Looking back: Past Ann Arbor News columns give some insight into Brady Hoke
New Michigan football coach Brady Hoke is no stranger around Ann Arbor.
We dug into our Ann Arbor News archives to find stories from Hoke's eight seasons as a Wolverines assistant coach. The following three items, written by former News columnist Jim Carty, provide the most detail. We also brought him out of retirement for some fresh perspective, which concludes this post.
It turns out Carty may have been a bit prophetic, too. Check out the last lines from this first selection, written on Jan. 4, 2003:
TAMPA Fla. - Before the game he talked about turning it off when the clock hit zero, about how when the last second of the Outback Bowl ticked off the clock, he'd quit being a University of Michigan football coach.
Nice try, but as tough as Brady Hoke is, he's not that tough.
The tears in his eyes proved that as Hoke hugged Grant Bowman, then took one last look around before walking off the field at Raymond James Stadium on Wednesday and beginning a new life as the head football coach at Ball State.
"Yeah, a lot of mixed emotions out there, " the now former assistant head coach said afterward, his eyes still puffy as he stood by the team bus and hugged the kids he'd recruited and coached.
Anyone who thinks you have to graduate from the university to be a Michigan man hasn't watched or talked much with guys like Hoke, guys who come here thinking they know a lot about football and leave admitting they had so much to learn.
Who leave not really wanting to leave.
Eight years ago Hoke left Oregon State to come to Michigan without even a unit to coach. He split the defensive line with Greg Mattison.
Then Mattison, who initially recommended Hoke to Moeller, left for Notre Dame, and Hoke finally had the defensive line to himself. He gave it a toughness and a tightness that reflected his own personality.
"It was a great opportunity for him, and he really did a great job with it, " Carr said. "He had the chance to coach 'em all. There's something about building morale and esprit de corps, and Brady does it. He's a great football coach and an outstanding recruiter.
"He's changed a lot. I think he's grown, as anybody does. He's had a lot of success as a coach, and I think he's certainly ready to be a head coach."
Carr deserves credit for that. For the little things, for motivation and program management, the things you don't think about until you get behind the scenes and realize that running a Division I football program is like running an army. Everybody likes to yell charge on Saturday, but who cares about how they got the troops there? Only the head coach.
Even last week, as Hoke was thinking about hiring guys right away, worried about getting a quick start on recruiting, there was Carr with advice.
"I was maybe going a little too fast on assembling my staff, and he said, 'Hey, that's one of the most important decisions you're going to make. They're going to represent you and your university. You want to make sure you have the right guys.' That's helped me. It was advice that's going to pay off, " Hoke said. "A lot of my development as a coach was done here under Lloyd. He's been my biggest supporter.
"He's been the guy who I know I can count on when the tough decisions have to be made, as a sounding board. It's a special place. It was a dream come true to have the opportunity to come and work at Michigan and coach at Michigan. I'll always cherish it."
But, finally, Hoke did turn away Wednesday. When the rest of the Wolverines boarded the team bus for a loud, joyful ride back downtown to the team hotel, he didn't get on.
Instead, he walked away. Walked with his family in the other direction, off to a new life, one that could bring him everything he's ever wanted as a football coach.
One that might even bring him back here some day.
Here's another Carty column from July 2003, months into Hoke's tenure at Ball State.
During a recent visit back to Schembechler Hall, former University of Michigan assistant and current Ball State University head football coach Brady Hoke happened to bump into the man the building is named for.
"Are you being tough enough on them, Brady?" Bo wanted to know. "You'd better be tough on them!"
Hoke, now almost eight months into his first head coaching job, told the story with a smile Monday at Mid-American Conference media day in Detroit.
And don't worry, Bo, he's been tough enough. Hoke's rules and conditioning expectations are in harsh enough contrast to the previous regime at Ball State that 16 players have already quit. The new coach expects another departure or two before training camp ends.
Which is fine. There's always turnover when a new coach takes over. Better they leave now so you can start building with the guys who'll be fully committed to the program.
In a way, that stuff - the football stuff - is the easy part.
After 22 years coaching at places ranging from Yorktown High School to Grand Valley State to Toledo to Oregon to Michigan, the hard-charging Hoke knows how to set a tone, draw the line and get kids in shape.
What he's learning is what every assistant learns in his first head position: How little the job actually has to do with football.
Somebody, it turns out, has to make sure the Ball State Cardinals are dressed for success, and that somebody is Brady Hoke. He's also the guy who has to pick the hotel, plan the day's schedule and approve the food for road trips.
A check of Ball State phone records would show more than a few calls to Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.
"Ordering uniforms!" Hoke said, laughing. "I have no idea what I even want. Travel - that kind of stuff. I'm on the phone with coach Carr all the time. 'Coach, how would you do this?'"
Hoke'll take all the advice he can get.
From assistant to head coach is the biggest jump in any college football career, usually a hit-it-big or one-shot-and-done proposition.
Winning the MAC title is an instant ticket to bigger job offers and often a one-way trip to the Big Ten. Schembechler himself came from Miami (Ohio) and current Big Ten coaches Randy Walker and Glen Mason started at Miami and Kent State, respectively.
Fail, though, and you probably won't be a head coach again, at least not for a very long time.
Everything about Hoke indicates he could be a big-time college football coach. He's got fire and smarts, and was considered by many to be Michigan's best recruiter. The kids love him.
But a lot of people said similar things about former Wolverines assistant Mike DeBord when he left to take over the Central Michigan program in 1999. DeBord has yet to post a record better than 4-8 - although he has improved every year - and is now entering make-or-break time in his fourth season.
If DeBord breaks out and wins the MAC, he's a program builder and a hot commodity.
If he has another losing season, he's on the hot seat.
It's a thin margin, one that makes or breaks careers. One that Brady Hoke doesn't have time to think about.
"It really hasn't hit me, the big picture, " he said. "Too much work to do!"
A July 2005 Carty column from Mid-American Conference football media day:
A few minutes after entering a room reserved for television interviews at Mid-American Conference football media day last Monday, Brady Hoke was back hanging out in the lobby.
"Nobody's interested when you're not winning, " the Ball State coach said with a good-natured smile.
It took seven seasons on the University of Michigan football coaching staff before Hoke lost 17 games, a number he's equaled in just two years at his alma mater.
Every one hurts just as much as it did in Ann Arbor, he adds, same empty feeling, same questions about whether you did everything you could as a coach.
The losing hasn't worn him down. The former Michigan assistant is still quick with a grin and a joke.
But he's definitely finding out how the other half lives.
And it's not just the lack of a massive Michigan budget or door-opening reputation that makes things harder at Ball State, but the lack of a certain culture created by a tradition of winning.
When Hoke first arrived in Muncie, Ind., more than half of his team headed for the beach or some other summer diversion when school let out, while at Michigan, almost every player stays for "voluntary" summer workouts. That's just the way it is. If you're not willing to give up your summer, you're not going to play at Michigan.
Oh, you might stick around, but you're not going to play.
Asked what his biggest goal was for the upcoming season, the hurdle his team had to get over, Hoke brought up something that's absolutely taken for granted in his old job.
"We have to believe we can win, " the coach said. "Being at a program that's really been down, that's one of the biggest things. We have to go into it with the belief we can win this football game every time we take the field.
"It starts with believing in yourself and your ability and the things you've learned. That you've made the commitment, and believing the guy next to you made the commitment."
It'll be easier to believe, considering that this summer almost every Ball State player stayed for summer conditioning.
As ugly as last season's 2-9 record was, the Cardinals played their best football in their final four games, beating Central Florida, losing by a point to Central Michigan and taking bowl-bound Northern Illinois to overtime.
Former Michigan offensive coordinator Stan Parrish came on board in January to coach quarterbacks and help improve what was the MAC's 11th-ranked offense last season.
"Stan's been a head coach at three universities, so he's a good sounding board for me, " Hoke said.
And Hoke's recruits are beginning to dominate the two- deep depth chart. He'll have just two senior starters on offense and two on defense.
That said, things could get worse before they get better as Ball State wades into what might be the MAC's toughest September schedule: at Iowa, Auburn and Boston College and hosting MAC power Bowling Green.
"We're a young team, we're going to take some lumps, " Hoke said.
A lot more than he would have taken had he stayed at Michigan, but that was in the initial job description.
Brady Hoke believed then, as he believes now, that it'll be worth it in the long run.
It starts with that.
Finally, we asked Carty, a recent graduate of the University of Toledo College of Law, to share more impressions from the time he spent covering Michigan football while Hoke was on the staff. He provided the following this evening:
The thing that separated Brady Hoke from most assistant coaches under Lloyd Carr was the confidence to be the same guy in a media interview as he was when the cameras were off. Michigan assistants never talked much in those days, and when they did, most of them were obviously concerned about saying something that would be met with disapproval by their boss.
Hoke wasn't very polished or made-for-television, something he poked fun at himself. He laughed a lot more than the other assistants did, at least in public. When he did do interviews, he asked more questions than most assistants and seemed genuinely interested in how reporters did their jobs. When a sensitive topic came up, he'd simply chuckle and say, "You know I'm not going to talk about that." He didn't shy away from criticizing players or performances when he had to. I don't ever remember him asking to go off the record or take back something he said, both common practices with assistant coaches at Michigan and elsewhere.
The defensive linemen generally liked playing for him and he built a lot of identity and camaraderie as a position coach. I remember one of his players, it might have been Grant Bowman, saying that the defensive line had more fun then the rest of the team. But you had to earn that fun. He was a black-and-white rules guy, much like Carr.
I don't think you can overlook the fact that his time at Michigan only accounts for roughly one-third of Hoke's coaching career. He's paid a lot of dues at places with considerably less resources than Michigan. He's had to do more with less and figure out how to win with lesser talent. That should help him now, given the fact this roster isn't very suited to his style. Philosophically, this is obviously a return to the program's roots. On the field, Hoke is going to emphasize defense and the physical running game that Michigan has been known for in the past. Off the field, he's going to sell the idea that Michigan is a special place, a place where how you win matters as much as winning itself.
I'd imagine that if Bo Schembechler were still alive, he'd be smiling. But whether that's true or just a bit of wishful romanticizing, Hoke's bottom line will be the same as anyone Michigan hired - he's got to beat Ohio State a lot more than either of Michigan's last two coaches have done lately.