SportsMonday Column: Brady Hoke must be fired

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BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY FOOTBALL BEAT

Published September 28, 2014

We saw sophomore quarterback Shane Morris wobble after taking a hit to the head in the middle of the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against Minnesota.

We watched from the stands, the press box and the replays on TV as he reached for offensive lineman Ben Braden, who held Morris upright for a brief moment. We watched tight end Khalid Hill motion for a hunched Morris to go to the sideline.

We saw running back Justice Hayes signal to the sidelines for medical assistance to come on the field while offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier called for Morris to get on the ground so his evident injury could be assessed.

And yet Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he didn’t see any of that transpire.

We watched as he left Morris in the game for one more play — a direct violation of the NCAA concussion policy:

IF A CONCUSSION IS SUSPECTED:
1. Remove the student-athlete from play. Look for the signs and symptoms of concussion if your student-athlete has experienced a blow to the head. Do not allow the student-athlete to just “shake it off.”

Each individual athlete will respond to concussions differently.

2. Ensure that the student-athlete is evaluated right away by an appropriate health care professional. Do not try to judge the severity of the injury yourself. ...

3. Allow the student-athlete to return to play only with permission from a health care professional with experience in evaluating for concussion.

As he stumbled on the field, it was clear that Morris exhibited concussion-like symptoms. Despite that fact, we watched Hoke make a move that jeopardized Morris’ health.

Even 24 hours later, Hoke didn’t acknowledge the possibility of a head injury, referring only to Morris “further aggravating an injury to his leg” in a statement to reporters. He added he is “confident proper medical decisions were made.”

They very clearly were not.

Whether Hoke witnessed what occurred on the field or not, it’s his job to know everything that goes on around his football team, with the health of players at the forefront of those responsibilities.

And so it is the position from all four of us on The Michigan Daily Football Beat that Hoke be fired immediately.

We do not condone someone who jeopardizes the health of the student-athletes for which he is responsible. Because if Brady Hoke cares about his players and taking his 115 boys and turning them into men as he so often preaches, then the first lesson he should be teaching is that no win on the gridiron is more important than their health.

It’s a serious matter to say someone should be removed from his or her job, and we treat it as such.

But after this incident, it’s difficult to trust someone who, since his introductory press conference in 2011, has asserted his job was about preparing his players for life.

“One of the great things that this great game of football does is teach young men life skills,” he said then.

Hoke has preached accountability and leadership, but he showed little of either Saturday.

Part of being a leader is the humility to admit mistakes, and he failed to acknowledge an egregious error.

We’re students too, growing and learning like the athletes. And we were appalled to see Morris left on the field. We imagine our parents mortified, watching someone else’s blatant disregard for their son or daughter’s health.

Because if Morris indeed suffered a concussion, even a light bump to the head could have been fatal.

After the hit, Hoke didn’t even ensure the quarterback got off the field to follow basic protocol to check for a concussion.

There were a number of ways to get this done: He could have called one of his two remaining timeouts. He could have taken a delay-of-game penalty. He could have demanded a direct snap to a running back instead of having Morris drop back to pass, again.

We’re left wondering who is responsible for the athletes’ well-being if not the man in charge. Is it the best-in-the-business neurologist Michigan employs to stand on the sidelines? Or the “distinguished” group of athletic trainers?

Hoke’s statement said coaches “have no influence or authority” on whether an injured player stays in a game. But Saturday, in direct violation of NCAA protocol and common sense, they left Morris on the field, preventing medical professionals from evaluating him.

But here’s a better question we’re left wondering, one Brady Hoke himself asked in July.

“Why do you coach? Why do you really coach? If we’re doing everything we can for 115 — the sons — on our roster, (then we’re doing our job). Football’s only going to last for so long. The only pressure is, every day, preparing those guys for life after football.”

And did leaving Shane Morris in the game, one that you’re already going to lose, prepare him for life after football?

This isn’t about winning and losing anymore. It isn’t about hot seats or upholding tradition.

This is about the well-being of players, and whether they’re prepared to lead a life outside of football.

Brady Hoke’s actions were indefensible, and we can no longer stand behind his employment at Michigan.

It’s a shame Dave Brandon can, though.

The Michigan Daily football beat can be reached at sportseditors@michigandaily.com. We’re on Twitter: @asdettel, @MaxACohen, @G_Garno and @ByAZuniga.