Brady Hoke said he will focus on toughness and character as he takes over as coach at the University of Michigan, college football’s winningest program.
Hoke, 52, was picked to succeed Rich Rodriguez, who was fired last week after three seasons and a 15-22 record. Hoke coached San Diego State to a 9-4 record and a bowl victory this season. A former Wolverines assistant, he is the 19th head coach in the program’s 131-year history, which has produced a record 884 victories.
“We are going to have a foundation of toughness, because I don’t care what position you play, this is a tough man’s game,” Hoke said today at a news conference on the Ann Arbor, Michigan, campus. “You have to be mentally tough and you have to be physically tough, because that’s the way the game of football is played.”
Hoke was hired yesterday, the same day that former Michigan player and assistant Les Miles said he was returning as coach at Louisiana State University. Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon said he had discussed the Wolverines’ opening with both Miles and Jim Harbaugh, a former Michigan quarterback who coached Stanford to a 12-1 record this season, but told the Associated Press that he never offered the job to anyone but Hoke. Harbaugh accepted the coaching job with the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 7, while Miles today signed a seven-year extension at LSU.
Brandon said Hoke stood out in his love for Michigan football and his reputation as a coach who can take over a program and win because his players want to play for him.
“He is clearly a player’s coach,” Brandon said. “Unlike some other coaches, it’s not about him, it’s about his players and his team.”
Hoke was an assistant at Michigan before leaving in 2003 to coach Ball State, his alma mater, and was 34-37 in six seasons with the Cardinals. At San Diego State, Hoke was 13-12 and won the 2010 Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year award. The Aztecs’ 35-14 victory over Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23 was the team’s first postseason victory in 41 years.
Hoke addressed his new team at lunch today and said that the 2011 Wolverines will be “a team of character.”
“The character teams are the ones that play together, the ones who stay together,” Hoke said. “They are the ones that are accountable to each other and we are going to be a program that is going to be accountable.”
The team was led this season by sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson, who became the first player in National Collegiate Athletic Association history to both rush and throw for 1,500 yards in the same season. While Rodriguez’s spread offense used Robinson’s throwing and running, Hoke’s pro-style offense generally keeps quarterbacks in the pocket.
Hoke called Robinson a “special” player and said that the quarterback’s love for the university was apparent in their first meeting.
“When you have talented players, as a coach it’s your job to mold that into what’s best for your football team,” Hoke said. “Most of the time when you do that, it’s also what’s best for that player.”
Michigan was 7-6 in Rodriguez’s final season, culminating in a 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, the Wolverines’ most lopsided postseason defeat.
Rodriguez’s tenure also was marked by rules violations that brought NCAA penalties. Brandon said when he announced Rodriguez’s firing that the coach’s tenure had encompassed “three years of turmoil.”
Michigan last won a Big Ten conference title under Lloyd Carr in 2004, when it shared the championship with Iowa. Carr also coached the team to its most recent national championship in 1997, when the team went 12-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the final AP poll.
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