Michigan's Dennis Norfleet defends Brady Hoke

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan receiver Dennis Norfleet happened to be flipping through channels Tuesday morning when he saw something that caught his attention on ESPN.

And he didn't like what he heard.

He didn't like that Brady Hoke, Michigan's coach, his coach, was taking such criticism.

But this is what happens when a team is 2-2, hasn't reached the red zone in two losses, has a minus-10 turnover margin, can't seem to find consistency on offense and just might be changing quarterbacks a third of the way through the season.

"They were really talking down on Coach Hoke and saying his time is coming," Norfleet said Tuesday. "(They were) putting all the blame on Coach Hoke saying that he hasn't been winning. He can't play. He gets us to the point we know what we need to know for the week, and we're not executing. We need to execute as the team.

"It's more than football, but people doesn't see that out there. They only see when we go on the field. It's a lot more than everybody thinks."

Hoke and the Wolverines won 11 games and the Sugar Bowl his first season, 2011, but each season since, the wins have decreased.

Norfleet is taking the criticism of Hoke personally because of what he said his coach has done for him and his teammates.

"Right now, the way people are talking about him, I don't feel, and the team doesn't feel, that it's right," he said. "Even if we lose, if you're a Michigan fan, you're supposed to be behind us 100 percent to pick us up by our feet. We need our fans just as bad as we need a win. That hurts a lot, the team and the coaches."

The team has heard booing from Michigan Stadium fans the last two games. More than likely, the booing has been directed at the staff, but the players hear and internalize it as well.

"We try to avoid it, but it's kind of hard when we're down like that," Norfleet said. "We just need our fans there 100 percent, especially coming up to the first Big Ten game of the season.

"That would be really nice to have our fans there because we need our fans, we love our fans. We need them to cheer us on even when we're losing to pick us up on our feet."

Defensive lineman Frank Clark also vocalized support for Hoke.

"People are going to say stuff," Clark said. "If you've played a sport and taken a loss and been on a losing type team you're going to hear those people doubt.

"He's holding a lot of weight, not literally, but he's holding a lot of weight. A guy in his position, you can only respect what he's doing."

Keeping the focus

Hoke was asked during the Big Ten conference call if he's aware of the criticism he's been taking.

"Not to hurt anybody's feelings, no I don't (read the papers)," Hoke said. "Never have. We've got to focus in on what we're doing on a daily basis for these 115 sons, these young men. For us to get unfocused would be cheating this program, and we're not going to do that."

Unhappy ex-players

Former Michigan football players who are frustrated with the state of the football program were speaking out Tuesday — very loudly.

Michael Taylor, who quarterbacked the Wolverines to Big Ten titles in 1988 and '89, vented his disapproval on WMGC.

Taylor talked about a promotional campaign with Coca-Cola, which promised two free football tickets with the purchase of any Coke products but was quickly withdrawn.

"I would never have thought in my lifetime that you could give away Michigan football tickets because people wouldn't buy them," Taylor said. "That's due to the leadership in the athletic department."

He also asserted the football program is relying on the media to keep its image as a top-level program intact.

"What we've become is a propaganda football team, telling people how great we are when we're mediocre," he said. "In your last 12 games, when you've only got victories over Northwestern, (Appalachian) State, Indiana and Miami (Ohio), that is not good. ...

"I know a few hundred players that are probably not very happy with what's going on and definitely believe that changes need to made."

Much of Taylor's criticism centered around the athletic department bringing back former players to help sell the program without doing much in the way of free tickets to earn their loyalty.

Former Michigan lineman Jon Jansen, who is active in a "former players committee" that has been formed in response to the current firestorm, appeared on WMGC later and sympathized with Taylor's comments.

"I think that's their biggest thing is that guys want to have a voice," he said. "They've won Rose Bowls, they've won Big Ten championships, they've given so much to the university, and, rightfully so, they feel their voice should be heard. We want to make it possible that can happen.

"Guys just want to feel like they're involved and that they're welcome to come back and that's what we want to get out to everybody that anytime you're in town, we want you to come back."



News staff contributed