This is Brady Hoke’s fourth year as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, and already it’s looking like his last. He may have stepped ahead of Nebraska’s Bo Pelini as the big-time college coach most likely to be the first fired this season.
Saturday’s 31-0 collapse at Notre Dame was the sort of defining outcome for which there may be no recovery. Not when the team has been on a slide, from that promising 11-2 in his first season as head coach to 8-5, then 7-6, to 1-1 now and unlikely prospects for a winning record.
Athletics director David Brandon has stood by Hoke because he maintains a high graduation rate and promotes good behavior in his players. But alumni and local media are adamant that performance on the football field must have higher priority.
Terry Foster of the Detroit News wrote: “His seat is red-hot following another dismal road performance. Hoke’s Wolverines were not prepared, made no impactful adjustments.”
Although Hoke’s team has played admirably at home, going 20-2, his 6-10 road record and overall 9-7 in the Big Ten give an air of mediocrity to a program that is rich in tradition. The Notre Dame debacle was the first time Michigan has been shut out in 365 games.
Also working against the 55-year-old Hoke is his grim and dumpy appearance, his unenlightening media conferences and the fact that he seems out of touch with modern football, declining to wear a headset.
Foster wrote that Hoke “should be fired unless he beats Michigan State and Ohio State.”
That’s a tall order, since both of those teams are ranked higher than Michigan. In fact, Michigan is not ranked at all. The fact that the Big Ten is in overall decline may be Hoke’s only chance of saving his job. His failures don’t stand out so much in that crowd.
Michigan media are already speculating on his successor, a popular choice being John Harbaugh, winner of the 2013 Super Bowl who now finds himself in an uncomfortable position with the Baltimore Ravens in light of the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal.
Harbaugh graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor while his father Jack was an assistant on Bo Schembechler’s staff at the University of Michigan. Still, it’s hard to see Harbaugh being eager to go to a team that USA Today ranks as No. 1 in the Misery Index.