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Kevin Raftery: Hoke’s Coach of the Year award goes well beyond the numbers

Marissa McClain/Daily
Michigan coach Brady Hoke was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year on Wednesday. Buy this photo

By Kevin Raftery, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 30, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your 2011 Big Ten Coach of the Year: Brady Hoke.

He was an Ohio-born boy who now perfectly depicts a Michigan man — a coach who players love and opponents can’t help but respect.

He looks like Fred Flintstone but leads like Mohandas Gandhi (OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but the man knows how to bring people together. We’ll get to that later.)

He’s a guy everybody can relate to. He stumbles over his words almost as often as his look-alike stumbles on his approach at the bowling alley.

And the numbers will tell you he was the best coach in the Big Ten this year.

Hoke led Michigan to a 10-2 record. In doing so, he became just the second coach in Michigan history to win 10 games in his inaugural season. The other was Fielding H. Yost, who went 11-0 in his first season at the helm in 1901.

If there’s anyone reading this who was alive then, I’d love to meet you. Back then, the forward pass didn’t even exist. Helmets looked more like one of those embarrassing floppy ear hats that the kids are wearing nowadays than protective headgear.

Football wasn’t football like it is today. Hoke may be second behind Yost to win 10 games in his first year, but he’s first in the modern age of Michigan football.

On top of that, the Wolverines finished third in the Big Ten in total defense after finishing dead last a year before under former coach Rich Rodriguez.

The list of Michigan’s impressive statistics goes on. But that’s not the reason Hoke deserved this award.

Brady Hoke is a coach in every sense of the word. He’s a leader. A role model. A teacher. A friend.

Senior center David Molk said it best:

“He is every single thing that you want a college coach to be, and he does it flawlessly.”

With a group of 115 football players, it’d be easy to leave a few behind and focus on the ones who will help you win games on Saturdays.

Not for Hoke.

“We have some seniors that didn’t play a snap, but they’ve played plenty of snaps on the look team and the scout team,” Hoke said after Michigan’s 30-24 victory over Ohio State last Saturday. “They’ve been tough, and they get in the weight room at 5:15 three days a week and go to class. One of them’s going to law school.

“I’m proud of all of them. It doesn’t matter who caught a touchdown. This is a team.”

And this is a team that loves its coach. If I had a dollar for every time one of the players said they loved Hoke this season, I’d be a much richer man — even if that’s not saying much.

Players say they love Hoke so often, I often forget I’m covering a football team.

“He is us, we are him,” Molk said after the Ohio State game. “I love him.”

Wait a minute. Was this a postgame press conference or a Mormon wedding reception? David, please explain.

“I love how he coaches, I love his leadership ability and how he does it,” Molk continued. “I’d do anything for him.

“If I ever (come) back, 20 years from now, the first guy I would call is Coach Hoke. That’s who he is.”

OK, now it makes more sense.

That is some serious love. It’s a love shared by everyone in that Michigan locker room, and it’s the main reason the Wolverines have been so successful this season.

It’s not easy to inherit a situation like Hoke did — the whole world was watching, just waiting to see him fail.

But Hoke never thought of it that way.

“Look, I’ve got the best job in the world,” he said. “Because at 2:30 every day, I get 115 guys that I get a chance to make a difference in their lives. What could be funner?”

Pause. Look around.

“Or more fun. It’s ‘funner,’ right?”

Sure, Coach.

As if the Coach of the Year award wasn’t evidence enough, it’s safe to say Brady Hoke is right where he belongs. And Michigan would have it no other way.

—Raftery can be reached at kraftery@umich.edu or on Twitter @kevinraftery.