Brady Hoke used six words to shift the feeling of Michigan football.
It was in response to a question about whether the Michigan coaching position is still considered an elite job. After being nationally embarrassed on a consistent basis, those words were just what Michigan fans wanted to hear.
“This is Michigan, for God’s sake.”
Hoke then proceeded to wrap every Wolverine fan in a verbal hug the past seven months with sound bites including “physicality” and “fundamentals,” bringing back Michigan football and the ever popular: “This is Michigan.”
The alumni believed. They told us to believe. We did.
It wasn’t a hard sell. A fanbase so battered from staring at 52-14, 37-7 and 48-28 in a three-game span needed some glimmer of hope. Fans needed a leader to rally around, someone to blindly follow back to the prosperity they signed up for. So why not Hoke?
He understands the traditions. Clocks are around Schembechler Hall counting down the Ohio State and Michigan State games.
He’s extremely passionate about Michigan. Just listen to him talk.
He’s a genuinely good dude. He responds to people by name and has self-deprecating humor.
Asked to describe Hoke in one word, freshman linebacker Frank Clark told MGoBlue.com, “Epic.”
“Sometimes coaches are standoffish or kind of hard to approach, but Coach Hoke’s not like that at all,” fifth-year senior center David Molk said on Monday. “He’s just a great guy that you put your arm around and say, ‘Hey, how ya doin?’ ”
Fans decided that somehow these traits were going to help him win football games. Without a single victory to his name, he’s nice-guyed his way into Michigan fans’ hearts.
Now on the eve of Brady Hoke’s first game, he doesn’t feel much like a new coach, unproven at a big-time college football program. He’s the son who never left, the one who reminds fans of the days when Michigan won Big Ten Championships and was guaranteed a good bowl game.
But as you watch this season wearing your “This is Michigan” student t-shirt, realize that those old days are gone — at least temporarily.
Michigan lacks depth, has a few weak spots and is undergoing a change of system both on offense and defense. And no matter how many recruits Hoke pulls from Ohio or how technically sound Kyle Kalis is at run blocking, it’s not going to have an effect this fall.
Despite talking all camp about finding a featured running back, Michigan still doesn’t have one. Hoke can talk about the good competition between senior Mike Shaw and redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint, but if they were both game-breakers wouldn’t he say they were both too good to keep off the field?
The Wolverines are starting a former walk-on in Will Heininger at strong-side defensive end. Hoke simply cited experience as the biggest reason he’s starting. Heininger’s backup, redshirt sophomore Nathan Brink, is a walk-on who’s 32 pounds lighter than Heininger is.
The kicking game, which was so atrocious last year, returns redshirt sophomore Brendan Gibbons as the starter in all his 1-for-5 glory.
The punting situation isn’t any rosier with sophomore Will Hagerup suspended for the first four games. While freshman Matt Wile and redshirt sophomore Seth Broekhuizen have taken over the duties, the shankopotamus has crashed Michigan practice on more than one occasion.
And just how much can a defense that was 110th last year improve?
Michigan will win some games because of experience, far superior talent and Denard Robinson. Hoke could even motivate a few wins out of the Wolverines in games they maybe shouldn’t have won.
But we have no idea how much of an effect Hoke and his coaching staff will have. A 9-3 record is a possibility. So is 4-8.
Hoke’s press conference quotes don’t win games. So don’t carry over what you felt into the season. You’re only setting yourself up for disappointment when Michigan doesn’t reach the Big Ten title game. Be prepared for anything.
This is the new Michigan.
— Florek thinks Michigan will go 8-4 this season. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelflorek.