Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Brady Hoke has been talking about the strength and importance of leadership among the players since the aftermath of the Wolverines’ disappointing season last fall.
Team-elected captains voted on before the season have been a mainstay of the program. Former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady told the team before last season that being a captain remains his greatest honor even though he has won Super Bowls.
But this season, Hoke is going a different route, one that former UM coach Rich Rodriguez used during the 2008 and 2009 seasons — electing season captains after the final regular-season game against Ohio State.
“We’ve had unbelievable leadership throughout the team,” Hoke said Monday during a news conference advancing the Wolverines’ season opener against Appalachian State. “We’ve talked about if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”
Hoke has been evasive throughout preseason camp when asked about captains, but on Monday he revealed that he decided in February to change things up. A 7-6 season, featuring a late-season slide, forces coaches to examine and re-examine how they run their program from a variety of angles.
Players during the summer talked about their effort to forge improved team bonding by hosting barbeques, going fishing together, playing paintball and taking in movies as a group. Building trust and respect among the players has been diligently pursued.
During the spring, Hoke admitted that he dropped the ball a bit last season, not recognizing early enough that he needed to give more of an assist with leadership. He likes the effect the team’s “leadership council,” with representatives from each class, has helped run things.
But without season captains, who will Michigan send to midfield for the coin flip on Saturdays?
“There’s 18 fourth- and fifth-year guys that we will have represent the team at the coin toss,” Hoke said. “We’ve got great leadership in our senior class, we really do, especially on the defensive side of the ball. And I also think (quarterback) Devin (Gardner) has been absolutely fantastic, but at the same time we’ve talked about leadership throughout the team, throughout every class. We have a representative group that’s a big part of what we do.”
When Hoke met with the seniors to reveal his decision regarding the captains, he made clear to them the team focus remains the same -- to play for the seniors. He expects their leadership influence to be far-reaching.
“Their influence is important, but I think every team is different,” Hoke said. “This team is a little unique in a lot of ways.”
Gardner said he has no issue with the post-season captain’s vote.
“I feel like I’m going to be looked at as a captain because of the position I play,” Gardner said. “Some of the young guys call me, ‘Captain Gardner’, which is weird. I told them not to do that.’
“It’s not a big deal (to not vote captains before the season). We just want to go win football games. I don’t feel like that’s something that’s going to hold us back. Coach Hoke made that decision because he thinks it’s going to help the team.”