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Posted on Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Ex-San Diego State players: Brady Hoke's 'hostile' takeover, tough love keyed turnaround

By Kyle Meinke


What do former San Diego State football players remember about Brady Hoke? A tough-guy first impression and, eventually, a softer side.

Melanie Maxwell |

Ask San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley for his favorite Brady Hoke memory, and you won't get revelry about posting the school's first winning season since 1999. Nor of winning the Aztecs' first bowl game since 1969.

It was a kiss, shared two-and-a-half years ago in a Fort Collins, Colo., locker room amid a 4-8 season.

You see, San Diego State went 2-10 when Lindley was a freshman in 2008, the Aztecs' worst season in a decade — a real accomplishment, considering they hadn't even had a winning record in a decade.

Some players "gave up," and needed to be weaned from the program, Lindley said. Hoke turned out to be just the man for the job when he took over the Aztecs in 2009.


Ryan Lindley, shown at the NFL Scouting Combine, on Michigan coach Brady Hoke: "You can just tell the guy not only cares about you, he loves you."

Associated Press

"His takeover was a little bit hostile," punter Brian Stahovich said of Hoke at last month's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "I know he wanted to stir things up and get people thinking differently. ... Just sizing everyone up. Work all the kids to the bone. Get kids to quit."

He succeeded, as about 10 players exited the program in the first few weeks of Hoke's tenure, Stahovich said.

"A lot of scholarship guys got weeded out, a lot of kids that they didn’t really feel should be there," he added. "They can’t just cut kids, but when you’re working that hard, it really determines, 'Do you want to be there, or not?'

"It was just crazy. Tons of running, tons of lifting. It wasn’t necessarily strength-building stuff. Just hard, and it’s going to suck, and you’re going to be sore. I mean, on weekends, we would just lay in bed all day because we were too sore to move. We just recovered for Monday."

Hoke coached at San Diego State two years before accepting the Michigan football job last year. He didn't lose any players during his first spring camp in Ann Arbor, although six left the program by November. No reasons were given for their departures.

But from player accounts, there was a swift culture change implemented during spring and fall camps, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Result: 11 victories, a five-year high.

Hoke achieved similar results at San Diego State. It took a little more time, but a nucleus, and tone, were set in that trying first season. Lindley says a turning point came when, after losing nine consecutive road games to open his career, San Diego State erased a 14-point deficit in a victory at Colorado State.

And the coach tough enough to run off almost a dozen players celebrated it with a kiss.

"I just remember he gave me a big hug, told me he was proud of me and gave me a kiss on the cheek," Lindley said. "That’s just the kind of guy Coach Hoke is. It wasn’t weird. You can just tell the guy not only cares about you, he loves you.


Running back Ronnie Hillman on Brady Hoke: "He cared enough about me and he just stuck with me."

Associated Press

"And that's how I'll always remember him."

The Aztecs went 4-8 that season, then 9-4 the next. That was their best record in 33 years. Lindley, Stahovich and tailback Ronnie Hillman went on to have standout careers with the Aztecs and were invited to last month's combine.

All three, in separate interviews at the combine, said Hoke and his staff had the biggest impact on their careers.

"They taught me how to play the game," Lindley said. "Honestly, I look back on my freshman year, and I didn’t really know much about how to play quarterback. I could throw a ball and I liked to play football, and that was about it.

"But they just taught me how to be a tougher player and demand things out of people, how to manage a game. How to be a quarterback, and not just a guy who throws the ball around."

Hillman credited offensive coordinator Al Borges' offense for molding him into one of the country's top tailbacks. He finished 10th in the country in rushing his first college season.

"Mad wizard," Hillman said, shaking his head.

When asked of Hoke, Hillman took a moment to consider the question before offering a heart-felt reply.

"I had a little trouble getting into school, and they easily could have forgot about me," said Hillman, who was ruled ineligible his freshman season by the admission's office and ordered to leave campus. He went to Jonesboro, Ga., where his mother lives, and studied while working at a local Applebee's.

"But he cared enough about me and he just stuck with me and helped me get back into school, and that’s pretty much how I'll remember him," Hillman said

As for Stahovich, he developed a close relationship with Hoke, who worked as the punters' position coach, much as he does at Michigan.

"He likes to be the punt coach," Stahovich said. "He’d just meander over every day at the beginning of practice and tell me about what’s going on, tell me about Mrs. Hoke, going out to La Jolla or something for a nice date.

"We’d just punt some balls and shoot the (breeze)."

Hillman, Lindley and Stahovich would have had reason to be bitter toward Hoke for leaving after just two seasons — and some players did feel scorned, after Hoke notified the team of his departure via mass text.

"Not to be critical, I was extremely happy for him because everyone deserves to get their dream job, no matter what it is or where it is, but the way he left, I though it was just kind of … he could have handled it better," Stahovich said. "He just sent a mass text to every one. That was hard."

But according to the three players, it didn't take the Aztecs long to appreciate what Hoke and his staff did for them, and why they left. The players said they don't harbor ill feelings toward their old coach.

Those mixed feelings made for an intriguing matchup in the fourth week of last season, when Hoke's new team hosted his old one in a matchup he scheduled himself while at San Diego State. The Wolverines won 28-7.

"It was difficult," Lindley said. "But that’s what the game is about, and even in the college game, it’s a business, to an extent."

It's a business that has worked out for Michigan, whose seniors went 15-22 in three years before Hoke's arrival. Last year, they went 11-2 with him, won a Sugar Bowl and snapped a seven-year losing streak against Ohio State.

The seniors were honored in a pregame ceremony before that game, and Hoke greeted each of them on the field.

A few, he sent out with a kiss.

"With his personality, it’s stern," Lindley said. "He comes in and, I wouldn’t say you’re scared, but he demands respect. At the same time, that guy cares about his players more than anyone I’ve ever been around."

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.


Albee Macaw

Sat, Mar 10, 2012 : 5:32 a.m.

Was this before or after he took the knife out of the SDSU players he abandoned?


Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 2:54 a.m.

A little late to the party, but great piece Kyle. Your M football coverage has exceeded expectations.

Matt Patercsak

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 6:15 p.m.

This is a pretty solid write up of Michigan vs Alabama/what we need to do to win The blog itself is pretty awesome, I'm a fan here's the link <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 4:02 p.m.

Anyone see Hillman's cut arms up there? He looks like a specimen of muscle!! Put him and Martin on the same team and get them to the Lions!! I think Hillman will make a great pro.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 2:51 a.m.

I agree. Hillman is a stud.

Steve McQueen

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 10:06 a.m.

Was reading this rivals yahoo preview of the big ten spring practices and what each team needs <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> From reading that, its pretty clear that Michigan will be the conference favorite this fall. We have the most complete team coming back. Should be fun.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 4:28 a.m.

Nice article. One thing however, does come to mind. Hoke's workouts are so tough he drove off 6 scholarships guys at Michigan. How is it RR got written up in the Free Press and then Michigan investigated and penalized by the NCAA. If RR was 'overworking&quot; his guys then how come RR's players couldn't handle Hoke's workouts. So glad RR was fired and Hoke was hired but the whole thing stunk. If Hoke hadn't had a great season there would be people saying he tortures kittens in his free time. Go Blue. Go Hoke. Go away &quot;free press&quot;.

Ed daggett

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 2:13 a.m.

The coach that Hoke replaced tried to get rid of bad character kids on the team he inherited &amp; was crusified by media and &quot;fans&quot; One thing hoke has never done is stay long enough to show any track record of success. He had one great yr at Ball State and the yr he left they went in the toilet. That is not exactly &quot;building a program&quot;. Looks like the same is happening at San Diego State. Personally I would like to hear Hoke's version of what happened at the 2010 Mott golf outing in the private meeting with Carr, Feely, brandon, griese and others when the purpose was to get RR out &amp; Brady in. Hoke has never denied this


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 9:56 p.m.

I'm sooooo glad we have Coach Hoke (and the &quot;Mad Wizard.&quot;) UM football is in GREAT hands.

Terry Star21

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 10:18 p.m.

Right on....and it will only get better - great time for us all !

Steve McQueen

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 9:03 p.m.

When Lindley played under the Mad Wizard Coach Borges....he rose pretty quickly in to a potential NFL QB...his footwork and decision making went along with his naturally strong arm. However, when Michigan crushed SDSU last year, Lindley looked and played awful... After the game, the Mad Wizard spent 15-20 minutes talking with Lindley one on one on the field after the game, helping him work things out and get back to the fundamentals. That is another great man, Coach Borges who truly cares about the guys that he coaches, and even works with his former players to help them too.

Steve McQueen

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 8:56 p.m.

&quot;&quot;It was just crazy. Tons of running, tons of lifting. It wasn't necessarily strength-building stuff. Just hard, and it's going to suck, and you're going to be sore. I mean, on weekends, we would just lay in bed all day because we were too sore to move. We just recovered for Monday.&quot; That is football son....I though that every year that I played....good teams make that sacrifice. I didnt know that Hillman was leaving for the NFL already. Good article.

Terry Star21

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 8:46 p.m.

This is a great article and shows not only what a great coach Brady Hoke is, but what a great human being this man is. How special it is when former players talk about how Hoke helped them individually and turned them into winners. Hoke is the best coach in the nation hands down; recruiting, coaching, teaching and family values - and it will only get better. &quot;With his personality, it's stern,&quot; Lindley said. &quot;He comes in and, I wouldn't say you're scared, but he demands respect. At the same time, that guy cares about his players more than anyone I've ever been around.&quot; Too good ! MgoBlueForTiM.......Hoke personality = Michigan Football the best, in every aspect


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 7:43 p.m.

rightmind250: You are a tool. He didnt say spring break, he said SEMESTER break, which is exactly what it was.

Steve McQueen

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 8:58 p.m.

and a dull that will never make it out of the shed


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 6:34 p.m.

rightmind250....nice try, buddy. the spring semester at san diego st started on january 18th that year (see link). nice of you to just make something up without even checking to see if its right. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 6:11 p.m.

I agree with Trublue. And I know I'm changing the subject , but has anyone seen highlights of Michigan's recruit from south of the border, Taco Charlton ? I think he is going to be a good one. Long arms defensive end sack specialist

Terry Star21

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

You're still the funniest I've seen, dan gave it a shop for a while...but he's no ted....keep us laughing..LOL

John Herbster

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 5:41 p.m.

One detail this article neglects to cover: The players were on semester break when Hoke was hired. There was no way for him to hold a team meeting at the time as they were scattered all over the country.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 3:35 p.m.

It was an interesting view of Hoke a year out from his departure. Clearly, these players have a great relationship and don't begrudge Hoke's leaving. I do think that the mass text is bad form, especially from a coach who cares for his players like that. It reminds me of that Pitt coach who left suddenly to flip to Arizona State. The players commit to the program, are stuck, and deserve a bit of respect more than a text. How would a coach like it if a player decided to transfer but only announced it to the world by Twitter? Or texted it to the coaching staff? Based on Hoke's handling of recruit Pharaoh Brown, he would not like it one bit. I think Hoke could have delayed coming here by one day to gather his team and have a face-to-face discussion.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 1:26 a.m.

Turns out my criticism was misdirected, if indeed the team was not on campus or around. I maintain my feeling that coaches owe more to a team than a text message, but obviously, schedule and external forces do not allow a proper meeting. (That ex-Pitt coach though has no such excuse. He is just a slime).


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

I think maybe La Hoya, translates to: &quot;The Hole&quot; in English. But if you google La Hoya, the results are for &quot;La Jolla,&quot; an affluent town in S. Calif. It wasn't that many years ago that the Chinese government mandated a mass correction of English spellings of Chinese place names: &quot;Pekin&quot; ended up being spelled Beijing. Seems like a good idea for the U.S. to correct spellings of foreign language names here. (Ex. &quot;Annarbour&quot; was never an English word or place name. &quot;Ann Arbor&quot; is.) As for Coach Hoke: it's good that his former players think of him as they do. But the article is kinda repetitive, telling the story again. I don't think Brady Hoke needs that kind of validation (here) any more.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

Try &quot;el hueco&quot;.

Steve McQueen

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 8:57 p.m.

Thanks Tru for that definition....which now can apply to Cbus &quot;the hole&quot;.... La Hoya Columbus.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 11:36 a.m.

Umm, I think La Hoya is actually La Jolla. Sounds like the author of the article has never been to San Diego.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 4:17 a.m.

La hoya, la jolla; like the world is going to come to an end. The j in Spanish is pronounced like the h in English. Phonetically it was correct. Translation of place names from one language to another is always iffy. We call Munich- Munich and the Germans call it Munchen. Why do we spell Illinois in french when the ending doesn't drop off in English? We use the Spanish spelling for Havana and as a result all Americans mispronounce it. We should spell it &quot;abana&quot; since the H is silent in Spanish. But some AA alums would complain. As Emerson wrote- a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little wolverine alums.

Bruce Kennedy

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 2:50 p.m.

Boy oh boy, that is the first thing I noticed. Maybe the author was thinking of the Georgetown La Hoyas. :)


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:29 p.m.

haha, You finally figured it out. These articles are written by the Dave Brandon marketing department. They just send it over to so Kyle can put his name on it.