CHICAGO — After consecutive letdown seasons, Brady Hoke may be sitting squarely on the hot seat entering his fourth season in Ann Arbor.
But at Big Ten Media Days on Monday, the Michigan football coach deflected questions about the pressure he will face this fall, instead discussing the Wolverines’ off-the-field accolades.
“The only pressure is every day preparing those guys for life after football,” he said. “Competition, hard work and all that, that’s part of it. But socially and academically, that’s a big part of it. So when you talk about that, that’s the only pressure as a coach that I’ve ever felt — making sure we’re doing it for the student-athletes.”
Hoke added that all 69 of the seniors he has coached at Michigan graduated.
After winning the Sugar Bowl and finishing with 11 wins in Hoke’s first year at Michigan, the Wolverines went 8-5 in 2012 and 7-6 last season — including losses to Michigan State and Ohio State.
This fall, the Wolverines will play in what, on paper, is a more difficult Big Ten East division. The conference schedule includes games on the road against the Spartans and Buckeyes.
Because of the offseason Big Ten realignment and the conference’s addition of Rutgers and Maryland, Michigan will visit Michigan State for a second straight year.
“So what? Who cares?” Hoke said. “You’re going to play 12 football games. … Embrace it. If not, you’re going to make excuses. And we rightly don’t believe in excuses.”
Hoke on Peppers: ‘Let’s anoint him when he does something’
Jabrill Peppers may be one of Michigan’s highest-rated recruits in recent program history, but Hoke is doing his best to temper expectations.
“He is an unbelievably grounded young man,” Hoke said of the defensive back. “Are we excited and glad that he’s a Michigan Wolverine? No doubt about it. Are we excited about what we’ll be able to see in the next couple of weeks? No doubt about it.
“Am I going to be up front with him and shield him from the pressure that he could put on himself? No question.”
The plan remains to play Peppers at nickel, Hoke said. The freshman is talented enough to play a number of different positions, including on offense, and the coach said he’ll entertain anything that will help the Wolverines win. But in the meantime, Hoke will try to keep Peppers level-headed by making him focus on one position and withholding the freshman from the media when possible.
“Let’s anoint him when he does something, right?” Hoke said. “I mean, let’s see what he can do.”
Hoke not speculating on Ty Isaac ruling
There is no timetable for the NCAA’s ruling on running back Ty Isaac, Hoke said Monday.
Isaac, a former five-star recruit, transferred to Michigan in the offseason after his freshman year at USC. The Wolverines hope the NCAA will grant a hardship waiver request, which would allow the running back to play immediately instead of sitting out a year.
Isaac will report to and participate in fall camp, which begins Aug. 3.
“I’m not going to speculate on it, because I have no clue,” Hoke said of the NCAA’s ruling.
Isaac is from Shorewood, Illinois, which is farther than the 100-mile radius the NCAA generally considers to grant a hardship waiver when a player transfers.
The running back rushed for 236 yards with two touchdowns in 2013 and played in all 14 games with the Trojans.
Funchess named to Players to Watch list
As a freshman and sophomore, wide receiver Devin Funchess received acclaim for his 6-foot-5 frame and soft hands, making him an appealing target for his quarterbacks.
Monday, that promise earned him a spot on the Big Ten’s 10-man Players to Watch list. He is the only Wolverine to receive the recognition this year.
Funchess, who was listed as a tight end through last year, set a Wolverines single-season record at the position with 748 receiving yards in 2013, though he lined up out wide for the majority of plays.
He was named the 2013 Big Ten Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year and was one of eight finalists for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding tight end.
Here is the complete list of players named to the Big Ten watch list:
Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Rob Havenstein, RT, Wisconsin