Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hard to Get More "Michigan Man" Than Brady Hoke

They might as well have held the press conference introducing new University of Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke in the Wolverines' locker room.

Watching Hoke, the "Michigan Man" that supporters of the program have been clamoring for, address the media today didn't seem quite right without a chalkboard behind him and a whistle around his thick neck.

The room should have been filled with the smell of sweat and Ben Gay, not ink and cologne.

The captive audience should have been made up of 19-to-21 year-olds, not pear-shaped reporters twice that age.

The first thing you notice about Hoke, fresh from San Diego State, if you didn't already know him, is that his motor has two settings: turbo and warp drive.

Hoke was introduced by athletic director Dave Brandon, and the new coach didn't step up to the podium, he annexed it. He all but jammed a flag with a maize block "M" into the dais. Then he started speaking.

Only, he didn't speak so much as he bellowed. Within minutes, I was looking around for the exit to the tunnel leading to the football field---and I was sitting in my office.

I wonder if these Michigan football-playing kids have any idea what they're about to get themselves into.

Hoke, for the duration of his presser, owned the room. He was Bob Knight at March Madness, Dennis Green after playing the Bears. There was even some Dickie Vs about him---Dicks Vitale and Vermeil.

Hoke pointed fingers. He slammed the podium. He made up words if he had to.

"This is MICHIGAN!" he said at one point, and for that moment I saw a guy named Bo with a blue baseball cap with a maize "M" on it.

Brady Hoke looks like a tough football coach. He sure sounds like a tough football coach. And he already has more hatred for "that school in Ohio"---Hoke's words---than his predecessor could muster up in three years.

Hoke coached Michigan's defensive line for eight seasons in a stint that ended in 2002, and listening to him, the subsequent eight years were spent just so he could find himself right back in Ann Arbor, this time as the Big Cheese.

Well, he certainly is big. Nothing about Brady Hoke is small---not his girth, not his passion, not his voice, not his enthusiasm. And certainly not his love for Michigan.

"I would have walked here," he said almost from the get go, referring to his rather conventional method of getting to Ann Arbor: by flying.

Hoke was like a fighter pilot, picking off questions from left to right, and in almost the same rat-a-tat way as the Red Baron.

Hoke, to those who think Michigan is on its way down, especially if they're "Michigan people": "Shame on them."

Hoke, on the rivalry games: "You want to win 'em."

Hoke, on the game against Ohio State: "It's the most important game on the schedule" (and repeated for emphasis).

Hoke, on his program: "Everyone will be fanatical in their love for Michigan."

Hoke gave the most boisterous, motivational press conference of any new coach that I've ever seen around these parts.

Now we're about to see if he can actually coach.

Hunch? He'll be fine. And so will Michigan.

Frankly, Michigan hasn't had a coach with Hoke's personality since Bo Schembechler, and Hoke might even one-up Bo when it comes to being bombastic. At least Bo came up for air, as I recall.

Hoke only stopped talking long enough to take requisite swigs of bottled water.

Gotta keep yourself hydrated when you get out there, boys!

Sorry. Hoke just has that effect on guys, I guess.

For anyone who fantasized about Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles standing up there today, take heart. Michigan didn't do too shabby. At least, not on first blush.

A word now about Harbaugh, the former U-M quarterback who the fan base coveted, but who took the job with the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL instead.

Harbaugh is 47. You really think he'd have looked at Michigan as a destination job? You think he was coming here to coach for the next 20 years, until he earned a gold watch?

After a couple years, tops, Harbaugh's name would start to be mentioned on an annual basis, in connection with just about every NFL vacancy du jour. He'd have been another Nick Saban.

Just ask the folks in East Lansing's basketball nation how annoying it can be when your coach is always rumored to be on the move.

U-M fans would have fallen in love with Harbaugh, then would have been forced to watch helplessly every winter as his name would be connected with every NFL city from Jacksonville to Houston, from Cincinnati to Denver. Every. Single. Year.

Always there'd be the dreaded feeling that Jimmy Harbaugh would flee to the NFL. Is that what Michigan fans really wanted?

No offense to Brady Hoke, but I dont' see the NFL banging down his door, ever. But that's not a put-down.

Hoke is a college coach, pure and simple. He's as collegiate as they come, and he'll stay that way. More important, he's as Michigan as they come.

Being the head coach at Michigan has long been Hoke's dream. His former boss, Lloyd Carr, started asking Hoke in 1998: What do you want to ultimately do in college football?

Why, be the head coach at Michigan, Lloyd, Hoke would answer.

"This is where I want to be," Hoke said today. "I don't want to go anywhere else."

Just about every reporter who introduced him or herself at today's presser before asking their questions gave Hoke the same greeting.

"Welcome back."

Hoke is back, no question. Back to his one true college football love. Back to the girl who knocked his socks off for eight years---the one who he never truly got over after he left in 2002.

The Michigan football fan base got what they wanted. They got a Michigan Man.

Let the healing begin.

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