Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the thoughts and feelings of the staff at Maize n Brew as a whole.
When Rich Rodriguez was fired back in 2010 after a third-straight embarrassing season with the Michigan Wolverines, the program needed someone who could unite the fractured fan base and alumni and inspire confidence for the future.
Many said a "Michigan Man" was needed to step in and fix the program. The normal names popped up, like Jim Harbaugh, Les Miles, etc., but as we know, they decided to go in another direction.
That went with Brady Hoke, who uttered what would end up being a prophetic phrase during his introductory press conference.
Personally, I felt from the start that this was a safe hire that was made to fill the "Michigan Man" criteria and that would end up as a guy who only won eight or nine games a season.
Michigan finally found its guy, so they believed. A man who said all of the right things and appeared to ready to right the ship with the football program.
And right the ship he did in 2011, when the Wolverines went 11-2 and played in a BCS bowl game for the first time since 2006. It did not take long for Hoke and staff to turn the page from the Rich Rod era and things were only going to get better from there.
It was a complete 180 from what the program had been under Rodriguez. This was a team that struggled a bit offensively at times but gave itself a chance by playing great defense, something they struggled to do in the three years prior.
Hoke's early success at Michigan paid immediate dividends on the recruiting trail. They were able to put together some of the most highly rated classes in recent memory and really looked like they were building something special for the future.
The Wolverines were expected to take a bit of a step back in 2012 after losing a fair amount of senior leadership from the Sugar Bowl team the year before.
Michigan finished with an 8-5 record that season, which on the surface is not that great, but it was still semi-encouraging seeing as four of their five losses came against top ten teams (Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State and South Carolina). The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish played each other for the national title, so even then the step back did not seem like much of a hindrance going forward.
The staff's first significant blunder did occur in a loss that was not to one of the above mentioned teams, though. In a game against Nebraska on the road, do-it-all quarterback Denard Robinson went down with an elbow injury and needed to be replaced.
With former four-star QB prospect Devin Gardner having been moved to wide receiver, Michigan's only option at the position was Russell Bellomy, who looked all out of sorts in the game and not anywhere close to being ready to play, causing the Wolverines to drop a game they should have won.
Gardner started the last four games at quarterback that season, even after Robinson returned, where he reverted to more of a running back/wide receiver. It did not look like they would miss a beat at quarterback going forward.
Hoke had managed a 19-7 record in his first two seasons with the program. There were certainly growing pains along the way, but year three was where things were expected to start to really take off and solidify his status as Michigan's coach for the future.
Then 2013 happened.
The Wolverines got off to a 5-0 start, but it was not without it's share of drama. Akron, a lower-tier MAC school, gave Michigan one of it's biggest scares in the history of the Big House and was almost able to cap off one of the biggest upsets in college football history since Appalachian State beat them back in 2007. It took a goal line stand in the final seconds to secure the victory for U-M.
"We will not come out like this again," said senior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.
But the following week, the team traveled to Connecticut to take on a team that they really had no business letting hang around either. They escaped with a 24-21 victory, but two consecutive nail-biters against teams they were clearly better than was a huge concern.
Outside of the Nebraska debacle from the previous year, this was really the first time we saw a Hoke team show up flat-out unprepared in consecutive weeks.
"We will not come out like this again."
To end 2013, Michigan lost six of its final eight games. The run game disappeared. The offensive line was horrible and frequently got their quarterback killed. The playcalling was subpar. The defense looked out of position at times and was prone to giving up big plays. It was a nightmare.
Some sort of change had to be made. After the 11-2 season to start out the Hoke era, Michigan was 15-11 in the previous two seasons. With the offense being the biggest let down, the program decided to let go of offensive coordinator Al Borges, but retain offensive line coach Darrell Funk.
Michigan brought in former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to get things figured out on that side of the ball. Nussmeier had worked with quarterbacks like Marc Bulger in the NFL and developed Jake Locker and AJ McCarron in college, so he seemed like a natural fit to help Gardner and Shane Morris to take the next step.
This was expected to be a job-saving hire for Hoke. He was being given the fourth year that Rich Rod never had to show he was the man for the job like many believed he was in 2011.
The Nussmeier-effect paid immediate dividends in a season opening "revenge" win over Appalachian State by a score of 52-14. Devin Funchess, who was awarded the famed number-one jersey before the game, looked dominant and Gardner had time to throw and protected the football. Regardless of opponent, it was an impressive showing.
But as things tend to do under Hoke, they took several steps backward the following week against Notre Dame on the road, their last match-up for the foreseeable future.
They did not even reach the red zone.
Michigan was 2-2 after a home loss to Utah where Gardner was so ineffective that he was pulled for Morris, who was ultimately awarded the start for the following week against Minnesota.
Here's where things went from being frustrating and disappointing to flat-out reckless and incompetence from the entire staff.
Morris was ineffective, to say the least, but was still in there late in the game down 30-7 to the Gophers. He had suffered some sort of leg injury and was really laboring. Then, he took a helmet-to-helmet hit that nearly broke the young man.
He stayed in the game.
Not because he was tough, or a "gamer," but because his coaches were too oblivious to the fact that he was either broken or concussed. Our own Drew Hallett caught the sequence and posted to YouTube.
This was a poorly handled situation made worse by the fact that Hoke was completely undermined by David Brandon in the aftermath. Hoke admitted he got this wrong, and that the facts would come out in a statement released by the medical staff shortly after his Monday presser.
The statement did come out, but not until after midnight, written by Brandon.
I don't need to recap what's happened since then. You've all watched. We've seen what this program has become. They let Rutgers' Gary Nova throw for 400-plus yards the following week. They were plowed by Michigan State for the second-straight year in East Lansing. They just lost to Maryland last weekend.
To quote a movie on this one:
It is a mess, one that will likely spill over into Saturday when the 5-6 Wolverines head into Columbus to take on 10-1 Ohio State in their annual rivalry game.
OSU's Urban Meyer took over a year after Hoke was hired at Michigan and has managed to make his program the opposite of Michigan's. Both coaches have recruited similar talent and battled for a lot of the same guys, but Meyer's kids develop and win, while Hoke's regress and lose, and this is something we will likely see play out again on the field Saturday.
Things are certainly pointing to this being the swan song for Hoke and staff. The odds are heavily against them and this is not a team that has ever really risen above and won a game they were not expected to.
Brady Hoke is a good man that loves his players and has had a ton of adversity in his time at Michigan, but he is, and never has been the right guy for the job.
People are clamoring for Jim Harbaugh, and rightfully so. He fits the bill of what this program needs. Regardless of who the next coach is, they simply need to get it right.
The Block M does not sell itself anymore like it used to. The Wolverines need someone to get them back to that.