Embracing Mark Dantonio for an extended congratulatory message, I have little doubt that Coach Hoke whispered something graceful, complimentary, and kind. I also think he said something else.
Few things make Mark Dantonio smile. He is the grumpy cat. But beating Michigan has always been one of them. That's why it was surprising to see Dantonio look so distraught after today's win. The interviewer had to ask him if he was happy, and, finally, Dantonio smiled. He was so aware of his unusually grumpy (even for him) face that he said, "It may not look it, but I'm happy."
I believe Coach Dantonio--who has proven himself to be one of the nation's best college football coaches--was actually sad. Not about beating Michigan (he'll always relish that) but about the final postgame handshake with a man he wants to hate but simply can not.
"Real recognize Real"
I believe Brady Hoke is a great man. Despite not being able to produce a coherent offense in four seasons at Michigan--even with an MNC-winning OC--he has still continued to reel-in top talent on both sides of the ball. This, in my opinion, is almost wholly attributable to his genuine love for the young men he coaches. He cares about them as people, not just as football players. He is concerned about their character, not just their statistics. When Jabrill Peppers committed to U-M, he said, "Real recognize real," referring to the sincerity of the coaching staff. I unreservedly agree completely with John Beilein: Brady Hoke is the type of man I would want to coach my son.
The Shane Morris concussion issue did not make me doubt Brady's concern for his players' well-being. It wasn't a coach who didn't care about a player's health; it was just another symptom of a coach who couldn't manage the myriad details involved with running the winningest program in college football. If Brady knew there was any real possibility of Shane being seriously injured by playing, he would not have played him. That wasn't the problem. The problem was he didn't know; he wasn't aware, and that problem has extended to field on too many occasions.
Brady's last UTL was a win
It's a small miracle that this team continues to play as hard as it does. The defense, once again, played with heart and character against an extremely efficient MSU offense. Their never-say-die attitude lasted well into the fourth quarter. The whole team fought tooth-and-nail to squeak out a win against a below-average Penn State team. I believe this Michigan team, like all teams, reflects the attitude of their leader: high-character, high-motor, high-intensity...and imprecise. Over and over today small things made big differences: passes just a bit off, receivers dropping the on-target efforts, runs just a bit too impatient, a quarterback feeling pressure when there was none, a tackle just missed. These are not new problems. It's not youth, it's imprecision, and it has plagued our team (and especially our offense) since Hoke's arrival. And these small things have added-up to big numbers in the loss column. And so Hoke must go, and I am calling for his replacement as loudly as anyone.
But let's never forget that this man's character was enough to inspire Greg Mattison to come back to Michigan from the Ravens. This man was charismatic enough to lure Doug Nussmeier to Michigan. This man is genuine enough to pull-in the highest average recruiting class in the country, even though he can't win at Michigan. Let's always remember that while Coach Hoke did not cut it on the scoreboard, that his integrity is an example of what a Michigan Man should be.
Denard Robinson's mythical talent, combined with freakish turnover luck, was enough to propel MIchigan to an 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory. And let's give credit where credit is due: Hoke and Mattison field competent defenses, and, with more time and a developing team, I think Brady could probably keep Michigan in bowl games for the foreseeable future (after this year). But that's not good enough. That's NOT Michigan.
Chris Spielman--somewhat surprisingly--said it well: "I believe Brady Hoke is a good man and a good football coach...but the results aren't good enough." And I believe that part of Brady's message to Mark Dantonio tonight wasn't just congratulating him; it wasn't just genuine admiration of how well Dantonio runs a team (in almost the exact way Hoke would like to run his team); it wasn't just well-wishes for the rest of the season. It was good-bye.
I think Brady Hoke knows his time is up. I think he told Dantonio as much tonight after the game. And I believe that Brady Hoke is such a good man that even Mark Dantonio, who hates all things Michigan with an immeasurable, dyed-in-the-wool passion, was nearly brought to tears by a Michigan Man's farewell.
I'm excited about the possibility of a Harbaugh, or even someone not quite as perfect. I'm eager for a coach that is demanding, detail-oriented, and relentless in his pursuit of victory. And while I'm quite certain we can and must find a more capable coach to lead our program, I'm just as sure we won't find a better man than Brady Hoke.
I wish him and Laura all the best.