In a year where we’ve seen coaches at prestigious football programs on the hot seat, no seat may be hotter than Brady Hoke’s at Michigan.
On Saturday, Hoke may have his last chance to save his job. The University of Michigan faces their in-state rival, Michigan State, in East Lansing. Although it’s inevitable the Wolverines lose this game, it’s how they lose this game that will be looked at.
Hoke, who has been able to sign highly-ranked recruiting classes year after year, has struggled to develop the players he brought to Ann Arbor. His teams have seen their win total decrease in each of his four seasons at Michigan and have struggled against their three main rivals.
Another knock on the coach has been his preparation and ability to make adjustments. There will be no excuse on Saturday, as Michigan has a full two weeks to prepare for the contest. Devin Gardner is expected to start the game after another poor showing in Michigan’s last game against Penn State.
Coach Hoke, along with athletic director Dave Brandon, have experienced a whirlwind of criticism from fans, alumni, and a countless number of media outlets. From under-performing to a case of neglect, nothing has gone right this season for Michigan.
Attendance is at a 30-year low, the football team started out 0-2 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1967, and for the first time ever, lost three games before the beginning of October. Students rallied in front of school president Mark Schlissel’s house, demanding that Brandon was removed.
Brandon’s attitude about making money and making money only doesn’t sit well with the student body, whose relationship with the athletic director has quickly deteriorated.
None of the parties directly involved with the Michigan football program admit that the struggles have taken a toll on them, but the players’ performance, both on and off the field, show that they have been affected. Wide receiver Devin Funchess said during a press conference that “wins and losses are only a statistic.” He may be right, but that statistic is the only one that matters in football, and Funchess will be running all the way to the 2015 NFL Draft.
Another alarming moment this season was prior to the second half against Rutgers, when the only players sincerely warming up were the kickers and punters. Unless Hoke thinks it’s humorous that those are really the only players they’ll use anyway for their anemic offense, it’s a bad sign when your quarterback throws only a couple of warm-up tosses after a fifteen minute halftime break.
Hoke has never won a game at Michigan against a ranked opponent on the road. Michigan State, who is 8th in the latest AP poll, is looking to continue its march towards the inaugural college football playoff. With a win, “little brother” would beat Michigan for the 6th time in 7 years.
Michigan State has been able to keep the state’s top recruits in-state and heading towards East Lansing. Michigan has seen their verbal commitments open up their recruitment, and who blames them? Michigan has a 4-9 record in their last 13 games and isn’t even close to contending in the weak Big Ten. The Wolverines are in danger of not playing in a bowl game, but what does that matter?
Michigan has only won two bowl games in the last decade, less than Louisiana-Lafeyette, who only played in their first bowl game in 2011.
A win against Michigan State won’t even ensure that Hoke’s job is safe, but it would certainly spark some optimism surrounding the football program. Fans are tired of hearing the coach’s press conferences after losses, saying that they need to play better or need to prepare better.
Michigan had two weeks to prepare for this game, but for what it’s worth, they also had two weeks before the Michigan State game last year, resulting in a 29-6 Michigan loss. The writing’s on the wall for Hoke in Ann Arbor, and no amount of clapping will be able to change that.
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