The Wolverines were spurred by new football coach Brady Hoke, who received a standing ovation as he was introduced during a timeout in the first half. He sang "Hail to the Victors" with his wife, Laura, left, and daughter, Kelly. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Ann Arbor -- It was half-pep rally, half-family reunion and all-important. Brady Hoke didn't win any football games Wednesday, but he did something badly needed. He reminded everyone what Michigan football used to be, and with impressive charisma, made a stirring case for how it can be that way again.
No new-age dazzle, uh-uh, not a bit. And in the back of the news conference introducing Hoke as Michigan's new coach, all sorts of players — past and present — nodded and smiled.
Hoke talked about Bo Schembechler and Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr and Michigan's 1997 national championship team he helped coach. He talked about Big Ten titles and recruiting hard in Michigan, Ohio and the Midwest. He talked about defense and toughness, in the raspy Midwestern clip of a MICH-i-gan Man.
And in case anyone missed the point, Hoke pounded it into the podium, literally. He declined to put the words "Ohio" and "State" next to each other, and was asked how he really felt about what he calls "that school in Ohio."
"Not that the others aren't important," Hoke said. "But it is (pound) the (pound) most (pound) important (pound) game (pound) on (pound) that (pound) schedule. It's very important to me, and it's almost personal."
Personal — that's what this is about. After three dismal seasons under Rich Rodriguez — who had no idea what he was getting into here — someone is wildly eager to take personal responsibility for rebuilding Michigan, for uniting factions, for leading the way.
Eventually, Hoke will have to win football games and put a dent in Jim Tressel's 9-1 record against Michigan. He's also strongly advised to stop the 0-3 skid against Michigan State and maybe, you know, beat Iowa every now and then.
Hoke's tenure will be judged by tackles and touchdowns, not talk, but he weaved a terrific rallying speech into the news conference. The lopsided Michigan-Ohio State rivalry serves as a symbol of what once was, and he doesn't mind showing it.
'Willing to do everything'
Hoke has a difficult short-term task, pushing Michigan from the spread back to smashmouth ways (updated for today's offenses, of course). So he can't make loud proclamations, not yet, and he didn't when introduced during the first half of the Michigan-Ohio State basketball game at Crisler Arena. The students chanted his name, the crowd stood and applauded and Hoke gave an appreciative wave.
Not much more to say right now. Someday, Michigan's toughness should match the Big Ten's best again, if Hoke is ready for the task. I think he is, primarily because he understands it, having been an assistant here from 1995-2002. His 47-50 record while turning around San Diego State and Ball State is what concerns some, and that's understandable. It's also probably shortsighted.
Athletic director Dave Brandon obviously thinks Hoke, 52, is ready, anointing him while so many demanded he do whatever it took to get Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles. There's a leap of Hoke Hope here, but Brandon and Hoke are presenting a dual face of confidence and emotional investment.
Brandon, a former Michigan player, left a huge corporate job at Domino's a year ago to take over. Hoke, an Ohio native and Ball State graduate, admitted he would've walked to Ann Arbor from San Diego to become the coach. He got a six-year deal, but both sides swear money was barely discussed.
"The only guy I've ever heard of that took a job without knowing what it paid was named Schembechler," Brandon said. "I wanted a coach who wanted to be here, who loves this place and was willing to do everything he needed to do, within the bounds of the rules, to be successful."
'Shame on' doubters
Hoke has a good shot at restoring order, which must happen before he even thinks about restoring dominance. He has a 1997 Michigan national championship ring and a burning desire to be the latest keeper of tradition. That's a fine place to start, and trust me, the guy is sharp. Don't let his stout Fred Flintstone look distract you, not that he cares. Michigan needed to get bigger again, right?
It takes someone who loves something to understand how deeply to hate the downside. Brandon and Hoke clearly have shown their attachment to Michigan and their disdain for how things have gone. And that means all of it — the radical shift in style of play, the losing, the sparring factions among Michigan Men.
The divisiveness that dogged Rodriguez has to end, and Hoke is determined to end it.
"To me, it's sad that this great university and this great program and tradition has divisions," Hoke said. "People thinking that Michigan is on a downward spiral, or doesn't have that national acclaim, shame on them. And shame on them if it's Michigan people, because everyone who is going to touch this program is going to have a fanatical love for the University of Michigan."
Naturally and traditionally, that should be accompanied by a fanatical dislike for that school in Ohio, right? Hoke's wife, Laura, grew up with him in Dayton, and she said his dislike for Ohio State always was there. His friends loved the Buckeyes, so he went the other way. He avoided wearing red for that very reason, which wasn't easy when he coached red-and-black-clad Ball State.
Some things you grow up with and never let go. Some places you leave and never leave behind. Hoke always wanted to return to the Michigan he remembered, which now is the Michigan he must restore.