Michigan coach Brady Hoke is in his third year coaching the Wolverines, who are 6-1 and ranked No. 24. (Photos by John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
Michigan coach Brady Hoke, in his third season as coach, sat down with Detroit News Michigan beat writer Angelique Chengelis to discuss the season.
Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Brady Hoke has struggled in recent weeks to find the right word to describe the identity of his team.
He finally settled on one: Inconsistent.
Michigan is 6-1 overall, 2-1 in the Big Ten, and is off before a tough five-game stretch that begins next week at rival Michigan State.
So, inconsistency is the last thing the Wolverines need.
“We do take a couple steps forward in whatever phase it might be and a step back,” Hoke said. “I think we’ve been inconsistent. And it’s our job as coaches to correct that and make ’em more consistent.
“Is some of it because there’s some youth involved? Probably. Because it’s different preparing in the intensity of preparing every week to play your best. ... We’ve had injuries, too, but we’ve got to overcome.”
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison saw his defense allow 572 yards to Indiana last week and five pass plays of 20 yards or more. And, offensive coordinator Al Borges took heat after the four-overtime loss at Penn State earlier this month.
“When you get into coaching and you get into a position that you have decisions you have to make, all decisions aren’t going to be looked upon as great decisions because everyone is going to have an opinion right, wrong or indifferent,” Hoke said. “I know the time both those men put in studying and trying to give our kids the best chance to win. I also know they’ve been around it long enough to understand that the naysayers will be the naysayers, and you can’t worry about that.”
What Michigan does have to worry about is Michigan State, which boasts the nation’s No. 1 defense and has enjoyed recent success in the rivalry.
Hoke understands the nature of the rivalry.
“It’s a great rivalry; I think it always has been,” Hoke said. “I had the pleasure of being in it as an assistant coach and understanding you’re an hour, 10 minutes from each other, two programs that are competitive, two schools that are competitive, and people draw a line in the sand.
“The passion each that each fan base has about their university is what makes college football the greatest sport there is.”
Q. You say that “inconsistent” is your identity. Is that what this team is?
A. I think it is right now. We do take a couple steps forward in whatever phase it might be and a step back. I think there have been games where consistently, as a team, where we’ve played as a team and complemented each other enough in a good way, and that was Minnesota. There are things in the Penn State game, there were things in the Indiana game that were very good and very consistent on both sides of the ball. But there’s some inconsistencies. Defensively, we’ve never given up big plays, especially with (defensive coordinator) Greg (Mattison) and how we play defense, and we did that. And the biggest disappointment is, we’ve had opportunities on both sides of the ball and a little bit in the kicking game, we’ve had a dumb penalty here or there that’s taken a good return back or not hitting a field goal or getting a field goal blocked, not punting the ball in a crucial time how we’re capable of punting the ball, not taking care of the ball offensively and turning it over and the big plays defensively, and our tackling was atrocious last week. Those are the inconsistencies so when you ask me about the identity, I think we’ve been inconsistent. And it’s our job as coaches to correct that and make ’em more consistent. Is some of it because there’s some youth involved? Probably. Because it’s different preparing in the intensity of preparing every week to play your best. Obviously, we’re going into the meat of our schedule — and we’ve had injuries, too — but we’ve got to overcome. The old saying, the next guy, he’s got to go.
Q. The honeymoon for new coaches seems to be shorter. I think people wonder, where’s the magic even two and a half years in.
A. I’ll take 6-1 for now. The other thing is, these kids have shown a resiliency when we’ve started bad or whatever it is. They’ve done that. So there’s a positive in our identity.
Q. There are a lot of positives, but the inconsistency …
A. It’s killing us.
Q. You’re coming off an Indiana game that didn’t have a lot of defense to slow your offense …
A. We know who we’re going to play (next week). Defensively, you look at (Michigan State), there are not a whole lot of weaknesses. They’ve got a couple pros out there that are very good football players. Pat’s (Narduzzi) done a nice job with their defense. They’ve recruited well to what they want to do, and they’re playing at a high level.
Q. You want to shape your trenches, that’s always your focus, is it disappointing they’re not there yet in two and a half years?
A. Oh, yeah. I’ll always be disappointed. There’s no doubt about it. If you’re not disappointed, then you’re not competitive.
Q. But you’re understanding — maybe that’s what I meant — why they’re not there yet?
A. (long pause) I don’t know if I’m even understanding. I know what you’re talking about, but the expectations that we have: This program demands high expectations, but even saying that, I think it’s the expectations we have as a staff in doing this at two other programs.
Q. You did think coming into this season the pass rush would be better …
A. And it is. It is better.
Q. But I think people listened to all the preseason talk about the pass rush and think you should be getting, what you joked about the other day, 10 or 12 sacks a game.
A. The realism is, it is better. There is more pressure on the quarterbacks. It doesn’t take a sack to have pressure on the quarterbacks. Has there been times when we’ve given them maybe one beat (clicking his fingers) too many? Yeah. We need to do a good job of fixing that. The other thing is, how people from an offensive standpoint are defending our defense with personnel groups. You look at Penn State, they kept a tight end in a lot, they kept the back in a lot, so they were going to protect (quarterback Christian) Hackenberg and weren’t going to let you, whether it was a four-man rush or you want to bring five or six, they weren’t going to let you get close, and we sacked him four times. Some of those sacks are from pretty good coverage and some of them are a guy getting a second effort you need in the pass rush.
Q. Your coordinators (Mattison and Al Borges) took a little heat after the Penn State loss, do ever have to say anything to them to block it out?
A. When you get into coaching and you get into a position that you have decisions you have to make, all decisions aren’t going to be looked upon as great decisions because everyone is going to have an opinion right, wrong or indifferent. I know the time both those men put in studying and trying to give our kids the best chance to win. I also know they’ve been around it long enough to understand that the naysayers will be the naysayers and you can’t worry about that. We’ve got to worry about giving these kids the best plan that we possibly can to be successful.
Q. Do you ever disagree with calls Al makes?
A. There’s probably been in the five years we’ve been together two or three. Usually, it will come after the game, which is easy to do, right? Isn’t that easy? In our conversations during the week, no, I really don’t question him because he knows.
Q. That begs the headset question …
Q. People bring it up all the time, and I understand your logic, that you want to interact with your players on the sideline …
A. Yeah, I’m not just sitting there just watching the game. If I wanted to do that, I’d retire.
Q. But you don’t feel like you ever have to wear them?
A. When I need to put them on, I put them on. When I need to communicate, I’ll communicate. Greg and I communicate, obviously, an awful lot because of being on the field, so I don’t need them while he’s calling defenses. We’ll talk in between series, we’ll say, ‘Hey, how about this or this.’ We’ll have a coaching strategic discussion. If I need to talk to Al, which I did last week (against Indiana) regarding we needed points and we’re going to have to take every possession and try and stick it in the end zone and how we would do that, we had that discussion.
Q. Do you ever consider hiring a quarterbacks coach?
A. We had one at San Diego State, Brian Sipe did it. I’ve thought about it, but I’ve also watched Al coach quarterbacks. The one thing, Al has in the methodology he uses to coach and organize, he has it down to doing both is not a problem.
Q. I wondered, because when Devin (Gardner) was having issues turning over the ball, maybe it would have been a good thing to have a quarterbacks coach with him on the field.
A. I don’t think so. I think the conversations they have during the whole week are a big part of whatever’s being transferred back down (from Borges in the booth).
Q. Did you have to spend more time coaching up Devin after all those turnovers?
A. He’s pretty resilient and self-reliant, but at the same time you always want to make sure the young men understand you have confidence in their abilities and what they’re doing. Do you want to help shape some of the decision-making? Yes. But that’s constant communication throughout the week, throughout a practice, all those things.
Q. Al said Devin has improved tremendously the last three games. Have you seen that?
A. Oh, yeah, there’s no doubt.
Q. What’s changed?
A. That’s probably a better question for him. I would think maybe the understanding of the competition to some degree. I don’t even know if that’s right. I don’t know. Maybe there’s a trust factor he has within the entire offense now. The UConn game was a different type of game. Even though I think the work ethic and all that preparation was good, I think things got so sideways so fast with the ball being tipped — now is that really the quarterback’s fault? — or in that instance, should have the receiver had it? Could he have the thrown been better? Yes.
Q. With recruiting, do you put any stock into star ratings?
A. If you put everything into that, you make a lot of mistakes. You all have to do your own evaluations. We evaluate every guy. I know in this office and the coordinators’ office, those stars don’t mean a whole lot, because at the end of the day, the coordinators and myself are going to make the decision who we want in this program.
Q. Do you want to redshirt Shane Morris?
A. Well, we’ll just see what happens. I don’t think you can’t count on that. Can’t count on it. For me to say, ‘Yeah, I’d like to redshirt him,’ if that means Devin is healthy the whole year, that would be great.
Q. Why is the perception of the Big Ten that it’s down?
A. I think the media is part of it. I think there’s always people who root against the Big Ten and certain teams. I guess the biggest thing is, you’ve got to go prove it. That’s part of it. And I think the other thing is, the general media feel the Big Ten’s not very good. Now, I’m proud of our conference, not just from football but academics and the things we provide the kids.
Q. Do people underestimate the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry?
A. It’s a great rivalry. I think it always has been. I had the pleasure of being in it as an assistant coach and understanding you’re an hour and 10 minutes from each other, two programs that are competitive, two schools that are competitive, and people draw a line in the sand. That’s what makes it fun. The passion that each fan base has about their university is what makes college football the greatest sport there is.
Q. Is it unfair to rank Michigan’s rivals and say one is more significant than another?
A. I’ll leave that for the people to decide.
Q. Former Michigan players often say the Michigan State game is the dirtiest. Is it?
A. Oh, I don’t know about that. It’s a hard-hitting game.