In early January, when Michigan's top brass determined that the string had played out for Rich Rodriguez and that it was time to make him the former coach of the Wolverines, the search was on to find the right guy to put the luster back in the program.
Michigan did not need an eloquent speaker, an expert on Baroque architecture or someone who could mingle with all of the assembled pointy-headed academics. It needed a football coach. A roll-up-the-sleeves, sorry-about-the-gravy-on-my-necktie, spitting and barking football coach.
Many close to the program think Brady Hoke is that guy, and Hoke moved to put his stamp on things less than a month after the firing of Rodriguez by bringing in 20 recruits, most of whom share his approach to the game. If you were not a physical player with more than your share of toughness, it was probably best to not even return Hoke's calls.
He sought to rapidly mend Michigan's sad-sack defense by bringing in a dozen recruits on that side of the ball. With former NFL defensive boss Greg Mattison already on staff, the Wolverines can go to work rebuilding the unit.
"One thing I know from coaching in the Big Ten and being here at Michigan, you have to play defense," said Hoke, a former Michigan assistant. "All of those guys, we think, have the right stuff when it comes to a physical-ness and a toughness that we want to play defense with."
The vultures had been circling for a couple of months as Rodriguez was left to flap in the breeze while the Michigan brain trust determined his fate. Other schools raided Michigan's recruits, feasting on the doubt that cast a pall over the program.
Hoke had precious little time to mend things, hang on to the recruits in hand and try to recover a few of those who wandered. His blue-collar, gritty approach paid off.
When Hoke first met massive offensive lineman Christian Bryant from Chicago Simeon, there was a handshake, but that was the end of the formalities. "He hugged me," Bryant said about the bear-to-bear embrace he shared with Hoke. "We hit it off from the very get-go."
Hoke's easy-going demeanor, his ability to salvage a very respectable recruiting class in the eleventh hour, and his Michigan background should get him started on solid ground. Now he just has to remind the folks in Ann Arbor that he is not there to lead the English Literature department or to lecture on the socio-economic crisis in the Third World. He's a football guy, which should be fairly obvious.
TOP OF THE CLASS
QB Russell Bellomy (Martin High, Arlington, Texas) -- There was a need for another quarterback in the program when Tate Forcier left abruptly following the bowl game. Bellomy fills the void with an athletic, dual-threat performer who passed for 1,564 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior while rushing for 804 yards and scoring nine more touchdowns. Bellomy (6-3, 178) will have time to add some weight and learn behind junior starter Denard Robinson.
OL Chris Bryant (Simeon, Chicago) -- Bryant brings size (6-4, 330) and strength (420-pound squat) in a surprisingly athletic package (24-inch vertical jump). Most services had Bryant among the top 20 offensive line prospects in the country. He fits in with Michigan's history of bringing in premium offensive linemen.
LB Antonio Poole (Winton Woods High, Cincinnati) -- Poole was one of the top players at his position in the state of Ohio, with 80 tackles, five sacks and 23 stops behind the line in his senior season. Poole (6-2, 210) is considered a raw athlete who will fill out and be a very physical defender for the Wolverines.
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