- Marissa McClain/Daily
BY TIM ROHAN
Daily Sports Editor
Published February 7, 2011
Brady Hoke was stuck at the starting line, waiting. The gunshot was long gone. The foot race started a while ago.
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And Michigan’s competition was well on its way to finishing the race.
How frustrating that must have been.
There were three years of mediocre football on the field to deal while rumors and speculation surrounding the coach’s status weighed on the program off of it.
Instead of having six weeks to hand pick his first recruiting class, Hoke had three weeks from the day he was hired.
Considering everything stacked up against him, Hoke’s first recruiting class is all he could ask for. All Michigan could ask for.
He hauled in six four-star recruits and 13 three-star recruits, according to Rivals.com. The Wolverines couldn’t secure a five-star, but, for reference, Ohio State only nabbed one.
According to the coaching staff, Michigan’s haul included a running back tailor-made for the offense (Thomas Rawls), a tight end who can step on the field immediately (Chris Barnett) and 12 defensive players who can add depth and maybe push for playing time — former coach Rich Rodriguez was troubled throughout the season with his defense’s lack of quality reserves.
Michigan’s assistant coaches were on the road for eight days making recruiting visits to construct this 20-person class. Michigan recruiting coordinator Chris Singletary woke up some days wondering what city he was in and what time of day it was.
The hard work paid off. The Wolverines reaffirmed some of Rodriguez’s commits and generated a respectable foundation for the future Hoke is building — one with a 4-3 defense and pro-style offense. But that’s the story before any of them put on a winged helmet.
It’s easy to criticize a class, compared to those schools with head starts, and one that doesn’t include a single five-star recruit. But one thing we can point to during the Rodriguez tenure and say is that nothing is guaranteed; that includes top recruits.
Five-stars can barely see the field. And four-stars can be the centerpiece of an explosive offense.
Hoke had to scratch and claw to get those players to come to Ann Arbor. Now, it’s his job to coach them up.
“They’re going to have to (have an impact), they’re not really going to have a choice,” said Mike Farrell, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “They’re going to be thrown in there, especially the defensive guys, and they’re going to have to play a little bit over their heads.
“I can tell you that a few of these kids who are ranked three-stars will be much better than that. And then a few of these three-stars, you’ll never hear from them. They’ll never see the field. They’ll never crack the two-deep. Or they’ll simply be depth players that will not make an impact at all.”
The mark of a good coach is one who can drive and teach and mold his players into much more. It’s nice to have a solid talent pool to work with, though.
Aren’t you curious what could’ve happened if Hoke had more time to sell Michigan? Michigan wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said it was easy to sell the school — the academics, the block “M.”
It’ll be even easier if the winning returns. Then the higher-profile recruits will come too, especially with two more years of national exposure thanks to Denard Robinson highlights and big matchups on a national stage (see: Notre Dame night game in 2011 and Alabama at Cowboys' Stadium in 2012).
The barricade is easy to understand. Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon didn’t fire Rodriguez until four days after the Gator Bowl. Coaches like Randy Shannon at Miami (Fla.) were let go back in November. And his replacement, Al Golden, had plenty of time to salvage a recruiting class.
We don’t know how much the Wolverines’ 52-14 Gator Bowl loss factored into Brandon’s decision. But he wasn’t doing Rodriguez any favors by keeping the coach around while rumors swirled. The next guy was going to be stuck there at the starting line, anxiously waiting. Brandon said he made the decision with the current players in mind, so that they had the best chance to win the team’s first bowl game in three years.
It was noble of Brandon to consider the current players’ needs before the future of the program — there are few athletic directors who would do that. But we’ll see if it comes back to haunt the beginning of Hoke’s tenure.
Hindsight is 20-20.