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Hoke puts the Big Ten on notice: Michigan's not rebuilding

Stephen J. Nesbitt/Daily
Brady Hoke points Denard Robinson toward the door. And the Michigan of the future. Buy this photo

By Tim Rohan, Daily Sports Editor
Published July 28, 2011

CHICAGO — Here sat the man charged with restoring the shine to a program that used to be one of the brightest. A program he loved. He had just been officially introduced to the rest of the Big Ten, months after he took over and then proceeded to say and do all the right things.

A reporter wanted to know if Brady Hoke would revive the swagger that Michigan once enjoyed. He didn’t know Brady Hoke.

“I don’t know if it’s swagger,” Hoke said. “It’s who we are.”

A grin crept across junior quarterback Denard Robinson’s face as he sat to Hoke’s left. Hoke went on, like he usually does, about the school he loves — there’s the academics, the tradition, everything.

“(We’re) one of the top-five schools in the country,” Hoke stated as a matter of fact. Robinson’s face lit up with each statement and he was now wearing one of his signature smiles.

It’s that steady belief in what he does that has his players buying in. Seniors Kevin Koger and Mike Martin, the two other Michigan representatives at the Big Ten Media Days, told reporters it was the accountability that Hoke preaches that makes him so likable.

So far, so good, for Hoke. But that is the verdict before his team has played a snap of football. That didn’t stop him from staying in character in his Big Ten debut.

“I don’t think we’re rebuilding, period,” Hoke said. “We’re Michigan. And we’ve got kids who understand that they’re Michigan. I don’t put any stock into (the idea of rebuilding).”

Earlier, he had been asked why he had so much early success on the recruiting trails, and he simply said: "This might sound arrogant and if it is, it is: we're Michigan."

Now there’s the swagger everyone's talking about.

For Hoke to quickly turn around the doldrums Michigan fell into under former coach Rich Rodriguez, it may hinge on two factors: how Robinson orchestrates Hoke’s offense and how quickly the defense can turn its own fortunes around.

The two go hand in hand, in fact.

“I can tell you, and I’m a defensive coach, that when your defense plays against a pro-style offense all spring long, and they play against a pro-style offense all fall camp, you build a toughness and an edge because the schemes themselves are different,” Hoke said.

“And this is a physical football league. It’s a physical offense, with people who run the football. We think we can play better defense by the fact of how we do things on the offensive side of the ball because they feed off each other.”

Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges installed a pro-style offense that will feature Hoke’s beloved “Power” run play. Yet, like he has said from the beginning, he’s “smart enough," to, “have elements that (Robinson) does well from what he did in the past, with the spread, in our offense.”

Hoke said that Robinson is still comfortable in this new spread offense that won’t exactly replicate the one Rodriguez ran last season. The ratio of pro-style to spread in Borges’ playbook will depend on how the players do the next six weeks, Hoke said.

He’ll get a good look at them when fall camp opens on August 8. That’s when each player will be judged if they did their part over the summer.

“I think guys, right now, are where they’re supposed to be,” Hoke said. “I can say that this fall camp is as important a time for all of us as anybody, but it also, when you're new to a program, new to a staff, like our players are, I think how you go through your fall camp, the attitude that you have every day, the toughness that you have to have to play this great game, the discipline, the accountability, I think that will say a lot about how we end up as a football team.

“We are a senior-led football team and always will be. I think our seniors in my conversations with them through the summer have done a tremendous job of leading. That's an expectation when you're a senior at Michigan.”

He himself did get a chance to get away this summer, but he couldn’t take a vacation from his competitive self: “You’ve got 115 sons to take care of, so every day is different.”

By all accounts, everything’s right on schedule for Hoke’s non-rebuilding plan.

“We’ve been working hard all summer,” Robinson said. “So we’ll be ready.”

It's music to Hoke's ears.