Talk about being born under a blessed star.
When Brady Hoke was announced as the University of Michigan's 19th Head Football Coach on January 11, 2011, it would've taken a bulldozer to pry the smile off his face. Actually, strike that, I'm not so sure that thermonuclear weapons would've even made a dent in that grin. To say that Hoke's hiring was improbable was to do injustice to the word. Hoke was going into the third year of his second head coaching/program rebuilding job. His overall coaching record was below .500 and he'd had no experience as a head coach in a BCS conference. Anyone honestly looking at Hoke's resume would've put him 15th on a list of 10 candidates. This blog included.
But there he was. Smiling like he'd won three lotteries on the same day. He was now in possession of his dream job, a job he said he would've walked from San Diego to take, and goddammit he was going to own it until they pried it away from his cold dead fingers.
There were two things none of us saw coming when Hoke took the job. The first was how much this job, this University, meant to him. This was it. This is where he wanted to be for the rest of his career, and perhaps the rest of his life. While we all knew he wanted the position, the depth and understanding of what make Michigan great that Hoke possessed, blew everyone out of the water. After his first press conference, the press conference in which he only referred to The School Down South as "Ohio", he had most of us ready to lie down in traffic if he asked. He was that good.
The second thing we didn't see coming was that Hoke had a plan. Maybe it was because this is his dream job and he'd played out this scenario a million times in his head, but from the moment he said "yes", Hoke has been running this program like he'd been here since Bo retired. It's uncanny. Hoke knew who his coaches would be before he accepted the job. He knew who would be a good fit. He knew who he wanted and he twisted arms behind the scenes to ensure he had the money to get them. Within days of his arrival he told us Al Borges would be our OC. Shortly thereafter, Hoke announce the coup of off-season, that Baltimore Ravens' Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison would be Michigan's new DC.
These were not the moves of a man basking in the luckiest day of his life, something he never expected or something that caught him off guard. No. These were the moves of a seasoned professional who's plan was set into motion immediately. Traditions were immediately revived. Emphasis was renewed on Michigan's great rivalries. Alumni egos and demands were soothed with cooling words while the Coach immediately went to work on the things he knew mattered most. He recruited like a mad man. He sold Michigan, not a system or a place. They say you're at your best when you can truly be yourself. Watching Hoke, I'm fairly convinced this is true. This was what he always wanted. This was who he was and is. And there's no way in hell he wasn't going to be prepared when the opportunity to take it arose.
Several months in to Brady Hoke's tenure these things are finally becoming clear. We'd clearly underestimated that happy, smiling, beardless Santa Claus on January 12, 2011. Beneath that cuddly, happy exterior was cold, mechanical heart of a machine. A machine designed and destined to be Michigan's, ney... to be our coach.
However, despite the improbability of the above, his story is now bordering on the obscenely impossible. Within three months of taking the Michigan job, Brady Hoke got the news that every Big Ten fan had been hoping for; Ohio State was in big trouble. Prior to taking the job, Hoke already knew that four starters on Ohio State would sit their first five games, but that appeared at the outset to be it. Then, in March, a leaked NCAA self-report by the Buckeyes landed their head coach Jim Tressel in hot water. All of a sudden, Ohio State was in the midst of an NCAA investigation and its head coach was being suspended for two games. Then, all of a sudden Tressel was suspended an additional three games, all the while his Athletic Director and President expressed their support. Then news of the Sports Illustrated story was leaked and Tressel was out of a job. Then, news of Terrelle Pryor's malfeasance got worse and he was gone.
In the span of a month, Michigan's primary rival has gone from B1G Ten favorite to laughing stock. It's lost one of the league's better coaches and its best recruiter. All of a sudden Michigan's primary competition for the league's best talent is staring down NCAA castration and Fall Practice hasn't even started. Luck like this doesn't exist in real life. There's truly no word to describe it. But there it is. And it's all his.
Despite this, Brady Hoke continues to say the right things, the recruit like there is no tomorrow, and smile from ear to ear. No one thought he'd be here. No one thought he could handle it. And people doubted he'd be able to compete for top talent with Tressel poaching the cream of the Midwest Crop. What people thought is fine with him. He obviously doesn't care what they thought. This is his job and his passion. They'll begin to understand this as time passes.
What we've learned over since January is that Hoke belongs at Michigan, that we all underestimated him, and that he understands what his job truly entails. Despite the rumors of a pending transfer or an mass exodus of players, Hoke has retained the vast majority of his student athletes. He convinced Denard Robinson to stay and grow as a quarterback. He's managed to get the whole team to buy-in to his system and ethic. He's somehow managed to clean up what was a otherwise toxic relationship with Ann Arbor/Detroit's media (though certainly a chunk of credit goes to Rodriguez not being there anymore and Hoke's old boy status).
We've also learned that he can recruit against, and beat, some of the best and most established recruiters in the country. Now, all of a sudden, he doesn't have to contend with Ohio State the same way that Bo, Moeller, Carr and Rodriguez had to. Instead of a fierce, BCS worthy Buckeye beast to contend with, he gets a neutered, chastened program wondering where the next blindside hit is going to come from. The witch is dead and the yellow brick road is all his.
At this point You're probably betting that in Hoke's wildest dreams he never thought all of this would come to pass. Personally, I don't know. Looks to me like Hoke had a plan all along. Hoke was lucky that Ohio State imploded, but after watching him work these last few months, I believe he'd be successful regardless.
While Hoke has answered almost all of our questions to date, one big question reamins. Can he win? We'll find out the answer to that when the season starts. But through his first five months on the job it's clear to me that Brady Hoke may well be the luckiest, happiest and most under estimated man in College Football.