Ann Arbor – This is Michigan-Ohio State week, but the speculation regarding the future of Michigan coach Brady Hoke is front and center.
Michigan is 5-6 and needs to upset No. 7 Ohio State, a 20-point favorite, at Ohio Stadium, a place where the Wolverines haven't won since 2000, to become bowl-eligible.
Hoke, in his fourth, hasn't hidden from the speculation, particularly late this season, but would not specifically address it Monday at his weekly news conference.
"They can speculate and do all that," Hoke said. "If we get distracted, I get distracted in what we're doing, then that's not fair to those 115 kids. From that piece alone, and I think I've said it, I've never been worried about a job. I worry about the job we do for those kids."
Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett said Saturday before Michigan's final home game, a loss to Maryland, he plans to evaluate Hoke and the program after the season. In all likelihood, that will happen soon, after the Ohio State game.
Hoke said he and Hackett spoke Sunday but the conversation focused on the Ohio State game. Both men are from Ohio, and they shared stories about growing up with the rivalry.
He said Monday's news conference would not be the right venue to discuss his conversations with Hackett.
Hoke was asked if beating Ohio State might ensure his future at Michigan.
"Oh, I don't know. I don't know about that," Hoke said. "There's always an evaluation. I respect those evaluations."
When asked to evaluate his program the last four years, Hoke deferred.
"I think I could, but I don't know if I will right here," Hoke said. "I don't think this is the right place for it.
"We'll have another press conference, I've got a feeling, sometime here."
Greg Mattison, Michigan's defensive coordinator and Hoke's close friend, on Monday spoke passionately as he has all season about Hoke.
Hoke has mentioned several times that his program has graduated all 69 seniors.
"Graduation rate, I guess, they were telling me is the most important thing, yes? I think it is, isn't it?" said Mattison, who joined Hoke's staff after working as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator. "We're a college, we're not in the NFL. I believe our seniors are 100 percent graduation rate. I'm not being sarcastic, that's what I guess they told me when I came from the NFL back to college, that this is what you're supposed to be doing. Because there are a lot of ways you can go out on the street and get some guys who may be a little bit better, maybe, maybe. I don't think you're going to want that. Second thing, I've been with a lot of head coaches, this guy here truly, truly, takes kids from down here, to here."
Mattison alluded to Michigan's first season, in which the Wolverines went 11-2, including a Sugar Bowl victory. Hoke replaced Rich Rodriguez who had been fired after three seasons.
"If you don't believe anything I've ever said, just look at what's coming back," Mattison said. "I mean, just look at what we came in with, and look at what's coming back. My goodness. I mean remember Chris Wormley sitting in his living room when he was a 280-pound basketball player. Now he's a 300-pound man. Willie Henry, it was Pittsburgh or us. Willie Henry is going to be a top draft choice. I can go on and on. These are all the young kids, that you say, 'Why do you get excited about coaching?' Because these are the young kids we've seen as puppies, we've seen as young little guys who have taken their bumps and bruises. They believe in (Hoke) as much as we believe in them.
"I'm not up here trying to speak for a head coach, because I've been with other guys I wouldn't say that about. I'll say that about him."
There has been considerable criticism of the Michigan program in terms of developing players, the suggestion being the Wolverines are behind in that regard. Michigan, since the 11-2 season, has had fewer wins each season.
"Somebody said, well you don't develop them — you'll see development," Mattison said. "When I talk to these pro people now, they say, 'Who's that kid? Who's that kid?' Well, these are the guys we recruited, the young guys. That's the difference. What it all comes down to is why should (Hoke) be here? Because he's a winner. He's won everywhere he's been. The guy's a winner.
"What's the timetable? We win our first year. How did that happen? Man, I don't know. Something right happened. Was (the roster) loaded that first year? What, there were two guys drafted? That wasn't a mirage. That was Brady Hoke who did that. Let's be really, really honest. That was him who did that.
"Since then, we've lost some close games. We've fought, I don't think we've embarrassed anybody. We've come out every day as a Michigan football team, and that's the way it will always be. That's all I can tell you. I've done this a long time, I've been with a lot of head coaches, I've seen a lot of them, you don't know how lucky you are here, just telling you that."