Hoke's 'unique' style is changing Michigan football

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Brady Hoke can shut his eyes and hear whether or not his team has had a good practice. (Getty Images)  
Brady Hoke can shut his eyes and hear whether or not his team has had a good practice. (Getty Images)  

CHICAGO -- Shortly after Brady Hoke was hired as Michigan's new coach, senior tight end Kevin Koger walked inside Schembechler Hall, the school's football facility. He was stunned by the changes.

Nearly everywhere Koger went in the facility there were countdown clocks for the season opener and upcoming games against Ohio State and Michigan State and, even worse, a tote board indicating how many days since Michigan's last victory against Ohio State.

"It caught us off guard," Koger said. "The clocks were just up one day. At first you really didn't think much of it, but it starts weighing on you and eating away at you.

"It [the Ohio State tote board] reminds you: 'hey we haven't beaten these guys in a long time.' We need to change that this year."

In all, there are nearly a dozen countdown clocks or tote boards inside the facility.

"I wanted them to have a daily reminder," Hoke said, "that we have not done the things we needed to do to uphold Michigan football."

While the sights around the Michigan football program have already changed, so will the sounds. At least, Hoke expects them to.

Hoke is adamant that Michigan play with more purpose, more passion, but more than anything else, the Wolverines must be more physical. He just doesn't want to see a more physical team he wants to hear one.

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"It's big time football," Michigan senior defensive tackle Mike Martin said. "If you're not physical, you're not going to win."

"He [Hoke] gets upset when he doesn't hear pads smacking against each other or loud hits. He'll judge how well practice went off what he hears. He says he can shut his eyes and know if practice went well or not."

Hoke said his reasoning his simple.

"If you're practicing the way we want to practice, you don't have to watch it," Hoke said. "You ought to hear it on every snap. We've got to develop a team and develop a competiveness. That all goes along with the toughness, demeanor and attitude we want to play with."

That attitude -- especially toward the Wolverines' biggest rivals from Columbus, Ohio -- is fairly obvious. Although he was born in Dayton, Ohio, Hoke will not utter the words "Ohio State." Instead he refers to the Buckeyes as "Ohio."

"I've called them 'Ohio' for a long time," Hoke explained. "It's easier."

Hoke also won't wear anything featuring the Buckeyes' color of red. And that hasn't been easy since his last two head coaching jobs in the past eight seasons -- San Diego State (2009-10) and Ball State (2003-08) -- each had red as one of its primary colors.

Hoke won't have to worry about any color coordination problems now that he's back with Big Blue. Ever since Hoke was a Michigan defensive assistant from 1995-2002, it's been his dream to return as the Wolverines' coach.

When interviewing for the San Diego State job, he told SDSU President Stephen Weber his ideal job was Michigan. And after the firing of Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines unsuccessfully seeking higher-profile candidates, they ended up with Hoke.

"We were excited," Hoke understated. "Michigan means an awful lot to us from a family perspective and what Michigan stands for as a university."

Hoke's hiring fit an important criteria for Michigan's rabid fan base: he was a "Michigan Man," having coached eight years for the Wolverines. During his time on Lloyd Carr's staff, Michigan captured three Big Ten titles and won the 1997 national championship.

"Michigan Man: there's something about those guys," Hoke said. "The character and the passion, the integrity they have and the love they have for Michigan."

Hoke's admiration for Michigan is undeniable. When Hoke was asked during the Big Ten's Football Kickoff what it will take to rebuild Michigan, Hoke was offended by the question.

"Well, I don't think we're rebuilding. Period," Hoke said. "I mean, we're 'Michigan.' We've got kids who understand that they're 'Michigan.' I don't put any stock into that."

Despite Hoke's claims, Michigan does need some rebuilding -- both mentally and physically. At the end of last year, Michigan was mush.

The Wolverines lost six of their final eight games -- all by double digits -- and were outscored in a season-ending three-game losing streak by an average of 29 points. What's that? Michigan just allowed another touchdown to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl?

"I think it's a shame, we splintered or fractured, or whatever you want to call it, because that's not Michigan," Hoke said. "We've moved forward from there."

The Wolverines' defensive psyche took a serious beating last season. Fortunately for Hoke, defense is his expertise.

"I think they [the defense] has taken some hits," Hoke said. "It's human nature when that happens. I think they've done tremendous job of being assertive."

Martin said Hoke, who turns 53 on Nov. 3, two days before the Wolverines visit Iowa, is a, well, "very unique" coach.

"He does a lot of unique things," Martin said. "He's a different coach than what we had. He's a defensive coach. He'll knock you around. If our equipment manager gave him some shoulder pads, he'd probably go out there and practice with us."

A former linebacker at Ball State from 1977-80, Hoke certainly fits the profile of a player's coach.

"He's personable, easy to talk to and easy to approach," Koger said. "At the training table, he'll ask you to save him a spot and he'll get his food and sit down and just talk to you for 20 minutes about life."

Hoke's past and current lives will clash on Sept. 24 when San Diego State visits Michigan. Hoke said he helped schedule the game when he was with the Aztecs, but it's obvious he'd prefer not to have to play his former team.

"Those are great kids," Hoke said. "They're going to be a great team."

Hoke said he isn't sure what to expect the first time he runs out of the Michigan tunnel and under the "Go Blue" banner. When he was an assistant he said he would always come out on the field to see the Wolverines' band enter the stadium.

He's not sure if he'll touch the banner. Someone joked if Hoke could jump up and reach the banner. Hoke's not sure what he's going to do yet except for one thing.

"I'll have fun," Hoke said.

Hoke was later asked when his inaugural season is completed, what would he like people to say about his first team as Michigan's head coach.

"Us having a team, a tough football team," Hoke said. "A team that plays with a mentality, a team that finishes every play and finishes games, a team that plays together, has a respect and a love for how you play the game together."

Besides the new sights and sounds around Michigan's football program, Martin said the team also has a new philosophy.

"We have a saying: to be successful we have to do things we haven't done in the past," Martin said.

Nothing has ever sounded so good to Hoke. Well, nothing except for the sound of a great practice.

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