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Nescience, Recruiting, and Brady Hoke: Making Sense of the Criticism Leveled at "The Process"

Let's hope at this time next year we are all smiling.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Let's hope at this time next year we are all smiling. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Alternately Titled:  What I learned      and what I didn't      about Brady Hoke from his first month on the job.  (Warning:  Very long, not for the faint of heart.)

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Earlier this week Dave wrote a very long and passionate missive that looked back on the two months of coaching unrest that followed the Ohio State game, and he came to the conclusion that contrary to what most of us thought at the time, Dave Brandon had appropriately weighed his options with Rodriguez, handled December and the bowl game correctly, and then conducted a thorough and effective coaching search to replace the fired Rodriguez with Brady Hoke.  Dave then classified criticism of the process in some rather harsh terms.  I have only been writing for this site since last October, but I cannot remember any other post that sparked so much debate and disagreement in that time.  Nearly 150 comments cropped up over the next few days as people discussed the different aspects of Dave's argument and made their own case for or against "the process".  A thread popped up on mgoblog that ran nearly as long as the comment thread over here and involved just as much disagreement.  It seems that there is little love lost between "the process was a flaming mess of fail" crowd and the "quit whining and admit that Hokeamania is going to take us to the promised land" crowd.  One of the things I enjoy the most about contributing to Maize n' Brew is the difference of opinion between the authors and the open and civil discourse that follows from discussions about this team's past and it's direction going forward.

With that said:  I do not agree with Dave.  Since Maize n' Brew is about the free exchange of ideas, you get to hear why.

Dave's argument that the program is moving in a positive direction due to the actions of Dave Brandon over the past few months rests on two premises.  First, the hiring process that took place in mid January was carried out in a smart and effective way by Dave Brandon, who secured the right man to lead the Wolverines into the next decade while properly vetting a number of qualified candidates.  Second, that the program has emerged from this turmoil with a strong recruiting class and positive momentum on which to build next year.

The first of these points      that Dave Brandon conducted a good coaching search and got the right guy      isn't so easy to argue because of how little we actually know about the process.  I'll let Misopogon from mgoblog explain this in one of his comments on the original post (and if you haven't read his full comment I would urge you to do so):

You make the claim that Brandon intended to keep RR until he became a toxic asset after the Gator Bowl. But we don’t know that; that’s in DB’s head, probably for eternity. I figured, as you did, that DB was thinking like us: 6-6 is the 2010 expectation. Well, my father figured Brandon thought as he did. And my little brother figured DB thought like Michigan State fans think. And Mike Posner’s dad spent a good half hour explaining to me that he’s sure Dave Brandon thinks exactly how Mike Posner’s dad thinks. But none of these people were right — not me, not you, not my father or other fans or other big donors.

Having seen "The Process," we can now guess. What we can’t do is find a good defense for bringing in a head coach who would have said "yes" any second he was asked until January 11 other than the scenario you laid forth, to restate: RR was going to be kept unless the bowl game was a blowout. And the problem with that scenario is that it’s plausible but filled with reasonable doubt. That scenario doesn’t explain why Dave Brandon didn’t stand behind Rich Rod after Ohio State.

If you can remember the mood around the Michigan blogosphere in December and January, you would be hard pressed to find a better word than "tense" to encapsulate it.  No one knew anything which led to everyone saying anything they thought might be the least bit relevant.  This led to the great CC war of 2010 when the mgoboard lost it's way and misinformation rained down from the heavens.  Why was everything in such disarray? Because Dave Brandon either has one helluva poker face or was too lost and confused to betray his true position on the fate of our head coach.  Rodriguez flapped in the wind for a month and the masses salivated over Jim Harbaugh's square jaw and inherent Michigan man-ness.

We all know how that worked out.  Harbaugh cashed in his golden ticket for a chance to move up the road and make NFL money, Rodriguez went down like Custer at Little Bighorn, and flight tracker experienced the kind of traffic bump that only a select few college football fan bases are capable of delivering.

Yet we still don't have any real knowledge of what Dave Brandon was thinking on his way back from Columbus after the last game of the season.  Was Brandon calling Jim Harbaugh with ideas of backroom deals?  Was Brandon still "all in" for Rodriguez until the bowl game?  Did he think to himself, "if we lose this game by more than two touchdowns Rich is so out of here."  We don't know what happened in the week between Rodriguez getting the ax and everyone's heart sinking once all signs pointed toward Hoke being the next coach*.  Was Miles offered the job or just consulted? Did Gary Pinkel really turn down an opportunity to interview, and Fitzgerald too?  Who were the supposed "other candidates" that Brandon mentioned, and what exactly pushed him away from them and into the arms of Brady Hoke?

* (While it is true that Hoke has garnered a significant following of Hokeamaniacs in the weeks since, the general mood before the first press conference was anywhere from "where is the scotch" to "maybe beer will do the trick". The list of people who vehemently supported Brady Hoke during the coaching search reads: 1) his mother, 2) his family, 3) Jason Whitlock.  Hoke's public perception has improved significantly since that day       at least in terms of what I saw from the mgoblog crowd in my totally unscientific poll.  Let's not turn the tepid support of day one into a rabid cheering section after the fact.) 

Really, all we have to go on when assessing how Dave Brandon handled Rodriguez, Harbaugh, and the search is what we can see from the outside, which isn't much.  Maybe Brandon did his due dilligence and settled on Hoke because he was the best candidate out there.  On the other hand, maybe Brandon screwed up a chance with Harbaugh and Miles and never seriously considered anyone outside the Michigan family.  Until the Michigan football equivalent of Deep Throat comes forward to tell us the whole story about those fateful two months, there is little anyone can do to defend or impugn the coaching search that we know nothing about.  All we can do is question the wisdom of letting Rodriguez hang out to dry for the month of December, and judge Hoke by what is on his resume and his actions since his introduction.  

When judged on his resume alone, Brady Hoke is quite honestly an underwhelming hire. Let me clarify before I get crucified by the Hokeamaniacs on the board. There are things to like about Hoke: he loves Michigan, seems to be a passionate recruiter (insert "touching kids" joke here), and his hiring has brought about the first positive month of press this team has seen since 2006. The assistant coaching staff he has assembled ranges everywhere from good to out of this world.  Al Borges has a track record of putting together very good offenses when given the right situation, we now have a real life special teams coach, and I hear the DC is ok too, but I'm not sure what kind of a track record of success he has (/sarcasm, obviously.  And it feels good to be able to be sarcastic about that). However, Hoke still has a sub-.500 record for his career and has never been a head coach at a BCS level program, much less an top tier job like Michigan (Hoke's full resume here, courtesy of Markus).

Criticism of Hoke's resume should be taken for what it is:  skepticism that the man can be a successful coach at Michigan based on his tenure at Ball St. and SDSU.  On that same note, criticism of the way the process was handled should be taken for what it is as well:  an educated guess in the presence of very little concrete knowledge. To group all criticism of the process into two categories, as Dave does in his original piece, is insulting to those of us with legitimate concerns about whether Brandon did his job to the best of his ability and Hoke was in fact a good hire:

And even more puzzling, how you can blame Dave Brandon for a coaching search that netted a good hire and a good recruiting class. If you do this you fall into two categories:

1) I believe Rodriguez was fired after the Ohio State game and Brandon needlessly held up the process by going sailing with Bill Martin or something like that; or,

2) I can't believe we hired Hoke when we could've had Harbaugh, Miles, or some other hot coordinator as our new head coach.


As things stand now, we have very little information on which to judge Hoke past his previous coaching tenures, neither of which are glowing      although to be fair, neither are a disaster either.  I will be skeptical of Brady Hoke's ability to coach at Michigan until he proves to me that my skepticism is unwarranted.  This may not be the same unconditional support that I provided Rich Rodriguez (who had a very strong resume, as you may or may not remember) through the majority of his three year tenure, but you can excuse me for being wary of getting burned again, can't you?

This leads to the second part of Dave's argument:  that the quality of the 2010 recruiting class should assuage any fears that Hoke is the thing that I often mistype when writing about the man (A "Joke".  Damn the proximity of J to H on the qwerty keyboard). Since it is February and Hoke has had the job for less than a month, we have a very limited set of data on which to judge his ability as the leader of Michigan football.  That leads us to an in depth discussion of the class of 2011.

Before we get to that it is important that I acknowledge the two elephants in the room:

  • Recruiting rankings.  Nobody likes them, unless they say you're team is awesome in which case you can't find any reason to question the judgment of the men who affix stars next to a players name based on a list of measurables, a grainy, poorly edited highlight reel with bad rap music dubbed over top, and maybe a few appearances at team camps or all-star games.  There are plenty of examples of individual players greatly exceeding their star rankings (Greg Jones and Mark Ingram come to mind) just as there are teams who have made a living out of coaching up middling three stars (think Boise St., TCU, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Virginia Tech).  Furthermore there are no guarantees of greatness simply because your team inked a highly rated class or consistently dominates in Rivals and Scouts' February pageant.  Yet if you look past the individual examples of players and teams that have over- and underachieved in the past ten years you will still find that by and large these individual ratings and team rankings will give a good picture of 1) what players will go on to be top college performers, 2) how a team will generally fare against another team, and 3) which teams will most likely be the top teams in the country in a given year. There is a reason they play the games on the field and not paper, Rivals and Scout aren't gospel.  Recruiting rankings are a lot like preseason rankings in that way.  They are a value judgment on what a specific class should be capable of on the basis of potential.  Preseason rankings aren't always right      cough, Texas, cough      but more often then not they have a good idea of what "level" a team should be on*. If you have smart people (and sometimes ESPN, ZING) judging talent and rating classes, they are bound to be right more often then they are wrong, and the data supports that.  I have heard some people argue that Michigan's class ranking by Rivals (21st) is wildly overrating the 2011 class.  I have heard others argue that the same ranking is unassailable proof that Brady Hoke is the man.  Both of these positions greatly overstate their case.  (Big thanks to Dr. Saturday for his great "recruiting-industrial complex" series.)
  • The Process.  Whether or not you think Dave Brandon is a savvy businessman or an incompetent dolt, you cannot deny that "the process" had a large effect on how this class finished up.  The six week period between the Ohio State game and the dismissal of Rich Rodriguez closed a lot of doors and hurt the program's chances with a number of highly rated recruits.  While someone like Anthony Zettel might have eventually signed with Penn State regardless, there is no doubt that the negative storm surrounding Rodriguez during those six weeks played at least some role in Zettel's ultimate decision to pass on Michigan.  Furthermore, the regime change (and subsequent change in offensive and defensive philosophy) further undercut the 2011 class by driving off prospects interested in the wide open spread and shred offense as well as those recruits that had a good relationship with Coach Rodriguez.  Guys like Dee Hart (who wanted to play in Rodriguez's spread offense) and Kris Frost (a silent commit who was ultimately turned off by the dismissal of Rodriguez) were both significantly affected by the coaching change, which helped lead to their commitment at Alabama and Auburn, respectively.  On the other hand, the hiring of Brady Hoke      and to a greater extent, Greg Mattison      opened up the door to a number of recruits who were not previously interested.  The problem that arises when trying to assess the recruiting prowess of Brady Hoke by looking at a class that was put together under such tumultuous circumstances, is trying to establish the level of difficulty Hoke encountered.  Just like scoring a gymnastics routine, we have to assess just how hard it was for Hoke to retain the Rodriguez recruits while filling out the rest of the class, before we can truly appreciate what Hoke was able to accomplish.  Hopefully by looking in depth at the make up of the class, the roster needs for this recruiting cycle, and some similar situations we can start to understand more precisely what limitations "the process' put on the 2011 class. Otherwise we risk evaluating this class under such shortsighted misconceptions as "it was a miracle that Hoke put together this class in three weeks" or "this class is an embarrassment because Michigan recruits itself".

* (Rest assured I am not defending preseason polls.  Just because I think they will generally value most teams in the correct area (plus or minus 5 poll spots) doesn't mean that I am a big enough fool to 1) want to allow them to influence the BCS is such a big way, and 2) believe that this is finally the year that Florida State puts it all together. You've fooled me too many times 'Noles.  But I digress...)

Now, let's break down the 2011 class:

(Disclaimer:  I will be primarily using the Rival's point system when discussing star rankings of individual players.  I did this for three reasons, 1) the point system offers a more specific breakdown of talent (a 5.8 three star is greater than a 5.5 three star, whereas Scout just labels both as a three star), 2) Rivals seems to be the only scouting service that got the memo that 21 century website design has a big affect on how easy it is to use a website, and 3) my current internet connection is slower than normal and I don't want to waste time loading two other sets of web pages for each class or recruit.  I'll include some Scout ratings and label accordingly.  If you think this is a big deal, look up the rankings yourself and tell me I'm an idiot.)

I've seen a Michigan caliber recruiting class, and you sir, are no Michigan caliber recruiting class

When examined on paper, one thing stands out about the 2010 haul:  wherez da blue chipz?  Outside of last year, this is the first class in the recorded history of Rival's recruiting ratings that lacks the top end star power that Michigan is used to pulling in on a yearly basis.  Look at the number of 6.0 and 6.1 rated recruits over the years:

2011: 0

2010: 0

2009: 2

2008: 3

2007: 2

2006: 5

2005: 4

2004: 2*

* (The 2003 and 2002 classes did not have the point system ratings listed online)

2010 was admittedly not a strong year for Michigan with top end talent.  However, if you will remember, Devin Gardner began the year rated much higher and slipped in the rankings, and he was still the top rated dual threat quarterback in the 2010 class.  While the top end of these two classes might be even, once you dig into the meat of the classes you will realize that the 2010 class was still higher rated across the board:

2011: 6.1 - 0; 6.0 - 0, 5.9 - 1; 5.8 - 5; 5.7 - 3; 5.6 - 3; 5.5 - 7; 5.3 - 1 = avg. 5.63; 45% >5.6

2010: 6.1 - 0; 6.0 - 0, 5.9 - 2; 5.8 - 5; 5.7 - 9; 5.6 - 4; 5.5 - 7; 5.4 - 1 = avg. 5.66; 57% >5.6

2009: 6.1 - 1; 6.0 - 1, 5.9 - 4; 5.8 - 8; 5.7 - 5; 5.6 - 0; 5.5 - 1; 5.4 - 1; 5.3 - 1 = avg. 5.76; 86% >5.6

2008: 6.1 - 0; 6.0 - 3, 5.9 - 4; 5.8 - 10; 5.7 - 4; 5.6 - 1; 5.5 - 1; 5.1 - 1 = avg. 5.78; 86% >5.6

2007: 6.1 - 2; 6.0 - 0, 5.9 - 1; 5.8 - 4; 5.7 - 6; 5.6 - 3; 5.5 - 3; 5.2 - 1 = avg. 5.70; 65% >5.6

2006: 6.1 - 2; 6.0 - 3, 5.9 - 3; 5.8 - 3; 5.7 - 1; 5.6 - 3; 5.5 - 3; 5.4 - 1 = avg. 5.77; 63% >5.6

In terms of both top end talent and overall strength both the 2010 and 2011 classes lag behind the rest of Michigan's classes from the latter half of the decade.  However, the 2010 class was able to bring in more 5.7 and above rated recruits (albeit in a larger class).  Almost three fifths of the 2010 class was rated 5.7 and above, while 45% of the 2011 class was 5.6 or below.  On the surface this would seem like a win for Brady Hoke.  After all, he put together a class that isn't too far off the 2010 haul in terms of top end talent.  Yet that doesn't take into account the fact that we still have to credit Rodriguez for the commits that he brought on board before his dismissal:

Rodriguez: 5.9 - 1; 5.8 - 2; 5.7 - 2; 5.6 - 1; 5.5 - 4 = avg. 5.65

Hoke: 5.9 - 0; 5.8 - 3; 5.7 - 1; 5.6 - 2; 5.5 - 3; 5.3 - 1 = avg. 5.61

Not only was Rodriguez's class slightly stronger, but this is giving Hoke credit for the commits of Chris Bryant, Ramon Taylor, and Thomas Rawls, all of whom were strong Michigan leans before Hoke came to campus. Furthermore, while the numbers don't give credit to Hoke for re-recruiting Blake Countess      no easy task with the challenge from Penn State      they also don't penalize Hoke for losing out on Jake Fisher (5.7) and Dallas Crawford (5.8).  The members of the class that Hoke was solely responsible for are three 5.5's, and one of each 5.3, 5.6, 5.7 and 5.8 (5.56 avg).

The initial returns on Hoke's recruiting ability are not bad, but they hardly the sign of a sleeping giant in the recruiting world.   Hoke's first class is the worst of any class Michigan has pulled in during the era.  Blame that on the shot time frame if you want, but don't ignore the fact that Rodriguez already had the foundation built for a top three Big Ten class.  It was Hoke's finish that put the Wolverines in the middle of the pack.

Where you goin' baby?  Our helmets got wings

While the whims of an 18 year old are certainly not something that can be counted on with any sort of certainty, it is still worth examining the job that Brady Hoke did holding on to the top recruits already on board, and closing in on the top prospects that the new staff targeted.  Not included in this are players like Dee Hart (only interested in Rodriguez), Matt Goudis (apparently only interested in Harbaugh) and Anthony Zettel (already turned off by the process and firmly committed elsewhere).

Blake Countess (DB; 5.8 (Rivals), 4 star (Scout)) - Initially it seemed like Blake was firmly committed to Michigan, even in the wake of Rodriguez's dismissal and Hoke's arrival on campus.  Doubts began to creep up as JoePa started talking to the talented Maryland DB, and panic took over when Countess took an official visit to Penn State on the second weekend of January.  However, cooler heads prevailed and Countess was once again solidly blue. This is by far the most important recruit that Hoke retained.

Jake Fisher (OL; 5.7, 4 star) - Fisher was solid for Michigan most of December, but began to have doubts in early January and eventually took visits to MSU, Florida, and Oregon during the last three weekends of the recruiting process.  A late in home visit with Fisher couldn't solidify his commitment and Jake subsequently verballed to Oregon on his visit the weekend before signing day.  This was a big loss for the staff.  The roster currently only has three offensive tackles and will lose one to graduation at the end of next season.

Dallas Crawford (DB; 5.8, 3 star) - By the beginning of January it seemed like Dallas Crawford was as good as gone, and once he took his visit to Miami (YTM) he was a 'Cane.  Thus began Al Golden's quest to build a class entirely out of former Michigan commits.

Kris Frost (ATH/LB; 6.1, 4 star) - Kris was long thought to be a silent commit to the Wolverines, but by the time of his announcement at the Army All-American game, he made a surprise switch to Auburn      a school that seemed just as shocked as the rest of us that Kris was committing.  He is still mentioned roughly every three days on the mgoboard ("do we still have a shot with Frost?" "No, no, a thousand times, no.").

Darian Cooper (DT; 5.7, 4 star) - Darian thought highly of Michigan until the coaching change.  Once Rodriguez was let go Cooper cut ties with the program and focused on his top three (MSU, Iowa, GT).  However, the hiring of Greg Mattison threw the Wolverines right back in the mix for Cooper.  The staff secured a visit from Cooper on the last weekend before signing day.  Ultimately the staff was unable to bring Cooper on board.  This is a huge loss.  DT was perhaps the biggest area of need behind OL in this year's class,and Cooper could have contributed as soon as he got on campus.  While Hoke was working at a disadvantage with Cooper, there was also enough familiarity between Cooper and UM from camp visits last summer that could have helped level the playing field.

Chris Barnett (TE; 5.8, 3 star) - Barnett was another late visitor for the Wolverines who was also a soft verbal to Arkansas.  Barnett switched his commitment in a surprise signing day announcement.  This was a huge get for the Hoke.  TE depth is non-existent on this team and Barnett could contribute early if needed.

Leilon Willingham (LB; 5.8, 3 star) - Willingham was another prospect that came out of almost nowhere.  Michigan got him on campus late in the process, and it was rumored that he verballed (or at least agreed to room with Frank Clark when they committed).  After he visited UCF the next week the tide seemed to turn for Leilon, and he ultimately chose UCF.  This is a disappointing loss and a strike against Hoke as a recruiter.  Michigan shouldn't lose recruits to UCF.  Ever.

Antonio Poole (LB; 5.7, 4 star) - Luckily the loss of Willingham burns less because the Wolverines made a late push and secured the commitment of Antonio Poole.  This one seems to be entirely credited to Greg Mattison, who talked the kid into committing before he even set foot on campus.

All in all that is eight high profile, high priority recruits at positions of need, and three commitments.  Both Poole and Barnett are impressive pulls because they were not on the previous staff's radar and were very quickly talked into coming to play at Michigan.  However, losing the commitment of an in state recruit like Fisher, losing a must-have recruit like Cooper, and getting spurned by a blue chip like Frost undermines any argument that attempts to paint this staff as an elite group of recruiters.  The circumstances might have added a level of difficulty that isn't normally there, but this staff missed on some of its highest profile targets.

Your snake oil doesn't smell as sweet

One of the lasting memes of the Rodriguez era comes from our old friend Wilford Brimley Joe Tiller, who was not happy with Rodriguez for pursuing Roy Roundtree, a Purdue commit.  Rodriguez earned his "snake oil salesman" monkier the old fashioned way, he got kids in that 2008 class to see the light and come to Michigan.

With the arrival of Hoke's first recruit, Tamani Carter, the internets were awash with talk of Snake Oil 2.0.  This intensified once the Wolverines received the commitment from two other players that had previously verballed elsewhere, Keith Heitzman and Russell Bellomy.  The problem is that all snake oil isn't the same.  Let's compare the cases.

2008 - Late in the process Rodriguez was able to secure the commitment of Roy Roundtree out of Trotwood-Madison HS in Ohio, and Ricky Barnum from Lakeland HS in Florida.  These were both very big steals.  Each recruit was highly thought of      5.8's to Rivals and 3 stars to scout      and while Roundtree was committed to Purdue, Barnum was a Florida commit in the heart of the Urban Meyer era.

2011 - The trio of snake oiled recruits in this class are much less heralded.  All three are rated 5.5 by Rivals and 3 star by Scout.  Furthermore, while it brings me joy to steal another recruit from Purdue, it isn't quite as impressive that the other two recruits were originally committed to Minnesota and Vanderbilt.  Unlike Rodriguez selling Barnum on coming to Michigan, Hoke was going up against two schools at the bottom of their respective conferences.

When putting together a class on short notice it becomes necessary to cast a wide net in hopes of finding kids who hold a Michigan offer in high esteem.  But there is nothing particularly impressive about going up against Minnesota, Purdue, and Vanderbilt for generic three star recruits.  Until next year we can't really assess how well Hoke can sell Michigan to a kid who has already committed elsewhere.

Depth (Thats what I want)

One of the prevailing opinions of those who like this class is that what it lacks in overall flash on the recruiting sites, it more than makes up for in quality depth at key positions.  That argument is correct in the fact that the 2011 class has deepened a lot of the positions on the defensive side of the ball      something that makes people breathe easier.  However, our fears about watching 2010-esque secondary and linebacker play for the next four years have blinded many to the fact that there is already quite a lot of depth at these positions, and not nearly enough depth at others.  Lets take a look.

Defensive Secondary - This was an important position to look at during the 2011 recruiting cycle.  Part of the reason that the 2010 defensive secondary was so atrocious was that the depth chart read: SR - 1, JR - 0.  You don't build a quality defense on freshmen and sophomores, especially when those freshmen and sophomores are mostly projects with long term upside but little in the way of experience or immediate impact (Avery, Talbot, Vinopal, Johnson, and Gordon come to mind).  The 2011 class brought in four CBs (Countess, Taylor, Hollowell, and Brown) and a safety (Carter).  The initial reaction has been "we need all the secondary help we can get", but that isn't quite true.  With Woolfolk and Floyd back from injury and the freshman trio of Avery, Christian, and Talbot a year older and stronger, the CB spot finally has a two deep that doesn't make you want to reach for your revolver.  The problem in the secondary is the same as it was in 2009:  safety doom.  Now that Cam Gordon has established himself as a potentially great outside linebacker (if developed) we are left with true sophomore Ray Vinopal and true freshman Tamani Carter playing the last line of defense for the 2011 Wolverines.  This is a recipe for disaster.  The most important thing Hoke could have done for this secondary is found a true free safety in this last class.  CB will be fine going forward, but over the next couple of years when some running back bursts to the second level or a quarterback lofts up a deep post to a WR, we are all going to struggle to remember what it was like to have a real FS roaming the middle of the field.

Linebacker - Ultimately, the reason that Willingham's decision to go to UCF wasn't as panic inducing as it could have been is that this class is not hurting for linebackers, and the position group as a whole is still very young. There are two scholarship seniors for 2011, and neither of them have been a big part of the defense up to this point (Fitzgerald and Herron), one junior (Demens), and four sophomores (all of whom are in their third year on campus). Filling the bottom of this group out with another four recruits is valuable, but the linebacking corp would have done just as well with three or even two recruits      especially with a deep crop of Michigan linebacker recruits in next year's class.

Defensive Line - This group breaks down into two general areas of need:  defensive end, which needed and got a few young recruits; and defensive tackle which absolutely needed depth but got none from the 2011 class.  There are already five defensive ends on scholarship, and the addition of Beyer and Heitzman will provide depth down the road when Craig Roh graduates.  Chris Rock is also projected to play strong side defensive end, but could slide in to defensive tackle if needed.  This will probably happen as things get scary after the 2011 season.  With the shift to a 4-3 defense, and the impending graduation of two of the most experienced and productive members of the Michigan defense (Martin and Van Bergen) 2012 is looking at a DT depth chart of four players for two spots.  If the coaching staff can help Quinton Washington transition to DT and uncover all the potential that Will Campbell showed up to campus with, this defensive line could at least be productive in 2012.  However, the staff missed out on a chance to fill a big hole on the defense, and this could quite possibly come back to hurt them the team in 2012 and 2013.

Tight End - With the shift to a pro style offense, the hole at tight end became even more glaring than it was under Rodriguez, who for all the talk of his spread offense liked to use tight ends in an H-back role.  Two players return this year (Sr. Kevin Koger and Jr. Brandon Moore).  Hoke deperately needed to find a tight end prospect in this years class, and did so with Chris Barnett      who could possibly see playing time early if needed.

Offensive Line - When the previous staff only took one offensive lineman in the class of 2010, it became clear that this years class was going to have to focus on building depth.  Center should be solid for a few years.  David Molk returns with Jr Rocko Khoury backing him up and RS-Fr. Christian Pace third on the depth chart.  With the addition of Jack Miller, this position won't need to be recruited for until 2013.

The other two spots on the line are in much more dire situations.  Starting offensive tackle seems to be set for the next few years with returning starter RS-So. Taylor Lewan and his highly touted classmate Michael Schofield.  The problem is that the only other depth comes in the form of RS-Sr. Mark Huyge.  Missing out on Jake Fisher was a huge blow to the depth of the offensive tackle position in 2012 and beyond.  Guard is a different story with three talented RS-Jr's on the roster.  This year's class built up depth behind the guards with the addition of Chris Bryant and Tony Posada. However, next year's class will absolutely need to bring in another four or five offensive linemen, and at least one of them will need to be an offensive tackle that is physically and mentally ready to play right away.

While it is true that Hoke and his staff did a good job filling up the class and addressing depth issues at key positions (CB, LB, DE, TE) they also completely whiffed on two crucial positions that were more important (OT, DT). The true test of this staff's recruiting ability is going to come next year with the signing of the 2012 class.  If Hoke, Mattison, and Borges can't address the gaping holes at OT and DT not only with sufficient depth for the future but with college ready players for immediate use, the already brutal 2012 schedule is going to be even more challenging.

The new kid(s) in town

There's talk on the street, it sounds so familiar.  Great expectations, everybody's watching you ("Jesus man, can you change the station?  I've had a rough night and I hate the fucking Eagles, man.")

Sorry, got lost there for a minute.

Great expectations are something that goes along with coaching at the top college football programs.  Two of these programs also experienced coaching changes this offseason, and both classes should shed some light on how coaches finish up classes once they take over.

Florida - If there was ever an example of taking top recruiting talent and turning it into results on the field, Florida is exhibit A.  Under Urban Meyer the Gators won two national titles, produced a Heisman winning quarterback, and had a very impressive run of success in a brutal SEC schedule      and a cake non-conference schedule, boom SEC schedule'd.

Will Muschamp, most recently known as the seething coach in waiting behind Mack Brown at Texas, was hired by Florida on December 12th.  Of the 19 person class that Florida inked last Wednesday, fourteen of those commitments preceded Muschamps hiring, including seven rated four star or higher by Rivals and six by Scout.  Muschamp filled out that class with five more commits      four of which were four stars in the eyes of both Scout and Rivals.  

Miami - Al Golden was brought in to take over for Randy Shannon at the same time Muschamp was hired at Florida. Unlike the Gators, Miami has struggled to turn its recruiting success over the past few years into success on the field.  Despite constantly turning out top 10 classes the 'Canes haven't mounted a legitimate challenge for the ACC title for years.

Golden's first class at Miami is much different than what either Muschamp or Hoke have had, mostly because Golden was forced to build his class almost entirely from scratch.  Only two recruits that committed before Golden was hired have signed with the 'Canes.  The rest of the 16 person class was put together over the next two months, including a couple names Michigan fans might be familiar with.  Golden's haul is mostly middling three star prospects (eight of them) with one four star to go along with the four star defensive end whose commitment preceded Golden getting the job.

Looking at the raw numbers , the classes break down like so:

Florida 2011: 19 commits; 6.1 - 0; 6.0 - 3, 5.9 - 2; 5.8 - 6; 5.7 - 6; 5.6 - 1; 5.5 - 1= avg. 5.75; 89% >5.6

Miami 2011: 16 commits; 6.1 - 0; 6.0 - 0, 5.9 - 1; 5.8 - 1; 5.7 - 7; 5.6 - 3; 5.5 - 3; 5.4 - 1 = avg. 5.56; 56% >5.6

Michigan 2011: 20 commits; 6.1 - 0; 6.0 - 0, 5.9 - 1; 5.8 - 5; 5.7 - 3; 5.6 - 3; 5.5 - 7; 5.3 - 1 = avg. 5.63; 45% >5.6

Florida is firmly ahead in terms of average rating and Michigan is ahead of Miami by an almost equal margin.

So how does Michigan's class stack up to the other two?  Considering the shorter time frame, Michigan's class looks very solid on paper.  Florida is far and away a better class by any measure, but the Florida coaching transition was smooth, done early, and most of Meyer's original class remains intact.  What little impact Muschamp made lies with his bringing in four additional four star recruits.  This is a solid finish to a very good class, but nothing mind blowing.

However, when viewed against Miami's class one gets the initial impression that Hoke did a much better job.  Yet when we look at those players that Hoke actually had to bring in himself (as discussed above, Hoke had seven recruits that were solely his with a Rivals average of 5.56) vs. Golden's task of building a class almost completely from scratch, the two look relatively even.  Hoke was fortunate to inherit a solid group of about 13 players, most of which he kept on board while filling out the rest of the class with some players to fill positions of need.  Golden got a pair of players and was forced to build almost an entire class over a two month span      not an easy task.

Both Hoke and Golden have done a solid job of making the best of bad situations.

So what's the score?

We don't know the answer yet, and we probably won't know for another couple of years.  Next year the Midwest is stacked with talent, the 2011 team is primed to see a huge jump in defensive efficiency with the loss of only a few marginal contributers and one established starter, and the schedule sets up nicely to make a run at double digit wins and a West Division Championship (yes, I said West).  With success on the field and a favorable recruiting landscape anything less than a top fifteen class in 2012 could be considered a disappointment.  Will that answer all of our questions about this staff's ability to attract talent?  No.  Michigan still needs to get back to the point where it is consistently challenging OSU for the top talent in Ohio.  Strong football programs in the Midwest are built on Ohio talent, and much more than any of that crap people talk about Michigan losing the battle for in state talent, Ohio is the key to the future of this program.  As long as OSU gets to pick and choose from the top players in the state Michigan will be second fiddle in the Big Ten.

As for assessing this year's haul, Hoke and his staff have done an average job, even considering the circumstances.  Unlike Miami, the class was already well on its way to the top 25 of Rivals rankings with 13 commitments.  Only a couple of Hoke's recruits had significant profiles (Barnett and Poole) while the rest were taken from lesser programs or generic three star recruits.  While the staff filled in depth behind LB, CB, and TE they failed to make an impact at OT or DT      the two biggest holes going into the 2011 season.  The highest compliment you can pay to Hoke's first class is that it is nearly full.  Staring down signing day with three weeks to finish a class, this was hardly a guarantee.  If there is anything positive to take away from Hoke's approach to the 2011 class, it is his tireless approach to finishing it up strong.

*  *  *

I can still remember the first game of 2007.  Michigan was ranked 5th in the nation and I was salivating over another run to a BCS bowl game.  Whats more, I couldn't even pick out Appalachian St on a map.  We all know how that worked out.

Brady Hoke stands at the center of millions of prying eyes from all over college football.  Michigan has just endured the most painful four year stretch since the Don Drapers of the world were still spry enough to put down a half dozen drinks and screw their secretary      all before lunch.  It is natural then that the last two months have produced very divergent opinions regarding the athletic director, the head coach, and the direction of Michigan football.

We are all united under one universal desire: we don't want to lose anymore.  Not to Ohio State, not to MSU, not to MAC teams or middle of the pack Big Ten teams.  We want to return to the days when we could overlook half the Big Ten and nearly all of the non-conference schedule.  Most of all, as we look out today on a season that is still more than six months away, we want hope that this year is going to be the year things go right again.  Thus pessimism becomes toxic as most of us look forward in anticipation.

Yet whether we like it or not, "the process" has put this team in a precarious position.  The month of December was spent losing ground with recruits as our lame duck coach tried to raise his voice high enough to tell everyone, "all is well" before being trampled under the masses running toward Jim Harbaugh with open arms.  The month of January was a flurry of coaching wishlists, Brady Hoke jokes, and helpings of crow once those of us making those jokes got bitch slapped by karma.  Brady Hoke is the coach.  The man has lost more games than he has won.  Two thirds of his head coaching experience came while coaching in Muncie Indiana.  Yet the man thinks so highly of Michigan that he can barely talk about the school without getting choked up, which in turn sends the media into a puff piece frenzy.  If the Beatles were right and all we really do need is love, I'd feel a helluva lot more comfortable right now.

What happens from here on out is anybody's guess.  This could turn out to be Michigan's Alabama like turnaround, or its Notre Dame fifteen year spiral of irrelevance.  All the whining and cheering in the world won't make a damn bit of difference so the only thing to do is be all in again and hope that this time it works out better than last time.

That doesn't mean that we must accept that the last two months were handled well, or that Brady Hoke is unquestionably the best man for the job.  I will continue to criticize the process because all of my reasonable analysis has led me to believe that it was botched.  I will continue to be skeptical of Brady Hoke until he proves he can succeed at Michigan because the evidence tells me this is the right way to look at the situation.

Four years down the road we will have a lot of answers.  Was the 2011 class better than many of us give it credit for?  Can Brady Hoke win in the Big Ten?  Will Denard Robinson transition well into a pro style offense?  Can Hoke's staff challenge Ohio State for supremacy in Midwest recruiting?  Was this the hire that the program needed, or just the one "Michigan man" xenophobes thought it needed?

The answers to all those questions may be yes, but until we get the full story I will never believe that the same can be said of the question "was 'the process' handled the right way?"  That doesn't mean Hoke is destined to fail, and it doesn't mean that I won't root for him to succeed just as hard as I did when it was Lloyd or Rich walking the sidelines.  It just means that sometimes things work out for the best regardless of the mistakes we make.  I just hope this is one of those times.