Brady Hoke fired by Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Brady Hoke completed his fourth season at Michigan on Saturday with a loss to Ohio State.

Ann Arbor – Brady Hoke, who won over the Michigan faithful at his introductory news conference coining the phrase, "This is Michigan, fergodsakes," was fired by interim athletic director Jim Hackett as Michigan football coach after four seasons.

The affable, good-natured Hoke, who that day laid out the program goal of Big Ten championships and a focus on rival Ohio State, which he always referred to as "Ohio," was hired after Rich Rodriguez, who had gone 15-22 in three years, was fired.

"I want to thank all of the sons that played for our teams and appreciate the commitment that our coaches and support staff made to the program every day," Hoke, who did not speak at a news conference Tuesday, said in a statement. "I will miss the relationships that I've been fortunate enough to make within this university and community.

"I additionally appreciate all of the support that our fans, alumni, students, administration and former players have provided our program. I leave with fond memories of my experience at Michigan."

Hackett said he made the decision Sunday night to fire Hoke, whose team finished 5-7 this season after a loss at Ohio State, a continued decline in wins since his first season. Hoke leaves the program with a 31-20 record, 18-14 Big Ten.

The coaching search has begun, and Hackett will use a head-hunting firm to assist in the process. He asked for patience in the process and said he will not comment on potential candidates.

He also would not share his specific evaluation of Hoke but said it was time to make a change.

"I believe Brady had enough time to produce results, and they're just not there today," Hackett said. "Therefore, I believe it's time to make that transition."

Hackett called president Mark Schlissel to inform him of the decision and then phoned Hoke. Hoke informed his players of his firing at a previously-scheduled meeting at Schembechler Hall on Tuesday at 3 p.m. The players, looking grim, left the building declining to speak with reporters.

"I love Coach Hoke and I wish him the best of luck wherever he goes," quarterback Shane Morris wrote on Twitter. "I can honestly say I'm in envy of the players who will be lucky enough to play for him in the future."

Hoke will be paid a $3 million buyout per his contract. If Michigan waited until next month to fire him, the buyout would have dropped to $2 million.

The Michigan assistants will have the option to be interviewed by the next coach, Hackett said. Mike DeBord, a former Michigan offensive coordinator and currently a sports administrator at Michigan, will oversee the day-to-day aspects of the football program until a new coach is hired. DeBord will not be a candidate for the job, Hackett said.

As for the coaching search, Hackett plans to be deliberate and asked for patience. The most prominent names that have been speculated for the next coach are Jim Harbaugh, a former Michigan player and current San Francisco 49ers coach, and LSU coach Les Miles, a former Michigan player and assistant coach.

"I would tell you, in business we have a thing called a 'walk away,' which means at what point can't you hang in there because you're going to jeopardize other things of value?" Hackett said. "We're building what we call swim lane charts that show candidates' time frames for their availability. They may be in bowl games, they may be wherever they are in their status, and we compare that against our swim lane – where are we in trying to get our recruiting, get our practice schedule started? So I'm drawing some conclusions about when we can't take more risk at Michigan.

"But, with that said, I want you to be patient because it's a bit of a trade here. If you get an answer quickly and you can wait a little longer, and you believe you upgraded, you might be willing to take that risk. That's part of the process."

Hoke believed he was the answer to return Michigan to the process of winning Big Ten championships, something the program has not enjoyed since 2004.

The Wolverines went 11-2 in Hoke's first season, falling short of a Big Ten title but winning the Sugar Bowl, after which then-athletic director Dave Brandon declared, "Michigan is back."

Since then, the wins have dropped off.

The Wolverines went 8-5 the next season and had an identical 6-2 Big Ten record, and then 7-6 in 2013 with a 3-5 Big Ten record. This year they finished 5-7, with road losses to rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State by a combined score of 108-39, and were swept by Big Ten newcomers Rutgers and Maryland.

They finished the season last Saturday at Ohio State and as three-touchdown underdogs fell, 42-28. Michigan is not eligible for a bowl game this season, the third time in the last seven seasons.

Even with coordinators Greg Mattison and Doug Nussmeier, two of the highest-paid assistants in college football, Hoke wasn't able to win. He fired offensive coordinator Al Borges last season and hired Nussmeier, whose offense this season made no statistical improvement from last season and was among the nation's worst, ranked No. 111 nationally in total offense and No. 109 in scoring offense.

The Wolverines, again, were plagued by turnovers and finished the season minus-16 in turnover margin.

During a topsy-turvy season that included a significant number of distractions, the biggest involved Brandon, who had already alienated Michigan students with changes in student-ticket sales and seating last season. But how he handled the aftermath of quarterback Shane Morris' concussion suffered in the Minnesota game set the tone for the rest of the season.

Brandon's resignation was announced by Schlissel on Oct. 31, the same day Hackett, a former Michigan player and CEO of Steelcase, was introduced. Schlissel gave Hackett the authority to evaluate the football program.

A few hours before Michigan's final home game against Maryland, Hackett met with the media for the first time since his appointment and discussed his evaluation of Hoke and the program.

"When that's all done it won't be vague or unclear about where we stand," Hackett said. "I also want to emphasize, we're not where we need to be. (Hoke) 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."

During last Monday's news conference advancing the Ohio State game, Hoke was asked to evaluate his program the last four years. He deferred and said it wasn't the right time to discuss that. When asked why that was the case, he smiled and offered a coy response.

"We'll have another press conference, I've got a feeling, sometime here," Hoke said.

But after the Ohio State game, Hoke said he believed the future of Michigan football was strong.

"(There are) 56 guys are on our two-deep and 50 of them are coming back," he said. "(When) we were 11-2, we had 15th fifth-year seniors. We had three this year. There's a lot to be said when you look at maturity of your team experience-wise."

By not making a bowl game, Michigan misses out on valuable practice time and continuing development of those younger players.

It has been a challenging season for the Wolverines on so many levels.

There have been a number of difficult issues throughout the season, in addition to the constant speculation about Hoke's job security:

* Morris suffered a concussion against Minnesota after a late hit, but it went undiagnosed immediately and Morris returned to the field.

* Linebacker Joe Bolden drove a stake into the Spartan Stadium field before the Michigan State game.

* Brandon resigned under immense public pressure, and following on-campus demonstrations demanding his removal as athletic director.

* Starting defensive end Frank Clark was kicked off the team after being arrested and charged with domestic violence.

Michigan center Jack Miller throughout the season said the players bonded through it all, a theme he reiterated after the loss to Ohio State. He and all of the players vocally supported Hoke throughout the season.

"I stand by what I said when we got in that storm, that it brought us together," Miller said. "I've been on teams and I know a lot of teams it would have torn apart the locker room. Guys would have been upset with each other, blamed each other. That never happened. That was real.

"That's a testament to coach Hoke, his leadership and the rest of the staff and the leaders in the locker room too. It was tough. It seemed like every time you turned around there was something new that you had to talk about it. But it brought the guys closer together. No one ever wavered."