For first time in Hoke's tenure, a week under siege

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Redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner said, “It’s all about what happens in Schembechler Hall and what happens in this building.” Buy this photo

By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 16, 2013

He had been as patient as he could all week, but by Wednesday night, Michigan coach Brady Hoke was tired of answering questions about his team’s loss to Penn State.

“Why are we talking about it?” he asked Jim Brandstatter on Hoke’s weekly radio show on the Michigan IMG Sports Network.

After the show, Hoke was done with regularly scheduled media sessions for the week. That’s likely fine with him.

For the first time in his tenure, Hoke has found himself in the middle of a miniature tempest this week as his team prepares for Indiana on Saturday. It had been quietly brewing for weeks now: first the near-upset against Akron, then the close win over Connecticut. But it was the come-from-ahead, quadruple-overtime loss to Penn State that — fairly or not — set off a wave of criticism from around Ann Arbor and in the blogosphere.

In his press conferences on Monday and Wednesday, Hoke faced the most pointed questions he has seen in his time here:

Was he concerned about the offensive line coaching, he was asked Monday?

“No, not at all,” Hoke said

Was the play calling too conservative?

“No.”

He was asked if he’d keep the I-formation (he would) and the unbalanced formation (that too). Does the team understand what kind of team it wants to be?

Hoke just chuckled.

This happens to all college football coaches. All teams lose at times. Even Bo Schembechler’s 1984 team went 6-6. And most college fan bases are not shining examples of emotional stability, and Michigan, even at 5-1, is no exception.

But as the Wolverines try to solve deep, lingering issues with the offensive line, pass rush and turnovers, they now must contend with the distractions that come with an ornery fan base.

In Hoke’s first press conference as the Michigan coach on Jan. 12, 2011, he became emotional when speaking about Michigan’s tradition. He said he would’ve walked to Ann Arbor to become its coach. The press conference was raw and endearing, and he would later enjoy a lengthy period of stability and support.

In this climate, Schembechler Hall again became known as “Fort Schembechler” — nothing in, and nothing out. That’s been an emphasis this week.

“We talk about the important things that are said are what’s in this room,” Hoke said. “No one else really matters besides the guys in the room.”

Michigan also brought in motivational speaker Eric Thomas, whose message was “kill the noise,” according to redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner.

“Which is what our coaches have been preaching to us forever,” Gardner said. “It has nothing to do with the outside world, what everybody else thinks. It’s all about what happens in Schembechler Hall and what happens in this building.”

Outside, the siege continued all week. After Hoke’s media session on Monday, it was offensive coordinator Al Borges’s turn on Tuesday. He, too, encountered some of the sharpest questions he’s faced during his tenure in Ann Arbor.

Why the delay of game penalties, one reporter asked? (An aberration, he said, not a recurring problem.) Has he lost confidence in the inside running game?

“No, no. We haven’t lost confidence in anything,” Borges said.

What was his philosophy at the end of the game?

“Well, we have the best kicker in the league,” he said. “At least, we think.”

Did he change his offensive approach during the game?

“Because the power game wasn’t as good, you can’t just say, ‘We’re not going to do it anymore,’ ” Borges said. “You still have to sprinkle it in.”

During the week, players were quick to defend Borges. Senior wide receiver Drew Dileo pointed out how smart Borges is, how much experience he has.

Hoke said he doesn’t need to spend extra time with the offensive line because, “I’ve got a great offensive line coach. I’ve got a great coordinator. I’m with them enough because we go so much against each other. I don’t need to do that. That’s some coach trying to think he’s a hero. That’s not me. I’m not a hero.”

Still, Hoke and Gardner both allowed that it’s impossible to tell how each individual player will react to criticism of the team, younger players especially. The responsibility is on the older players, Gardner said, to deflect the noise.

“I mean, everybody’s gonna have their opinion whether you win or lose,” Gardner said. “So I mean, we lost one game but that doesn’t determine how our season’s gonna end and how we’re gonna finish. That’s up to us. Whether we finish strong or let this loss be a cloud over your head.”