Former Michigan football players seek coach who connects with program's history, traditions
Les Miles or Brady Hoke.
Brady Hoke or Les Miles.
It doesn’t necessarily matter which one becomes the next football coach at the University of Michigan in the eyes of former Wolverines. They’d be happy with either.
Both Hoke and Miles possess the trait players from multiple eras see as a prerequisite for the job — an understanding of the history and traditions that make Michigan a special place.
“If it’s one of those guys, I’d be ecstatic,” said Jarrett Irons, an all-American linebacker who played for the Wolverines from 1993 to 1996. “They understand what it means to be at a program like that.”
Irons knows both coaches well. Miles recruited him to Ann Arbor. Hoke was a defensive line coach at the same time, and they later bonded during a football trip to Japan.
“Michigan is a hard place,” he said. “It’s not for everyone. Those guys understand it. You bring in a guy like Rich Rodriguez and it’s not a good fit.”
Michigan fired Rodriguez on Wednesday following a tumultuous three-year tenure in which the former West Virginia coach compiled a 15-22 overall record and five major NCAA rules violations.
San Diego State’s Hoke and and LSU’s Miles have been two prominent coaches mentioned as prominent replacements.
On Saturday night, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva issued a statement saying that LSU had not been contacted by anyone at Michigan regarding Miles.
San Diego State has taken a different approach in addressing the possibility Hoke could leave - school president Stephen Weber told the San Diego Union-Tribune that “it’s Michigan’s move” earlier this week.
Former Michigan fullback and tight end Aaron Shea, who now works for the Cleveland Browns, said Hoke is an intriguing choice.
“He’s a players’ coach first, but he also demands a lot from his players,” Shea said. “I played with coaches like that. When you do bad, you feel bad, because you let your coach down.”
Former Wolverines are in agreement that Hoke and Miles are their preferred candidates, but they’re not opposed to outsiders. They just want someone who understands and respects Michigan’s traditions.
The most important one? That should be obvious.
“My big thing wasn’t that Rich Rod wasn’t a Michigan man,” Shea said, “but he wasn’t a Michigan man because he didn’t win. Nothing personal, but at a program like Michigan? When we went 8-4, people said the M stood for mediocre.”
Shea said it rubbed him the wrong way when Rodriguez disregarded the team’s traditional offense and installed the spread upon his arrival. He’d like to see the next coach return to running the football, playing stout defense and employing a fullback.
“And multiple tight ends,” he said.
Offensive tackle Jon Jansen, a two-time all-Big Ten selection who went on to a 10-year career with the Washington Redskins, doesn’t have as specific an on-field vision as Shea, his former teammate.
But he’d like to see the Wolverines generally look like a defensive-minded team that plays smashmouth, Big Ten football.
“I don’t think coming from the Big East and coming from that coaching background, I don’t think he (Rodriguez) understood what Big Ten football was and the tradition and history and everything that comes with Michigan football,” said Jansen, who now splits his time between Plymouth and Petoskey.
“I think the most important thing, whoever it is, I want a guy that understands what Big Ten football is,” he said. “That’s the criteria, along with knowing the pressure that the job entails.”
It’s not so much a return to the past that former players desire as it is a return to prestige. Offensive lineman Steve Schilling, Irons and Shea all said they didn’t commit to Michigan because of the coach.
They came to Michigan because it was Michigan.
“When I came here, I decided to commit to Michigan and not to Coach (Lloyd) Carr,” Schilling said. “It’s a tough thing to do, to pick a school and not get too attached to your coaches.
“But coaches come and go all the time, so as long as they are happy at Michigan and work hard, they’ll have success here.”
- Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.