It was Brady Hoke's own question at his introductory press conference 3½ years ago that elicited his most memorable response.
When a reporter suggested the job he'd just accepted as Michigan's head football coach was no longer viewed as an "elite" one, Hoke seemed incredulous.
"Who says that?" he asked, pausing for effect. "And I'm being serious."
Well, just about everyone says it now, fergodsakes, and many of them quite seriously. Even the diehard Michigan fans who shared their displeasure with the current state of the program Saturday — some by showing up as empty seats, others by booing the empty results.
And with the Wolverines' waterboarding mercifully ending — nearly 6 hours without a trip to the red zone for Michigan's offense in a 26-10 loss to Utah — it was veteran ESPN broadcaster Sean McDonough who seemed to speak for what remained of the unhappy masses, or what was left of them.
"This is a very ordinary football team right now," he said of the Wolverines, "and it has been for several seasons."
Indeed, in Michigan's last 80 games dating back to Lloyd Carr's retirement at the end of the 2007 season, Michigan is a very ordinary 43-37 overall. And after suffering its first nonconference loss at Michigan Stadium since 2008 — Rich Rodriguez's first season in Ann Arbor — Hoke is now 4-8 in his last 12 games.
Sure, there's a faint chance for Michigan to salvage its season by winning a Big Ten title, but "only because it's a league that's not very strong," as McDonough also noted.
Say nice things about UM
Then again, even in what was shaping up to be a historically bad year for the Big Ten — 1-10 vs. Power 5 conference opponents through Week 3 — Michigan found a way to stand out from the crowd this weekend. The league went 12-1, with Hoke's homely bunch providing the only blemish.
All of which led former coach Mack Brown to call for a moment of silence Saturday.
Well, not exactly. But Brown, who resigned under pressure at Texas last winter, did make a nationally-televised plea to Michigan's fan base during that lengthy weather delay.
"Pull for the kids, pull for Brady (and) if you don't like what happens at the end of the year, then talk about it," said Brown, now an ABC studio analyst and clearly not a regular poster on Michigan football message boards. "But don't talk about all the bad things every week. Because it's not fair to the kids, it's not fair to the coaches, and you need to give your guy a chance to get it turned around when he starts Big Ten play."
He'll get that chance, of course. This is Michigan, right?
Maize and boos
But in the meantime, Hoke has little choice but to acknowledge the criticism, even as he tries to shield his players from it. ("If they're all for me, good," he said of Saturday's shower of boos. "I don't have a problem with that at all.")
And Hoke now faces arguably his biggest decision to date, with Devin Gardner looking lost again — still? — as Michigan's starting quarterback. Backup Shane Morris didn't look much better following Gardner's second-half benching against Utah. But whichever way Hoke goes from here — lefty, righty, both? — his fate might rest in their hands.
In two games against legitimate opponents this season, the Wolverines have scored 10 points — a defensive touchdown and a field goal. They failed to reach the red zone in either game. They've allowed an unseemly 25 tackles for loss in nonconference play. And they now rank dead last nationally in turnover margin (minus-10) after coughing it up four more times Saturday — two each for Gardner and Morris.
"Well, I don't think there has to be an overhaul," Hoke shrugged Saturday, when asked about fixing what's wrong with that offense. "I think our execution — you know, the little things that we need to do, and again that starts here — we've got to do a better job of it."
A much better job, obviously, or else Hoke could find himself looking for another one. And as Michigan's coach would tell you, there aren't many like this to be found.