Monday, November 21, 2011

New Michigan Coach Probably the Right Guy

Thoughts on the Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry...from a Buckeye Fan's Perspective

My first thought about first-year University of Michigan Head Football Coach, Brady Hoke is that he passes two of those tongue-in-cheek intuitive sports "tests" you hear announcers and maybe even coaches or scouts talking about now and then.  First, there's the look test.  Yep--he's got it.  He definitely looks like a Michigan guy.  The other one that you probably wouldn't understand unless you were a fan of the Wovelerines or their arch-rival, The Ohio State University Buckeyes, is that he passes the name test.  Brady...Hoke.  Brady...Hoke."  It's a Michigan name all the way and I'm not saying that because
a Michigan alum currently working on one of the greatest quarterback careers in NFL history bears the name, Brady.  It's both names together, but mainly the surname, Hoke, that just stinks--and I mean stinks--of Michigan.

After viewing his acceptance speech, though, I see signs indicating that he's exactly the kind of guy that could bring the Wolverines back to a level of national prominence.  He's a little dumpy.  He nervously huffed and puffed through the speech and press conference, a performance the polar opposite of what we came to expect from Ohio State's recently departed head coach, the senatorial Jim Tressel.  He just doesn't look to be very comfortable with the press or the spotlight.  But you know what--that's exactly the kind of coach Michigan needs.  In fact, as he squirmed through the event, I was reminded more than once of Woody Hayes, not to say that Hays was intimidated by the press, of course.

The last 22 years of the OSU-Michigan rivalry is divided into each team dominating half of the span.  Before that, during the the 70s and most of the 80s, the heyday of the rivalry, the series is nearly an even split.  They call the years of Woody Hayes vs. Bo Schembechler the 10-year war, which Schembechler, a former OSU assistant under Hayes, won with a 5-4-1 record.  Hayes' successor, Earl Bruce, walked away with 5-4 record against Michigan before a 6-4 season preceded by a string of 3-loss seasons inexplicably cost him the job in 1987.  The University fired Bruce the week of the Michigan game.  The band played in his front yard the night before the annual grudge match and Bruce went out on mixed note, beating the Wolverines by a field goal in his final game coaching the Buckeyes.

The rivalry promptly cooled under Bruce's replacement, John Cooper.  Many OSU fans presume (likely correctly), that Cooper was hired mainly because he'd recently defeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl as Coach of Arizona State.  Cooper went on to post a stellar overall record at Ohio State, but just didn't understand the Michigan rivalry, going 2-10-1 against "that school up north."  During the last few years of his tenure at OSU, Cooper's steadily worsening record against against Big Blue became a favorite taunting tool for Michigan fans.  To make things worse, Cooper didn't fair well in the biggest games at all, going 3-8 in bowl games.  He did manage to win a Rose Bowl, though, which is probably the only thing keeping him alive.  (See Kirk Herbstreit's departure from Columbus.)  He also beat Notre Dame twice behind the hard running of future Heisman Trophy Winner, Eddie George, but not quite in the style his replacement would.

Jim Tressel took over for the Buckeyes in 2001 and primed the flickering OSU torch during his acceptance speech with a warm and fuzzy story about holding the ball on place-kicks for Cleveland Browns kicker Lou "The Toe" Groza at Browns practice sessions when he was a kid growing up in Cleveland suburb, Berea.  He then proceeded to set Buckeye Nation ablaze by practically guaranteeing success against Michigan before a packed house at a Buckeye home basketball game:

It's okay to chuckle about parts of the comment.  The point is that it truly was an incendiary moment for the rivalry.  Tressel kept his word, making up for all those disappointing losses to Michigan by higher-ranked OSU teams under Cooper.  He went 9-1 against the Wolverines, highlighted by 2002's barn-burner clinched by a last-second interception inside the Ohio State 5-yard line.  That win sent the Buckeyes to the National Championship Game, which they won for their first title since 1968.  By the time 2006 rolled around, the Buckeyes were waltzing off the field after "The Game" as if winning it was no big deal the same way Michigan players did during the late 90s.  Tressel also went 6-4 in Bowl games, including a Rose Bowl win and the National Championship.  Lost in the shuffle of Tressel's inspiring run at OSU--however disappointing the end may have been--is his 2005 squad, lead by another Heisman Trophy winner-to-be, Troy Smith, running up 617 yards of offense against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl after weeks of hype about media-christened offensive mastermind ND Coach, Charlie Weiss.  In game recaps, I recall hearing mention that it was the highest single-game yardage output against Notre Dame ever.  The stat may have specifically applied to bowl games, but I couldn't tell you for sure--I can't find mention of  it anywhere on-line.  Touchdown Jesus must have a key to the backdoor of the Internet.

So, here we are with up-and-coming star Brady Hoke's already rejuvenated Michigan team sporting a 9-2 record and licking their chops.  OSU's default interim head-coach selection, Luke Fickell and his disjointed Buckeye squad have a tall order this week.  The Wolverines are surely thinking blow-out and the Big House will definitely be rockin'.  Indeed, Hoke fell into the best possible OSU-Michigan scenario a first-year coach could hope for.  The honeymoon may be short, though, if intensifying rumors of Urban Myer's acceptance of the Ohio State job are true.  Like the majority of OSU former coaches, Meyer is an Ohio native.  That might not surprise you, but what might is the amount of Ohio blood that has been oh-so important to Michigan's success over the years, and not just among the players, many of whom are, in fact, plucked from the Buckeye state.  Schembechler and his successor, Gary Moeller are both Ohio natives.  So, though Brady Hoke looks like a Michigan guy and has a Michigan name, it should come as no surprise that he sure does sound like he's from Ohio--because he is.

That's not all that concerns me about Hoke, though.  He made a comment in the press conference about having been a linebacker and bringing a linebacker's mentality to the job.  That statement, his impressive career record, the turnaround he's already fostered at Michigan, and that damn inspiring combination underdog-bulldog persona he carries so effectively tell me that if Urban Myer indeed becomes the next head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, there are good days ahead for the rivalry--if Hoke can recruit well.

There's just too much going against the Buckeyes this week.  This one might get ugly.  Then again, if Fickell can play keep-away and the players can avoid turnovers, there's always the chance that OSU tailback, Boom Herron could have a special day.  I'm not counting on it, though.

Ohio State 17
Michigan 31 (The home team goes on the bottom.)


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