UM in spotlight, for all the wrong reasons

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – They didn't see what we all saw.

But that only begins to explain the problem with the football program right now in Ann Arbor, where the confusion on the sideline mirrors the ineptitude on the field. And the explanations are often more bewildering than the results.

The now-viral video of quarterback Shane Morris absorbing a violent hit late in Saturday's 30-14 loss to Minnesota, and then struggling to stay upright immediately afterward, has Michigan's football program in the national spotlight again.

Yet it's for all the wrong reasons, and the ensuing public-relations fiasco again calls into question not only Brady Hoke's fitness for his $4 million-per-year job, but also the crisis-management skills of athletic director Dave Brandon, the grandstanding former CEO who has gone strangely silent in recent weeks.

The fans in the stands at Michigan Stadium were chanting for both men to be fired Saturday, because that's what fans do when they don't see a return on their investment. And days like that, and controversies like these, are often what compel university administrations to acquiesce.

At this point, it's hard to imagine Hoke — and possibly Brandon as well — won't be gone by year's end.

Until then, though, we can expect more of what we heard Monday: Empty rhetoric and pathetic pleas for a course correction that's probably not coming.

"Any other questions?" asked U-M defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who followed Hoke to the podium at Monday's weekly press conference, "Anything on football?"

There were, but not many. And with the Wolverines off to their worst start (2-3) since 2008, when Michigan finished 3-9 in Rich Rodriguez's first season as head coach, there are surprisingly few good answers.

Ask Hoke to identify what's wrong with the team he coaches, and this is what you'll typically get: "We've got to do a better job of playing football."

Ask him if, in hindsight, the team and its medical staff could have done a better job of protecting its battered and beaten young quarterback, and this is what he said Monday: "You're being hypothetical, and we're not going to work in hypothetics."

OK, then. But beyond this latest embarrassment, and that tape-delayed statement from the UM medical staff — seven hours after Hoke referred reporters to it, it still hadn't been sent — it's time to stop pretending everything's OK when it's so obviously not.

It's time to stop defending the indefensible, whether it's the handling of the Brendan Gibbons alleged sexual assault case or the skywriting graffiti over East Lansing or that ill-fated ticket giveaway last week. (Michigan used to sell tradition, now it sells a "Coke retail activation" to uphold that tradition.)

It's also time to quit looking the other way, past the wreckage of another season for the Wolverines, let alone the health of a 20-year-old quarterback left to hobble around like Rocky Balboa in a game he didn't seem adequately prepared to play.

"I'm a football coach, (and) some of you don't think we're doing that very well, but that's what I do," Hoke said Monday, right before he tried to defer responsibility for one of his most basic coaching duties.

Hoke said he didn't see the hit that flattened Morris, nor was it his job to react to the signs of distress that followed.

"I don't make decisions who plays, who doesn't play, as far as when there's injuries or in particular if there were any head trauma or head injuries," Hoke said.

And when pressed on that matter, and why Morris apparently played a full quarter with a high-ankle sprain, Hoke grew increasingly irritated Monday. Morris wanted to stay in the game, the coach said, so he did.

"The kid, when he went like this to the trainer that he was fine," Hoke said, gesturing with a wave his hand, "that tells you something."

So should this, however. As this controversy exploded, with Michigan's fiercely-protected reputation under siege, from ABC's "World News Tonight" to National Public Radio, the school's response was startlingly obtuse.

A statement released by the university on Sunday night — ostensibly from Hoke, who claimed Monday he hadn't yet spoken to Brandon about any of this — made no mention of concussion protocols.

Then came a contentious press conference, which featured not a single question about this week's game at Rutgers, followed by another awkward pause as everyone waited for the promised statement from the medical staff.

But beyond this latest embarrassment, and that tape-delayed statement from the U-M medical staff – Hoke referred reporters to it shortly after noon, but by midnight it still hadn't been sent -- it's time to stop pretending everything's OK when it's so obviously not.

"Hindsight is good," Hoke groused. "It's easy today. It's easy yesterday."

And tomorrow? Well, it's getting harder by the day to see much of a future for him at Michigan, isn't it?