There's something different about Brady Hoke.
I honestly mean that. There's a comfort level he possesses with the media that few coaches I've ever seen seem to have. Sure there's Joe Paterno, who will sit there spinning yarns about the economy in 1962 and how the 80's were bad for football because ALL THE COKE, but he's had years of practice. And to be fair, I think he uses the doddering old guy routine, intentionally and to his advantage with young reporters not ready for the Einstein football mind that still whirls around inside his head like a centrifuge. That's different. Hoke is another matter.
As the French say, he has a certain "I don't know what." He is relaxed, funny, on point, direct, appropriately elusive, and comfortable in his on skin all at once. In between questions he wears a smile on his face the way a mischievous twelve-year-old would. He chides the reporters covering him with good natured ribbing whenever the mood seems to strike. He'll use a well timed laugh when he doesn't want to answer something, and then answer a different question than the one asked with a grin on his face.
Hoke is a charming man. You wouldn't get that from watching him on TV, or reading about him in newspapers, or listening to his interviews. You get that from being around him. He is comfortable in a room of strangers in the same way that Lloyd Carr was andwasn't. He walks around with a big, shit-eating grin on his face like the world around him is made out of free steaks and beer. His jokes are off the cuff rather than rehearsed. He tells all kinds of stories, but doesn't repeat them. In many ways he's a big kid who's been forced into a suit and told he has be serious for church, but if he's good, afterwards there's cake. And you can't help but smile at that.
But as much as Hoke is a little kid screaming to throw his tie out the window, there is also a grown, professional to reckon with. Hoke is direct with people. He'll look you in the eye when he answers your questions and his intensity can be somewhat unnerving if you're not ready for it. Because he lives and breathes Michigan, his statement that "Michigan isn't for every guy or every player" isn't just a platitude. He honestly believes it and emphatically believes it is his duty to ensure that the right kind of player not only wears the Maize n Blue, but lives it as well.
As an alumni, I love it.
Still, the Big Ten Media Days Roundtables weren't about getting a deep, intimate understanding of your head football coach. They are about getting information. So let's get to it. Here's what I got out of Hoke's media roundtable.
- Michigan's permanent captains for the 2011 season will be named in the third week of camp. (I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who they're going to be.)
- Camp starts August 9, 2011 and all players are required to report on August 8.
- There will be no No. 1 jersey this season. Hoke also told us that no one has asked for it and they haven't talked to anyone about it.
- Hoke said he's got a decent handle on the team, but added it's a lot different in the spring, in the summer, in the fall camp, and during the season. There is a little bit of an unknown when you haven't seen the team over the summer and they come in for fall camp.
- Seniors have been tremendous. Done a great job of keeping the team pointed in the right direction, especially in the summer when the coaches can't do anything.
- Hoke was asked if he thought the team was physically where they needed to be at the end of spring practice. Hoke said physically the team was not where he wanted them to be. He added that was why this summer was so important and why the contributions of the seniors were so important.
- Hoke was also asked about practice styles: hard nosed versus practice with a focus on avoiding injuries. Hoke said that you have to develop a demeanor, an attitude and toughness and that you do that in practice. That's why they practice as hard as they play. Just how he coaches.
Massive amounts more after the jump....
- There were a lot of questions from the assembled media about Denard Robinson and the tense moments when Rich Rodriguez was let go. Hoke spoke a little bit about Denard's speech to the team and how important it was to the team itself. There weren't a lot of details other than Hoke's perception that Denard seemed a little perturbed that people automatically thought he was leaving, when Denard himself said he was never leaving to begin with. Molk stood up afterwards and gave a speech saying that everyone needed to stay together.
- In addition there were a lot of questions regarding THE GAME. In particular, the question was posed as to why Hoke only refers to that school down south as "Ohio". Hoke responded that he's always done that (at least since he was 12), adding that the "Ohio" rivalry wasn't just important to him, it was personal.
- "Guys recruit well because they work at it and they're honest."
- No change in Fred Jackson since the days that Hoke coached with Carr to today. Joked that Jackson been at Michigan so long that he coached Tom Harmon.
- When asked about the issue of retiring jersey numbers, Hoke was noncommittal. He said that "we're running out of numbers." He added that they've already got to double up on player numbers, which he hates. He indicated that there's an important aspect to it, but how much he's not sure.
- Keeping the Victors Walk.
- Hoke indicated he won't be running out of the tunnel because he's usually on the field before the team anyway. He added that he loves watching the band come out of the tunnel. Said he'd figure it out when he needed to but it wasn't something that he had thought about.
- There were a number of questions about William Campbell at Hoke's table. In particular about Campbell's weight. Hoke commented that when he arrived, Campbell was out of shape but has worked hard and gotten better since they started working with him. Hoke indicated that his ideal Campbell weight would be around 320, but that the big man has some work to do. Hoke also attributed some of the inconsistency that Campbell has shown was due to being shuffled around from offense to defense over the last two years. He did say that Campbell did some good things in Spring Football. You definitely get the impression that Campbell is improving, but that Fall camp is going to be a big measuring stick for the Junior DT.
- Craig Roh was discussed a little bit, but not at length. Hoke described Roh as really doing a good job. I think Hoke is confident Roh will do well this year and seems to be happy with Roh's attitude, demeanor and hard work getting ready for the year.
- Hoke indicated that there was some improvement in technique and the fundamentals as the spring went on from the defense and defensive line. He said he was starting to see them get to the point of how Hoke and his staff want the defense to play.
- Moving into the secondary Hoke said that Michigan is fairly deep at safety and indicated they may have more bodies at safety than at corner.
- Hoke said that Marvin Johnson's fall camp is going to be huge for him because Marvin missed a practice a week due to a class conflict. Didn't give a lot of information on him.
- Carvin Johnson had a good Spring Game and made a few plays. When asked whether Carvin had cemented the starting safety slot, Hoke responded that 3 weeks into fall camp we'll know more but at this point it was premature to guess. One little tidbit that I loved to hear from Hoke was that "He likes to hit people, which I like." (A ballhawking safety with a mean streak? YES PLZ!)
- Hoke was asked how Jordan Kovacs is able to make so many plays: "He's smart, tough, understands where the weaknesses to a defense are."
- Both J.T. Floyd and Troy Woolfork are healthy, they'll both be able on day one. Great competition with Greg Brown and Courtney Avery at corner. He added that Terrence Robinson provides good competition too.
- I asked Hoke about Courtney Avery's development. Hoke said that Courtney made some plays in course of spring that showed the confidence you have to have as a corner. "Has that confidence and short memory you have to have." (Also added that as a corner, you're going to get beat. then threw in, "Charles Woodson got beat..... Once.")
- Josh Furman did some good things in the spring. Don't know if he'll contribute until we see him in fall practice.
- There were a number of questions asked about the Tight End position and how certain players fit in. Senior Steve Watson is back as a tight end and got a lot of praise from Kevin Koger. Hoke said Watson has a tremendous work ethic and attitude. Watson also compliments Kevin very well in the offense. Hoke said that Watson is truly a leader on the team because of the way he approaches every practice. He added Watson has good hand skills, good ball skills, good blocker.
- Kevin Koger has made some really good gains in the off season and improved as a blocker.
- When asked, Hoke said that after watching film, the incoming freshman running backs have different strengths. Thomas Rawls has bigger back, has good vision balance and has an explosion explosion to him. Justice Hayes has an explosiveness to him, durable enough to be an every down guy.
- Hoke got a little more general on the tailback position and told us that he wants to run a lot of two back sets. He also said he'd like to have a lead back and a fullback, but we'll see how it shakes out.
Stephen Hopkins can play both positinos and was good at smacking the linebackers at fullback. He gives them some versatility. Hoke added that Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith don't shy away from contact either.
- Looking for an Aaron Shea type fullback.
- Will Hagerup still has work to do. Hoke said that he needs to work on placement and angling, pooch punts. But Brady thinks he'll be a weapon for the team.
- As for Michigan's field goal kicker, Hoke doesn't know who it's going to be. It's going to be interesting.
I'll have more on my sit downs with Kevin Koger, Mike Martin and Denard Robinson up soon.