Ann Arbor — What is clear is that Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett will evaluate football coach Brady Hoke and his staff at the end of the season, but what is unclear is the timetable.
Michigan, 5-6 overall, lost 23-16 to Maryland in the final home game of the season on Saturday. Now the Wolverines need to beat Ohio State, which has won nine of the last 10 against Michigan, in Columbus next week to reach bowl eligibility.
If the Wolverines lose to Ohio State, the end of the season will be next Saturday.
Hackett met with reporters before Saturday's game and discussed how he is approaching his role as interim. The former Michigan player and CEO of Steelcase was introduced as interim on Oct. 31, when university president Mark Schlissel announced the resignation of athletic director Dave Brandon.
Among Hackett's tasks is to determine whether Hoke has made progress with the program or if change is needed.
"The end of the season for me is a question, I hear in your comments, whether it's a certain date," Hackett said. "I just have said at the end of the season. When I get there I know I'll be ready to talk about it."
Hackett has met with Hoke several times and said he has enjoyed the conversations and learning what Hoke has dealt with during his four seasons as head coach. Hoke was hired by Brandon in 2011 to replace Rich Rodriguez, fired after three seasons.
"I learned more and more what he's had to address and deal with," Hackett said, before praising Hoke's high standards for having players graduate. "Every football coach I've known in my life, and I've known more than one that I've played for, I will tell you that it's always not obvious all the variables that they are managing in a very complex way to have the best outcomes they can. There's probably two stories — what our fans see, the product on the field, and there's things they don't see that they have to manage through."
Michigan went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl in Hoke's first and since then, the wins have dropped off. This season has been hit hard with not only losses, but off-the-field distractions. Hackett also praised the current players for their ability to deal with the adversity of this season.
But clearly, Hackett must explore where the program has gone and where it is going.
"The evaluation of his go-forward status is going to come," Hackett said of Hoke. "I'm going to give you a really clear answer on that when we get to the end of the season because it's a body of work, guys, and we have two more games, one of them is a red letter game, a really important rival (Ohio State).
UM Jim Hackett interim athletic director
"When that's all done it won't be vague or unclear about where we stand. I also want to emphasize, we're not where we need to be. He knows that. The bigger issue is, not only do I know it, but does our coaching staff know it, and they know it. Sometimes in business I found myself in reviews of situations and you thought, 'People don't understand where we are.' They understand where we are. That's a good start in terms of doing the evaluation that I have to do."
Hackett was approved Thursday by the university Regents as interim, and he will be paid $600,000. He would not indicate whether he sees himself as a candidate to become permanent athletic director, saying Schlissel will make the decision on Michigan's next athletic director. Hackett said Schlissel called him a few days before Brandon's resignation was announced and asked him about potential interim athletic directors and then asked if he would be interested.
Hackett deflected the question when asked if he would seek becoming the permanent athletic director and joked he has to first speak to his wife, Kathy.
"In all seriousness, people who know me know this is the way I work," he said. "The challenge right now, I'm so focused on it. Anything that follows will follow that in a way that's clearer."
One thing absolutely clear is that Hackett is comfortable making a change in the football program if that's what he determines is required.
"I think the position I'm in today I'm really comfortable with," Hackett said. "The process of evaluating the coach at the end of the season is a really certain mark on the stage that I know I had to do. I'm really comfortable with the fact this guy has done an extraordinary job in very difficult times. You wait for the moment … it's almost like a solemn ceremony because it's a deep respect for him and a deep respect for the process you go through to make a decision like that."