- Tony Ding/AP
BY TIM ROHAN
Daily Sports Editor
Published April 16, 2011
Braylon Edwards hadn’t seen former Michigan safety Ernest Shazor in six years.
That is, until Michigan coach Brady Hoke gathered 250 former Michigan players on Friday to discuss the Michigan program and emphasize how important the alumni are to it.
“I think it says a lot about the direction of Brady Hoke,” Edwards said. “And people feel welcome to come back.”
Hoke said Wednesday that he would introduce his staff and “talk about Michigan football” at the team meeting.
After Michigan's Spring Game on Saturday, Hoke shed some more light on what was discussed.
“We just talked about the traditions and the legacies of what Michigan is,” Hoke said. “I told them that they're not always going to agree with what we do. And that's OK, I really don't care, but we're going to make decisions and move for Michigan.”
“He was himself,” added Michigan’s all-time leading rusher Mike Hart. “Just like in his introductory (press conference) when he came here. Just his gameplan, why he wanted to be here, that he loves Michigan. You can just really tell he’s a passionate guy and is really ready to do big things.”
Edwards said the meeting was just as much about the 250 alumni helping the program.
“Just more about the tradition,” Edwards said of Hoke’s message. “And he appreciates the alums, and he definitely wants to get us involved and do everything we can to educate the players who play there now.
“Because it’s sad to say, a lot of them don’t know the tradition at Michigan. Back in the day, players knew the former players. They knew the countdowns, the titles, Hail to the Victors. I’m sure if you ask some of the kids on the team now, I guarantee there’s a couple of kids that don’t know all of the words in full.”
Edwards had the chance to chat with players from all different eras of Michigan football — he talked to players from every decade from the 1950s up until the 2000s. They all were excited about the hire.
At the alumni flag football game on Saturday morning, stories about Hoke kept coming out of the woodwork. Former Michigan tight end Bennie Joppru, who played from 1999-2002, was recruited by Hoke and knew him very well. He mentioned how emotional his house was when Hoke was introduced.
Some of the former players felt more at home with Hoke
“It’s just different,” Edwards said. “You feel welcome. That right there is enough. You can feel that warmth. That sense of, ‘I played here, I deserve to be able to come back and walk around.’ That wasn’t there. He’s bringing that back.”
Hart played devil’s advocate, saying he was always welcomed back. And he offered a different hypothesis.
“I think it’s always been a welcome-to-come-back atmosphere,” Hart said. “I just think guys chose not to come back.
“I can’t tell you why. I think it’s probably because (Rodriguez) didn’t value the tradition of Michigan, probably, like coach Hoke does. And I think that’s the biggest difference. (Rodriguez) would let you come back, but he didn’t really value the tradition of Michigan so guys didn’t want to be around, whereas coach Hoke is all about tradition. That’s his No. 1 thing.”
Former Michigan offensive lineman Dave Pearson, who played in the early 2000s, was coached by Hoke. He hasn’t had time to make it back, but said maybe it “wasn’t quite worth the effort” to come back with Rodriguez around.
Former Michigan wide receiver Steve Breaston returned and worked out with the program when Rodriguez was coach. The atmosphere wasn’t Rodriguez’s problem, in his opinion.
“I have no ill feelings toward (Rodriguez),” Breaston said. “(But) when it comes to Saturdays it’s all about winning games. And everybody keeps making this whole, ‘Oh, he wasn’t accepted.’ But when you win games on Saturdays you get accepted. It changes a lot … When you win ballgames, you’re going to be here.”
The winning part remains to be seen for Hoke. But some of the former players have noticed the return of more than just the tradition.
Hoke is running his practices like coaches who have come before him.
“Some of us are back at the practices, and it feels like Bo Schembechler, Lloyd Carr-type atmosphere,” former Michigan wide receiver Ron Bellamy said. “For the kids, you don’t want to mess up. You’re playing on eggshells because you know the coaches are going to be fair, and you’re competing for a job.”
Bellamy noted that it was strange seeing the head coach of the Michigan football team standing behind the defense as it ran its plays — Rodriguez and Lloyd Carr stayed mostly on the offensive side.
And no matter what happened during the last three years under Rodriguez, it seems the Michigan alumni are embracing Hoke’s return to tradition and how the Wolverines used to play football.
“We are ecstatic,” Bellamy said. “We know it’s a process. You can’t build up the program in a year or two. You have to give him a chance to bring his guys in the right way and play football in this conference the way it is supposed to be played.”