[Editor’s Note: From now until Big Ten Media Days, we’ll be reaching into The-Ozone’s 23 years worth of archives and each day we will be posting a story from yesteryear. Big moments, small moments, big games, bigger games, and the random recruiting updates about guys you haven’t thought about in a decade or two.]
June 27, 2011 | In the week’s following Jim Tressel’s departure from Ohio State, recruiting took a spill and things overall were in a bit of a tailspin due to a number of factors. Brady Hoke replaced Rich Rodriguez as Michigan’s head coach a handful of months earlier, which gave the Wolverine football program a necessary boost. This shiny newness of Hoke’s arrival combined with Tressel’s departure was a perfect storm for Hoke to put the Wolverines back ahead of the Buckeyes in the Big Ten arms race. This piece from Tony Gerdeman is essentially telling Brady Hoke, “Don’t screw it up.” — TG
The saying goes that nobody ever wants to be the guy who replaces a legend, and not that Lloyd Carr would fit the description of a legend, but compared to Rich Rodriguez’s tenure at Michigan, the Carr Era was like Camelot with four-wheel drive unicorns.
The epilogue to that saying is that it’s always better to replace the guy who replaced the legend, and that’s where Brady Hoke finds himself today.
If that was all Hoke was—simply, not Rich Rodriguez—then that would have been more than enough to give hope to those who had lost it. After all, the smoky backroom foundation of Michigan football was re-solidified by bringing in a Michigan Man who understood the circulatory culture of arrogance that is necessary to exist in Ann Arbor.
With Hoke in charge, a new energy was brought to Michigan football, and an old ignorance was finally tossed aside. Michigan doesn’t need to play cute football in order to gain an advantage—they are Michigan, they already have an advantage. Rodriguez could never understand this—or chose not to. Brady Hoke, however, has taken this fact and run with it like Wonka’s last golden ticket.
Hoke has taken his love of everything that he believes Michigan to stand for and has worn it on his outstretched sleeve like a falconer’s glove. Unpierceable.
Every house or school he goes into on the recruiting trail, he can tell a kid, “We’re Michigan, and nobody else can say that,” and he absolutely believes it. The only thing Rodriguez could truthfully convey is “We’re Michigan, and from what I’ve seen, it’s a little bit better than West Virginia.” Even then you weren’t sure that he actually believed that.
The reason this surety is so important is because players want to go to Michigan. Not just little ones—big ones too. Players of all types. But most important, very talented players want to go to Michigan. These are players who didn’t have much incentive to go to Rich Rodriguez’s Michigan, but have plenty of incentive to choose Brady Hoke’s version of the school.
When the University of Michigan finally ended Rodriguez’s stunted edition of Wolverine football and hired a coach who actually understood Michigan through all of its depths and dalliances, there was a jump-start effect, not unlike Hulk Hogan shaking off punch after punch in the midst of “hulking up” before finally coming still and pointing a finger in the face of the disbelieving opposition.
Michigan, at least in heart and mind, had said “Enough!” And admitting there was a problem was their first step to recovery. Gone was the coach who had immediately alienated Michigan high school coaches, and in his place was somebody who knew how to represent the ocularly-offensive Maize and Blue.
Without anybody to impress, however, appearances don’t really matter. But fortunately for Hoke, the 2012 recruiting class is loaded with players looking to be swept off their feet. And he and his coaches can certainly be considered charmers.
There were no doubts that Michigan was going to put some holes in Jim Tressel’s fence around Ohio this recruiting season. For one, there were simply too many good in-state prospects to land them all. For two, Ohio State doesn’t have a ton of room in this year’s class. For three, as mentioned earlier, kids do actually want to go to Michigan. You combine these three factors, and good things were going to happen for the Wolverines this year.
If only it had stopped there.
Even before Jim Tressel resigned, every kid the Buckeyes were interested in was being told that the absolute worst in NCAA sanctions was coming Ohio State’s way. This was coming from college coaches all over the place, including Michigan.
Once Jim Tressel resigned, all recruiting hell broke loose. Ohio State can’t tell a kid who their head coach is going to be when they get to school, and opposing coaches are playing those cards like a royal flush in a high-stakes game. They simply lay their hands down, see the acceptance of defeat in the kids’ eyes and pull in the tableful of chips.
Of course, negatively recruiting against Ohio State the last six months has been about as difficult as saying, “Hey, did you see ESPN today?” Or, “How about that Sports Illustrated Article?” Or, “Could you believe the farm report this morning where they implicated those six Buckeyes for misuse of farm subsidies?”
Michigan is on the rise in recruiting circles while Ohio State is simply trying to avoid circling the drain. And the Wolverines have another six months to work with before Ohio State’s head coach is ultimately named. Not only will that allow them to build the 2012 class, but it has also allowed them to get a head start on the 2013 class.
That is not to say the Buckeyes are simply going to lay down on the 2013 class, because in fact the exact opposite is happening. Ohio is loaded again in 2013 and many of those kids want to be a part of the new Ohio State—but even that may change if the Ohio State they are interested in is turned in a different direction than what they were anticipating.
What happens if Ohio State is stripped of a few scholarships? Do they focus their energies on keeping the Ohio fence strong, or do they go out and simply try to get the best kids they can, regardless of location? If they choose to ignore Ohio, you can bet Hoke and Salesman of the Year Greg Mattison will swoop in with a pitch that will be just right.
This convergence of a new Michigan and an embattled Ohio State has set the table perfectly for Brady Hoke. But it will only last so long if the results don’t come with it. Yes, the momentum is clearly flowing in Michigan’s direction, but let’s not forget that the man at the Wolverine helm still only has a 47-50 career record.
As it involves Ohio State and Michigan, the Wolverines have one last bit of firepower on their side—this year’s game is being played in Ann Arbor. Hoke’s first chance to make a lasting impression in the greatest rivalry in all sports will take place in the friendly confines of the world’s largest man-made spectator crater.
Everything has been set up in Michigan’s favor. Which would make a Wolverine loss to the Buckeyes this season the most devastating since the 2006 classic that cost Michigan a chance at the BCS National Championship.
Regardless of the two teams’ records coming into this game, this year will be about gaining proper footing for the future, and bragging rights. Always, always bragging rights.
Let’s not forget, this might turn out to be Ohio State’s bowl game. Granted, it would be the worst bowl venue ever—the bowl swag would consist of two days worth of Domino’s pizza and unsold Noid dolls from 1987.
Relatively speaking, there is virtually no pressure on the Buckeyes in this year’s game. Only a desire to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Everything will be on Brady Hoke and Michigan’s shoulders.
Hoke and the Wolverines will be playing for more than just a win, they’ll also be trying to show that everything they’ve said about “Ohio” wasn’t just wasted breath. They’ll be trying to prove their hubris correct.
Everything says that that’s exactly what should happen. The numbers add up perfectly. There are no remainders. Michigan is set to seize back what used to belong to them before Jim Tressel took it and kept it like a spoil of war.
There is still the small matter of actually doing it.
The thing about several storms converging at once is that you have one unpredictability multiplied by another, and then another. Things that should happen have a decidedly destructive way of not happening.
Brady Hoke has seized control of much of the chaos surrounding Ohio State and Michigan right now, but there’s still more to come.
The ultimate control between the two schools will be taken on the football field. And only on the football field.
That’s where the real change with Brady Hoke will be needed most.