Michigan head coach Brady Hoke begins the season on the hot seat hoping the play of his senior quarterback Devin Gardner will carry him to safety.
Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke addresses the media during the Big Ten football media day at Hilton Chicago.
(C+P) — Entering his fourth season as the Wolverine’s skipper, Hoke holds a record at Michigan of 26-13. That’s an average of a little less than nine wins per season. Most teams would love those numbers, but this isn’t just any program, this is, “the great Michigan program.”
Michigan leads the nation with 910 career wins. They have such a rich history that they expect to either be in the Big Ten championship or at least contending for it every year. On top of that, Michigan fans feel that they should also contend for the national championship almost every year.
That simply hasn’t happened under Brady Hoke. The closest he has come was his first season at Michigan. He went 11-2, finishing a close second in the Big Ten Legends division. Michigan beat Ohio State in that regular season, the first time since 2003. They then beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Hoke won Big Ten Coach of the Year and Michigan fans were very optimistic about Michigan’s future.
That optimism plummeted from the very beginning of the next season after Michigan lost 41-14 to defending (and future) national champion Alabama. After that things didn’t get a whole lot better as Michigan ended up winning only eight games that season. Many fans chalked that up to the difficulty of the teams they played as all of their five losses were to ranked opponents.
Then last year, Michigan’s win total fell to seven. The losses weren’t just against ranked teams this time. They fell to unranked Nebraska, Iowa, Penn State, and Kansas State. Each week a new problem was blamed for the loss. Sometimes it was their defense, like against Penn State when they gave up 43 points. Against in-state rival Michigan State, it was their anemic offense as they lost 29-6. Perhaps the biggest problem was their offensive line coupled with their quarterback.
Their offensive line was, to be blunt, horrendous, giving up 270 yards to sacks, the most in the Big Ten. Then junior quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked a whopping 34 times. That’s almost three times a game which is stunning for a quarterback as mobile as Gardner. The sacks made the otherwise decent offense become stagnant.
Those factors led to Michigan going 7-6 and ending the season on a sour 31-14 defeat to Kansas State. After such a poor season, there were rumors about Hoke being on the proverbial hot seat. Rich Rodriguez only got three seasons at Michigan. Granted, that was after he posted a record of 15-22 and brought the program to lows not seen for many years at Michigan.
But this is a new time. During Michigan’s bad years under Rodriguez, the Big Ten was on the decline. Now it looks like it is on the rise, especially with Michigan State becoming a powerhouse. The pressure is huge on Michigan to win now. They can’t afford to go irrelevant for another year. If that happens Hoke may be fired.
Hoke is betting all his cards on his senior quarterback Devin Gardner. Despite having one of the best dual threat quarterbacks ever, two years ago there was some debate whether Gardner should start over incumbent starter Denard Robinson. They went with Robinson and Gardner splitting time.
When Robinson went down, Gardner played very well. He had a 59.5 completion percentage with 1219 yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions.
After Robinson graduated, the expectations were big for him, and he somewhat disappointed his fans. He had some great games, and some awful games. He rarely had time to get the ball off, which hurt his performance, but that was no excuse for some of his awful decisions.
He ended up posting a statline of 2,960 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a 60.3 completion percentage. He would blow up in some games and then completely disappear in others. He will need much more consistent play if he is to save Hoke’s job, and his own reputation.