College football’s all-time winningest program is in need of a new coach. Michigan fired Brady Hoke on Tuesday after four seasons in Ann Arbor. Hoke’s final season at Michigan included losses to rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State as the Wolverines finished 5-7 (3-5 Big Ten) and fell short of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009 and third time since 1974. The firing was first reported by Sam Webb and FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman. Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the news.
Hoke arrived at Michigan in 2011 after a two-year stint at San Diego State, where his Aztecs went 13-12, including 9-4 in his final season. San Diego State was 2-10 the year before Hoke arrived and hadn’t won nine games since 1971. Then Hoke’s debut Michigan team went 11-2, making him the only Wolverines coach since Fielding Yost to win at least 10 games in his first year at the helm. Michigan capped that campaign with a 23-20 win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
But Hoke’s first season in Ann Arbor also proved to be his best. His program dropped to 8-5 in 2012, 7-6 in ’13 and 5-7 this fall. The Wolverines fell to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl after the ’12 season and lost to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in December ’13. They also lost to rival Ohio State three straight times. Hoke went 12-12 in Big Ten play during his final three seasons.
“I met with coach Hoke today and informed him of my decision to make a change in the leadership of our football program,” Hackett said in a statement. “This was not an easy decision given the level of respect that I have for Brady. He has done a great job of molding these young men, making them accountable to their teammates, focusing them on success in the classroom and in the community. I wanted to make sure that Brady received adequate time to exhibit the results that would come from his effort and I believe that Brady and our coaching staff had enough time to produce those results and unfortunately they are not there. In the end, I feel that moving in a different direction is the right decision. I wish Brady and his family all the best in the future.”
“I feel very fortunate to have been an assistant and head coach at the University of Michigan,” Hoke said in a statement. “I will always support the university and this football program.”
A defensive-minded coach, Hoke failed to build a potent offense. This season the Wolverines finished 13th in the Big Ten in total offense (333.0 yards per game) and scoring offense (20.9 points per game). Hoke’s attack never flourished under quarterback Devin Gardner, who threw 31 touchdowns to 26 interceptions in two seasons as Michigan’s starter.
Hoke’s controversial handling of backup quarterback Shane Morris’ concussion in a 30-14 loss to Minnesota on Sept. 27 further prompted calls for his ouster. Hoke’s staff reinserted Morris into the game after one play, even though he exhibited concussion-like symptoms.
The biggest issue throughout Hoke’s tenure may have been an inability to develop talent. The coach made a strong first impression in his debut season with a roster full of players recruited by his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez. Michigan’s on-field product never met the hype of Hoke’s top-10 recruiting classes in 2012 and ‘13.
A proven ability to cultivate talent should be a priority for the Wolverines in their next coach, regardless of whether he is a Michigan Man. Hoke spent eight seasons (1995-2002) as a Michigan assistant, the last as associate head coach and defensive line coach. Yet hiring an outsider (Rodriguez) didn’t work, either.
SI.com’s Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans reported last month that Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Minnesota’s Jerry Kill and ex-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano could all be candidates to replace Hoke. Former athletic director Dave Brandon resigned on Oct. 31, so interim AD Hackett will lead the search.