Harbaugh couldn't be the guy, Miles was the next best option from The Tree of Schembechler.
Brandon knew this, which is likely why such a show was made of him flying to Baton Rouge to speak with Miles. The question is who created the spectacle. Obviously, the media and blogosphere was attempting to track Brandon's every move. And Brandon surely wanted the pro-Miles camp to see that he talked to their preferred coach. But whose best interests were really served by telling everyone that Miles and Michigan were talking?
Miles got to look like a coach in demand. He could also portray himself as something of a heroic figure, breaking the heart of his cherished alma mater because he and his family love Baton Rouge so much. Staying in the news isn't an unimportant consideration. One of Miles' coaching colleagues in the SEC just won a national championship. Another just got a new contract extension. And a major conference rival just hired one of the most celebrated assistants in college football.
Never mind that LSU will likely have a top five team next season. Oh, and by the way, Miles got a seven-year extension from LSU this week. That probably helped to soothe any lingering heartache.
This is likely what Brandon was talking about. Had Miles decided to leave LSU for Michigan, we probably would've heard about what he left behind. What he accomplished somewhere else. Maybe it would've also been about Miles trying to find a place where he would be fully embraced, where he could cement his coaching legacy in the final years of his career. Though returning to Michigan could have potentially provided a nice final chapter, Miles' story has essentially already been written.
Not so with Hoke. His story is only beginning to be written. Most people who follow Michigan football know who Hoke is. Many know he was an assistant for eight years with Carr, serving on the staff that won a national championship. But he's mostly worked off the radar over the past eight years. Ball State and San Diego State don't get the national spotlight. This will turn unformed clay into sculpture. His coaching career will be defined by what he accomplishes at Michigan.
When filmmakers and TV producers are trying to create a franchise property, they often choose a new face to embody the signature characters. A relatively unknown actor or actress will be primarily identified as that character. They don't choose Brad Pitt to play Superman, because as you're watching, you'd probably think, "Hey, that's Brad Pitt with a Superman costume on." It's better to watch someone you've never seen before and just accept that he's Superman, because you've never seen that actor play anyone else.
I'm not saying I agree with how Brandon carried out this search process, nor am I fully confident in the choice he ultimately made. But I think I get it now. Michigan football needed to feel good about itself again. And for right now, bringing in a guy who really wants to be here, and had no higher aspirations than to walk the home team's sidelines at Michigan Stadium, is a nice boost to the self-esteem.
Yes, Hoke is a "Michigan man," familiar with all of the great maize-and-blue history and tradition in Ann Arbor. He's not a coach that will try to mold Michigan football into his own image. He's going to try to restore the image that previously existed. This is about establishing an identity. And Brandon is hoping that Hoke and Michigan football will both find their identity together.