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The Controversy and State of Michigan Football

Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke. From wikipedia.org

When I arrived to Ann Arbor to start my freshman year of college, I was unsure what to expect in many different regards. I was unsure what to expect with my classes, who I would befriend, what parties would be like, and also, how our football team would fare. That question was quelled quickly, so I thought, when Michigan’s football team played Appalachian State and took a 35-0 halftime lead to a 52-14 victory. Michigan looked really good, and at least for one week, questions about Brady Hoke’s job security were put to rest. Michigan was back, and they even looked better than bitter rival Ohio State, who struggled in a win over Navy in week 1. on August 30th, Hoke was safe.

Fast forward one month to today, September 30th, and the questions about Hoke now are something along the line of, “Will he be fired after their next pathetic loss, or will it happen at the end of the season?” His job security is nonexistent, and everyone who has an inkling of knowledge of college football knows this.

Not only is Hoke in imminent danger, but it appears that Athletic Director Dave Brandon is also expected to lose his job before long as well. Besides one linked controversy (more on that later), the reasons that Hoke and Brandon are both on the way out are completely separated and individualized.

But how did we get here? Let’s take a look at a brief timeline of the past month.

 

SATURDAY, AUGUST 30th: WIN OVER APPALACHIAN STATE

As mentioned above, Hoke and his Wolverines beat Appalachian State handily, the second year in a row that they started off the season with a big win (in 2013, it was against Central Michigan). The Wolverines had many question marks throughout the offseason, and many of them seemed to be answered fairly well in the opener. The biggest ones were on offense, specifically with inconsistent QB Devin Gardner and a very lackluster offensive line from a season ago. Gardner looked good in week 1, throwing only one incompletion the entire game before being pulled in the second half of the blowout. The offensive line, which included true freshman OT Mason Cole (the first true freshman to start the opening game on the offensive line in Michigan history), looked good. Gardner had time to throw, and the two-headed running back monster of Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith combined for 285 yards and three touchdowns on just 23 carries. Everything was good in Ann Arbor.

 

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6th: BLOWOUT LOSS AT NOTRE DAME

After the week 1 win, the Michigan faithful felt confident heading into a showdown against Notre Dame, the final meeting of the rivalry for at least the foreseeable future. So what did Hoke and the Wolverines do? They laid an egg, losing 31-0 to the team Hoke dubbed “chickens” a year ago. The offensive line didn’t give Gardner any time to throw, and when they did, Gardner wasn’t very good, as he threw for two interceptions. The narrative that Hoke could not win a big road game continued: in his 3+ years as Michigan’s head coach, Hoke is now 0-5 in road games against Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State (and I don’t think it would be a stretch at all to say that he’ll be 0-7 at year’s end, if he makes it that far). The defense, the supposed strength of the Wolverines, constantly gave up big plays to the Irish and Heisman-hopeful QB Everett Golson. After this game, some Michigan fans called for Hoke’s job, citing the poor performance and the decision to leave star WR Devin Funchess in the game after it was well decided, which in part caused him to suffer an ankle injury. However, that wouldn’t happen just yet. While the loss was embarrassing, the Wolverines had a three game home stretch looming, all three games that they were expected to win. While Hoke was still safe, his seat was definitely warming.

 

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 13th: WOLVERINES STRUGGLE IN WIN OVER MIAMI (OH)

If you just looked in the box score, you would just see that Michigan won this game by 24 points and think they won handily, maybe with Miami scoring their ten points in garbage time. However, this was not the case. Again, Michigan struggled, but this was different than last week. Sure, Notre Dame was blown out, but at least they were a good team and it was a road game. Here, Michigan struggled to score against Miami of Ohio, a team that hadn’t won a football game since President Obama was re-elected. After being up 17-10 at the half, Michigan would pull away in the second half to win 34-10. Despite the win, some fans again voiced their displeasure with Hoke. However, it was still too early to take action against a coach who had a record of 2-1.

 

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20th: MICHIGAN IS UPSET AT HOME BY UTAH

Utah vs. Michigan. From deseretnews.com

If Hoke still had a litany of supporters after the previous week, he definitely did not after this game. Utah confidently came into the Big House, and on a rainy day, beat the Wolverines 26-10. To a casual fan, this result was very shocking, but to those who really pay attention to college football, it wasn’t much of a surprise at all. Utah is a very good football team, a team that scored over 100 points combined in their first two games. They came into the Big House confident and ready to go, while Michigan came in with lethargy and a sense of entitlement: everyone, from Hoke all the way down to the walk-ons, acted as if they were entitled to win the game and did not have to put in any work in order to do so. An ugly day in Ann Arbor ensued, both figuratively and literally. The Wolverines got an early field goal on offense, and that was the extent of their scoring (their touchdown come on a pick-six). Gardner again was timid and indecisive, and was benched for sophomore Shane Morris as a result. In the fourth quarter, with the Utes leading 26-10, a thunderstorm caused a lengthy delay, and when the game resumed, less than 2,000 fans remained in the colossal stadium, most of them Utah fans. After the game ended, Hoke refused to commit to a starting quarterback for the next week, saying that decision would be made later on (i.e. he knew he would start Shane Morris, he just didn’t want to announce it until later). Hoke was squarely on the hot seat at this point. With that said, every reason for fans’ anger with Hoke was a direct result of his team’s performance on the field. He had done nothing but produce a low-quality football team, which was bad enough. However, this would change in the next week.

 

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 27th: MICHIGAN LOSES AGAIN AT HOME, THIS TIME TO MINNESOTA; SHANE MORRIS INCIDENT

Before the game, Hoke named Shane Morris his starting QB. While many fans supported the decision, I believe it was the wrong decision. Sure, Gardner is inconsistent, but at this point in their respective careers, Gardner looks like Peyton Manning in comparison to Morris. Gardner was and is clearly the best option Michigan has at QB right now, and change for the sake of change was the wrong move. As you could imagine, the switch did not pay off. Morris struggled, throwing for only 49 yards on 7-19 passing. With Morris at the helm, the Wolverines would drop their second consecutive game, this time a 30-14 loss to Minnesota. It didn’t matter that Hoke led the first Michigan team to have three losses before October 1st in program history (even the 3-9 2008 team didn’t have 3 losses before October!), or that the Wolverines looked listless in their defeat, because one incident in the fourth quarter trumped it all.

In the third quarter, Shane Morris went down with an ankle injury that would later be diagnosed as a high ankle sprain. However, as a competitor, he wanted to stay in the game. Unfortunately, in the fourth quarter, Morris took another shot, this time to the head. He got up, clearly wobbly and showing symptoms of a concussion. Someone on the sideline (presumably an athletic trainer) motioned Morris to the sideline, but he stayed on the field. Michigan ran two plays before Morris was taken off and Devin Gardner came in the game. Instead of the

Shane Morris injury. From 10news.com

athletic trainers going through a concussion protocol, they let Morris be. This would have been a major issue no matter what the circumstances were, but this was magnified when Gardner’s helmet flew off of his head during a run on that drive. According to NCAA rules, if a player loses his helmet on a play, he is required to sit out for one play, unless a timeout is called. Hoke had two viable options: either call a timeout so Gardner would not have to sit out, or insert third string QB Russell Bellomy for a play. Hoke did neither, and reinserted a clearly concussed Morris back into the game. At best, this is an appalling lack of awareness and communication by Hoke and the medical staff. At worst, this is a blatant disregard for player safety. I believe it is somewhere in the middle, and whatever that middle ground is, I believe is cause for Hoke’s termination.

Morris was carted off of the field after the game. Hoke then answered questions about Morris, saying he did not know anything about a potential concussion, and said that Morris was a competitor who wanted to play. He did not admit to any wrongdoing or lack of communication, and said that he did not see the hit that caused Morris’ presumed concussion.

 

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 29th: HOKE SPEAKS TO MEDIA; STATEMENT FROM ATHLETIC DIRECTOR DAVE BRANDON

Hoke’s Monday press conference was scheduled to go on as normal, but it was quite obvious what the main topic would be: the Shane Morris injury. At this point, the fiasco had made it all the way to a national headline (not just a sports headline; it was on NBC, CNN, CBS, etc.). Hoke and the athletic department obviously knew what kinds of questions were coming, and had to be prepared for it. In his presser, Hoke said that the health and safety of student-athletes was his number one priority. He cited a lack of communication between himself and the medical staff as the reason Shane stayed in the game, which is unacceptable.

However, the biggest mishap came when Hoke said that he did not believe Morris suffered a concussion and that the only reason he didn’t practice on Sunday (the 28th) was due to his ankle injury. This would be bad enough if nothing else had happened after Saturday’s game and post-game press conference. However, on Sunday, the Michigan medical staff diagnosed Morris with a concussion. Everyone knew he had one based on the replay of the vicious hit alone, and now there was concrete evidence to back it up. Somehow, Hoke still managed to “not know” what happened to Morris. This is the most shocking part of the entire story to me. If Hoke “didn’t know” what happened, he clearly should have asked someone – the medical staff, other coaches, Dave Brandon, ANYONE – about Morris’ condition. If he did not ask, this shows a complete disregard for the condition of his players. Or maybe Hoke did know, and lied to the media about what he heard.

This would not be the first time Hoke has stretched the truth with the media. Last year, before the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Hoke announced that Kicker Brendan Gibbons would not travel with the team due to family issues. It later turned out that Gibbons was expelled from the University after allegations of sexual assault were brought onto him, and a University investigation found enough evidence to expel him.

Hoke either was misinformed, uninformed, or lying. Either of the latter would be Hoke’s fault, and while misinformation would not be, it seems unlikely that this was the case. Morris was already diagnosed with the concussion and the medical staff would have no reason to give Hoke faulty information.

After the press conference, the athletic department announced that Athletic Director Dave Brandon was preparing a statement regarding the issue with Shane Morris and Brady Hoke’s comments. The statement would not come until 12:52 a.m. on Tuesday morning (Brandon’s statement can be read in its entirety here). In the statement, he took full control of the situation and apologized for it, saying it would not happen again. He cited a lack of communication from all parties involved, and outlined a new policy that will be implemented regarding players experiencing concussion-like symptoms. The biggest reveal of all came near the end, when he said Shane Morris had been diagnosed with a concussion. This was quite obvious to everyone  who watched the game on Saturday and saw the hit, except Hoke apparently.

 

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30th: “FIRE DAVE BRANDON” PETITION AND RALLY ON MICHIGAN CAMPUS

Crowd at the diag
Crowd at the diag – Personal Photograph

On Tuesday morning, Michigan graduate student Zeid El-Kilani started a petition to remove Brandon from his position as the Athletic Director. As of this writing, the online petition has 10,718 signatures from Michigan students and alumni. The petition rapidly picked up steam later in the day when a “Fire Dave Brandon” Rally was organized on campus. It was set for 6 p.m. in the “diag”, which is considered the center of Michigan’s campus. I attended this rally, and the media was out in full force. Cameras and reporters from many local news stations were there, and a helicopter from ESPN provided aerial coverage that made it onto Sports Center. Many Michigan students, alumni, and other Ann Arbor

Student at Michigan Rally
Student at Michigan Rally – Personal Photograph

residents were in attendance. A few people even held signs up, some as simple as “Fire Brandon”, while others were more clever, saying “Buy 2 Cokes, Get a Free AD” (referencing the promotion that was accidentally run last week that allowed people to get a free ticket with the purchase of two bottle of Coke).

The rally started at 6 p.m. with chants of “Fire Brandon” and “We Want (Jim) Harbaugh” ringing throughout the crowd. No one spoke in the first half an hour at the diag, but many people were interviewed. The most popular interviewee was a Michigan student with a “Fire Brandon” sign, but he was wearing and Ohio State sweatshirt. I asked him why he was wearing it, and he replied, “Until they’re (Hoke and Brandon) gone, I’m not wearing any Michigan [stuff].”

At 6:30, chants of “Schlissel’s House” started ringing through the crowds (Mark Schlissel is the University of Michigan President). The crowd briskly moved to Schlissel’s House, and people even gathered on the lawn. Two people got up in front of the crowd and spoke, but only one was audible as he had a megaphone. He riled the crowd up, and threw a knockout punch when he said, “I am proud of our history. I am not proud of Dave Brandon being a part of that history.” After a few more minutes, the rally dispersed, but the damage was done and the thought of firing Brandon (and Hoke, for that matter) was very widespread throughout the students at Michigan.

 

Other than the Michigan Board of Regents coming out in support of Brandon today, this is where we stand right now. The support for Hoke and Brandon on campus and among alumni and fans is virtually nonexistent, and they both are all but guaranteed to be looking for new jobs sometime in the near future. Both Hoke and Brandon have had a history of poor performance at Michigan, but the Shane Morris incident really pushed everything over the top for both of them. After being here at school for a month, I still don’t know everything to expect, but I do know to expect a new head football coach and athletic director by the time I am a sophomore.

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