So I went to the Midwest Coach's Tour, aka "Sports-O-Rama," tonight in Chicago, hosted by the Chicago Michigan Alumni Association. We had a wonderful time, hearing from Brandon, Hoke, Beilein, Kim Barnes Arico (Women's basketball,) and Hockey Asst Coach Brian Wiseman.
It was a great night, and a lot of fun. It was clear they had rehearsed and done this before, as this is the end of a 10 day tour, starting on the West Coast. (Brandon asked Hoke, for instance, "Did you really say that Notre Dame was chicken?" To which, Hoke answered, "I did.") They all had a good time, were happy to be there, and took a number of questions from the crowd. The only hard question had to do with Michigan's APR, which was low last year, and lower this year. We're abysmal compared to ND & Northwestern. (football is 7th in the Big 10 in ranking.) Brandon didn't quite say "answer to the hand," but close. His basic answer was, come back to me again in four years and ask the same question. The rolling average makes it very difficult to overcome students who do poorly four years back.
Afterwards, the coaches went to different locations, to take questions, sign autographs, take pictures, etc. The lines were ridiculously long for Hoke and Beilein, understandably so. I waited a bit to talk to Brandon. The first thing I'll say is that he was very personable, approachable, and not defensive at all. You can see how he is great for the position of AD. Here are a couple things he said.
- Adding Maryland and Rutgers is not just about TV dollars today. They both certainly open us to the New York, Baltimore, DC markets. But more than that, the problem is projected population growth. According to Brandon, the midwest is flat to declining in the number of people. Projecting out 10 years, the SEC & ACC are seeing significant population growth in their footprint, while the traditional Big 10 footprint is stagnant and stable. Adding the two new teams helps mitigate against this population trend.
- In the future, 12 noon starts will be extremely rare for Michigan (except maybe for Ohio.) TV drives everything, and they want as many night games as possible, and late afternoon games as possible. Teams in the bottom half of the conference will be relegated to 12 or 12:30pm starts. Michigan will almost always have an afternoon or evening start time.
- Brandon is working hard to schedule better non-conference games. A number of teams are ducking Michigan, even when offered very significant money (I think Toledo would be one of these.) We already have a home and home with Arkansas, and with Virginia Tech. Expect an announcement on a home and home with a major West Coast team in the next couple weeks. (USC? UCLA? Stanford? Oregon? I'm guessing Stanford.) ND is at least 10 years, maybe 15, before being regularly rescheduled.
- The door is open for Chris Webber. He is the only one of the Fab 5 not to reach out to Michigan. (Obv., there were limitations until recently on his contact with Michigan.) But Brandon is willing to talk with Chris, if that's what Chris wants to do.
The highlight of my evening, by far, was an unexpected discussion. Three of us were getting ready to head out. As we were walking, I looked over at Laura, and said to the two guys I was with, "I want to say hi to Laura Hoke." She was incredibly personable, sweet, talkative, and approachable. Obviously, you don't ask Laura bubble screen questions. (sorry, Heiko.) But she was just a fount of information. We went all over the place, and I'll try to remember some of what she said.
- The coaches and wives are extremely close. Hoke and Mattison were together at Western Michigan for 5 years, overlapped several years under Carr at Michigan, and are back together again. Hoke and Borges got along very well at San Diego. They all just get along, and enjoy each other's company. I can really see how the wives getting along fosters the family atmosphere recruits have talked about. Every school says they're a family: Michigan really is.
- The wives sometimes join their husbands in recruiting. (And they have to be reminded by coaches to talk to recruits and recruit's moms, not to each other.)
- Laura told a story about talking to Pepper's coaches and parents, just making small talk. They assumed she was part of the staff in some capacity, asked who she was, and she said, "oh, I'm one of the d line coach's wives." At which point, one of them figured it out.
- I asked whether it was Hoke or his grandchild that brought Mattison to Michigan. She said, "Both (citing the friendship.) She also said, "Mattison really didn't enjoy the NFL the same way he enjoys the college game."
- I asked how long Borges and Mattison would be there. She said, "Forever. They're not going anywhere." Seriously, as long as their health holds out, I think Borges and Mattison will stay at Michigan. I think their wives don't want to go anywhere else, especially Mattison's wife.
- I asked if Brady ever encouraged one of his staff to take a promotion to coach elsewhere. She said, "Well, the ONLY coach to ever leave Brady's staff was Montgomery." That's an incredible statistic, and speaks of real loyalty.
- I mentioned that Da'Shawn Hand has talked about how "real" the Michigan coaches are, not putting on a show, just regular folks who enjoy life and care for each other and the players. That he liked the "family" atmosphere. Laura told me another story. She mentioned that a recruit had come to Michigan, and had also visited another school down south, who really "put on the red carpet." The recruit's mom was very impressed by the red carpet treatment, and Hoke's attitude was, "that's not us. We're not doing that for anyone. We are who we are." The recruit eventually went to the school down south. I thought to myself later, that recruit must have been Treadwell. I could see that if Mississippi really pulled out all the stops, treated recruits like royalty, that would impress some of them.
- Brady doesn't ever do negative recruiting. He just shares about Michigan and their resources, and Michigan sells itself.
- I asked Laura what was the hardest part of recruiting. She said, "It starts so early, and it never stops." Laura said, "if a five star recruit [her words] comes to campus, what are the coaches going to do? They're going to go to the office, show the recruit around, spend time with him." With unofficial visits happening all the time, you NEVER are off as a coach or a wife. She said they'd get a couple weeks of vacation in July, but that's it.
- Laura (like Brady) is very open. Brady shared again about his bad choices his first two years at Ball State. This really shapes how he cares for the "105 sons" who are on the MIchigan team. On this area, Laura had very high praise for the academic support team, and how proactive they are in helping Freshmen before they get on campus, and the minute they're on campus.
- I asked Laura about Football Saturdays. She said that they were a lot of fun. They have as many as 50 family members sleeping over Friday and Saturday night in their home.
- Laura really enjoyed the Senior Leadership training in California last week. The Seals did their thing, Laura was able to visit friends in San Diego, the team got to see the Rose Bowl (and picture being there,) and the Seniors did their football clinic for kids in Pasadena. Brady had nothing to do with it: the seniors needed to organize drills, and make the whole thing happen.
I hope you all get the opportunity to go to one of these things sometime. What a great couple Brady and Laura are. Just seeing her and Brady, I can see why the summer Barbecue would be so successful. And what a treat to hear her perspective on football at Michigan. She so clearly is having fun and enjoying this.
I will stand by the essence of what I said, although this is all from memory, and so it is not word for word. There was way more that happened, but this already is far too long, and gives you a taste of the evening.