Is the success Brady Hoke enjoying due to his skills in football or management?

Submitted by mGrowOld on September 23rd, 2011 at 1:50 PM

Speaking from the experience of 30 plus years of managing people both relatively successfully (current model) and unsuccessfully (younger version) I can say that Brady Hoke is running a virtual management clinic on the football team.  He may or may not know as much about schemes and formations as other coaches but I defy anyone to look at his work as a manager since he was hired and not be impressed. To summarize some of the major things every textbook on management recommends and I've noticed he's done to date:

1. Surround yourself with superior talent - Clearly the hiring of Mattison was the big win for the staff but his remaining subordinates have excellent resumes themselves.  Hoke was not afraid to put together a team that would challenge his football knowledge and direction.

2. Delegate authority - Once your staff is in place it is the excellent manager allows them the autonomy to make decisions without interference.  I get no sense of Hoke "meddling" with either Borges or Mattison on player personnel decisions or play calling.  He lets his coaches coach.

3. Be willing to make the "Big Decision" quickly and decisively - At the end of the Notre Dame game Hoke made the call to go for the win but gave the play calling decision back to Borges.  By all reports Hoke made the call to run the play very quickly, thereby giving Borges time to decide on the right play without the added pressure of time winding down.

4. Motivate the troops and stay connected to your employees - At my company we call the CEO the "Chief Encouragement Officer" and he acts as such.  Much has been made of Hoke not wearing a headset but I like it because wearing a headset puts you in contact with your coaching staff but blocks out the players.  Hoke can talk to his coaches anytime he chooses in a moment's notice but by remaining headset free he's able to walk among the team, motivate, challenge and encourage as necessary.  A great manager never loses connection to the people doing the job.

5. Accept criticism but deflect praise - While criticism has been sparse to date thanks to our quick start, whenever questions are raised at press conferences that are critical to the team's performance Hoke takes the blame fully and without reservation.  Conversely, when praised, Hoke is quick to push the credit down to either his coaches or his players.  Again a hallmark of an excellent and confident manager of people.

Hoke has yet to be tested by tough times but based on what I've seen so far I think he'll do ok.  I am very impressed by Hoke's managerial skills and think they will serve him (and the team) well as the season progresses.




September 23rd, 2011 at 2:44 PM ^

Actually he came up with it himself.  The point was not to illustrate how wonderful my company is (or isn't) but rather to demonstrate that Hoke appears to follow the same behavioral model.  Our CEO has never uttered those words (to the best of my knowledge) to the associates, rather that's what he sees his role as.  Many CEOs spend the bulk of their corporate day meeting with their respective excecutive staff and not the "rank and file".  In fact, many are clueless when it comes to what's really going on in the company and depend on others to ask others to tell them about what's really going on.  Somewhat like a coach who wears a headset all game to talk to other coaches and not his players.




September 23rd, 2011 at 2:40 PM ^

Isn't being a great manager, especially when you're a head coach, and particularly at a major program that's basically a mini-corporation.  I've gone over before other examples where if you're willing to hire the right people, you don't have to be a genius at everything, or anything (other than judging talent), really. You need to be able to lead them.  It'd be great if one was good at both.  But not necessary to success.


September 23rd, 2011 at 2:42 PM ^

Thanks Growold!  Your points ring true for all general management positions.  What first jumped out at me was your reference to your relative success with some experience under your belt.  Indications are that Hoke learned as he went along and has become more effective as he went along as well, especially in the delegation/trust componant.

Do you think you might also add maintaining accountability to your list?  I don't mean yelling/reprimanding but more reminding people of needs and expectations early and often, and having difficult, but constructive, conversations as needed.


September 23rd, 2011 at 2:47 PM ^

Without question that could be added to the list.  I just went by the more obvious things I'd actually witnessed Hoke do since his hire and since I don't have access to team I don't know if he does or doesn't set those accountability standards.  But my guess would be he does!


September 23rd, 2011 at 6:51 PM ^

The recent stories about Roh and Mattison brought the idea to mind.

Taking that a little further, it's in everybody's interest that people have the opportunity to learn and grow (as opposed to being torn down), and Hoke's sideline demeanor indicates he follows this way of thinking.  It appears (emphasis on appears) there's accountability, minus fear or degradation.


September 23rd, 2011 at 2:44 PM ^

"Chief Encouragement Officer" LOL damn that's cheesy :P

I think what you said about Hoke is spot on though.  

I also think NOT doing these things is what did RR in.  (Not hiring superior talent as far as defensive coaches, micromanaging the defense by insisting on the 3-3-5, the perception he threw his players under the bus in press conferences, etc.) 

The contrast between how RR didn't do these things right, and Hoke has, is probably quite instructive for anyone in management.

Mitch Cumstein

September 23rd, 2011 at 3:34 PM ^

I wouldn't say he threw his players under the bus, but he did put the blame on the players and their talent instead of himself on many occasions.  Off the top of my head the "picking up a kicker on the way there" comment and the "Vince Lombardi" comment come to mind.  Two things I would be shocked to hear Hoke say.


September 23rd, 2011 at 3:53 PM ^

You could add the Mesko punt fiasco in 2009 ("Zoltan had a read there"), as well as the punt in the fourth quarter of last year's MSU game (in which RR claimed his assistants sent in the wrong play, even though he allowed the play to go off without calling a timeout).  There was a subtle pattern of RR trying to suggest that it was external factors that were preventing him from succeeding.  That generally doesn't fly very well with the public.  People expect the buck to stop with the head coach.

Hoke has taken the opposite approach: "If we don't win the Big Ten, we've failed them as coaches."  That's taking it to an extreme, but people want to hear that.  Fans don't want their coach to be a victim of circumstance.  They want him to give the impression that he is in complete control all the time.


September 23rd, 2011 at 5:06 PM ^

I remember seeing a clip of Hoke in an interview where he says the team didn't execute and that's why they were playing poor. There are also plenty of times RichRod said the coaching staff didn't prepare the team. Point being that all coaches say things and explain what happens. I don't think RichRod threw his kids under the bus any more than any other coach but it was magnified because people disliked him


September 24th, 2011 at 12:29 AM ^

It's a lot easier to say "we're going to win the Big Ten" when you have a lineup of mostly upperclassmen and the BT offensive player of the year coming back than it is to win it with Threet-idan the first year, and a lineup of predominantly underclassmen the second and third years.  

Can't the asshole contingent here EVER just support Hoke without smarmy, shitty comments re RR?  I wish some of you would show as much class as Hoke has.


October 11th, 2011 at 9:16 AM ^

I can't believe after all we've been through there are still people in love with RR.  I wasn't happy when he was hired, wished for him to succeed, but watched a nightmare for 3 years.  The glass was half full excuse doesn't fly with me.  You don't run off players and the entire coaching staff of a successful program when you have no defensive plan.  His worst offense was getting rid of English and the D-Staff, when that isn't even his side of the ball.  It is almost like he was going through a mid-life crisis and just decided to ruin a program.  We had the talent and the departures were squarely on RR's approach to the program.  We were due for a down year in 2008, but 3-9 is an embarrasing.


Go Blue.



September 23rd, 2011 at 6:31 PM ^

I agree that this meme has been overblown, but it's not without basis. As another commenter pointed out below, the Vince Lombardi comment comes to mind. Also, Calvin Magee's description of Steven Threet's performance in the '08 MSU game as "inconsistent, like it always is" was pretty low. Granted, Rich Rod himself didn't say that, but Magee had been with Rich Rod since '01 and is a pretty prominent branch of his coaching tree. 

931 S State

September 23rd, 2011 at 2:54 PM ^

Great post.  I've come to believe over the last several years that the best head coaches are more CEO types than X's and O's gurus.  Obviously, these skils are not mutually exclusive, but IME managment skills are far more important than technical skills when it comes to being a head coach.  This is an interesting parallel between sports & business.  The same reason certain head coaches can be successful even as the game changes around them (Paterno, Bowden, Holtz) is why career CEO's can bounce from compnay to company and turn them around.   On the flipside you can examine X's & O's guys who climb the ranks only to fail when they reach "the top", most likely because of their lack of managment & people skills (RR & Morninwheg come to mind).  


September 23rd, 2011 at 3:42 PM ^

Charlie Weis is a textbook example of an X's and O's guy (or a "decided schematic advantage" guy, as it were) who failed as a head coach because he lacked mangerial and people skills. But Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly are proof that you can have both. Meyer and Kelly are both X's and O's guys who are seen as spread offense gurus, but they're wise enough to rely on their assistants and not micromanage areas that that they have no expertise in. Kelly mostly defers to his defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti at Oregon. Meyer actually kept Ron Zook's defensive coordinator (Charlie Strong) when he took over at Florida. 


September 23rd, 2011 at 3:20 PM ^

Too early to judge him so far and he has had the kind "stars are aligned" entry back into the fold that we will never really know how much was him and how much due to external factors.  

I mean, who could have imagined OSU would implode (with the potential of added program crippling sanctions) at the exact same as the rest of B10 decided to shit the bed 1-2 yrs after having one of the strongest conferences I've ever seen with MSU, Wisky, OSU and even Iowa having great seasons.

The B10 is incredibly weak at the moment and OSU could be down for 3-5 years - Hoke will have it easy compared to either Lloyd or RichRod.

However, huge credit for the Mattison hire and Gorgeous Al looks like he could be the real deal.

Undefeated dre…

September 23rd, 2011 at 3:23 PM ^

I agree completely. Also, forgive me for going there, but... while Rodriguez's football acumen is outstanding, the mismanagement, especially in a somewhat hostile environment, did him in. Rodriguez may have a coaching complement in... Cheryl Burnett? Both had unquestioned success at a smaller school in a more insular environment. Both built programs organically, over time, to great success. Both came to Michigan with great expectations, and both had careers that failed to live up to expectations (Burnett's more disastrously than Rodriguez's -- check out these pre- and post- ,

Rodriguez was unprepared for all the demands he faced at Michigan. Part of that is Rodriguez's fault, but I still put the blame squarely on Sailin' Bill, who could have done MUCH more to ease the transition.

Blue Durham

September 23rd, 2011 at 3:35 PM ^

I have thought much the same thing about Hoke, as head football coach is more of an executive position than anything else.  And the time/energy demands of this job are such that he must delegate intellegently.  I have also though that by not being directly tied up in the offense/defense play calling, it allows Hoke to see more broadly what is going on in the game.  Yeah, Hoke was ready to call the final TD against ND.

But Hoke hasn't had to go through any real adversity yet, and certainly no crisis.  It is easy to be magnanomous when you are winning.  It is easy to look smart when your winning.  Let's see how Hoke responds after a couple of losses, and how the team reacts.  Do things mushroom and the team and/coaches lose confidence like the past 3 years, or do they respond?

Hoke has confidence in his coordinators and assistant coaches, they have proven they are able.  I think this will make the difference between Hoke's tenure and Rodriguez' 


September 23rd, 2011 at 3:38 PM ^

But when i listended to his first press conference he had me at the first "This is Michigan"

Time will tell but my gut tells me we have something special brewing here.  


September 23rd, 2011 at 3:43 PM ^

He's currently enjoying the same success Rich Rodriguez enjoyed in his second year. Slow down for a few weeks. Trust me, I'm with you but it's a process in which we must be realistic.


September 23rd, 2011 at 6:51 PM ^

Please don't remind me.  I can only shudder and weep when I remember.  I never got over the trauma, I think I never shall.

But to respond to the OP--quite.  By happenstance, I had just finished reading "Lasting Lessons" when Hoke gave his first press conference.  Bo always struck me as one highly effective leader, and Hoke seems to be in that mold.   That trait of taking all the blame but pushing off all the glory, in particular, is brilliant and develops considerable loyalty.

As others have pointed out, he's also been incredibly adept at handling difficult questions and hasn't really put a foot wrong.  What's amazing to me about that is that he comes off as 100% genuine, not even a shade rehearsed.  If anything, he's an awkward speaker (diagramming his sentences would be a nightmare unless it's "This is Michigan!") yet he always manages to give a response that, if not, er,  tremendous, is completely appropriate and does no harm.

I like it.

I hope it translates to nothing but winning seasons, and beating That School. 


Blue Durham

September 23rd, 2011 at 6:54 PM ^

This team that lost to a MAC team in the coach's first year wouldn't happen to be the same team (so to say) that lost, while loaded with NFL talent (which all left prior to this coach you are referring to first year), to an FCS team the year before?

Sr. laden team, experienced and stable coaching stafff with team loaded with NFL talent loses to FCS school > or < than next year, no NFL talent, entire new coaching staff, loses to division 1 team.



Hire Hoke

Gratuitious shots?

Profit more?????


Blue Durham

September 24th, 2011 at 10:51 AM ^

that has been kind of an on-going thing).  Another problem with "the cupboard" were the last two Carr recruiting classes combined with poor retention.  I'm sure you noticed that there was very little in the way of Sr. leadership on the team last year.

The story of 2008 was not one of problematic defense, it was the deadly combination of inexperience, poor QB play with inexperienced, poor OL play.  The offensive line was a huge problem in 2008.  Lack of any wideout threat didn't help either (probably didn't matter as the QB, if the OL gave him time, a big if, wouldn't be able to get him the ball anyway).


September 23rd, 2011 at 3:56 PM ^

Hoke best decision was to go after guys with questionable or lack of hair.  RR went after guys with full head of hair and look what that did for him. 

Section 1

September 23rd, 2011 at 4:01 PM ^

Brady Hoke is 3-0.  Exactly like the last two seasons with this program.  He's doing a good job off the field, particularly recruiting, just like the last two seasons with this program.  I don't understand the prematurely rave reviews on a lot of this other stuff:

  • "Clearly the hiring of Mattison was the big win for the staff but his remaining subordinates have excellent resumes themselves.  Hoke was not afraid to put together a team that would challenge his football knowledge and direction. "  Huh?  being "not afraid" to put together a team to "challenge his football knowledge"?  Have we ever had a head coach who was "afraid" of hiring certain assistants?  What the hell does any of that mean?
  • "Meddling"?!?  Can anybody supply a clear history of meddling/non-meddling by Michigan head football coaches?  What the hell does that mean?
  • A winning end-of-game decision versus Notre Dame; it was nice.  Just like last year, when Brady Hoke was in San Diego.
  • Should head coaches wear headsets?  Or not?  Or some of the time?  How about we go with "some of the time"?  The list of head football coaches who wear or wore headsets some of the time include Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.  It is a list that excludes nobody, includes everybody and tells us very little.
  • "Hoke has yet to be tested by tough times but based on what I've seen so far I think he'll do ok. "  Well, I think that sums it all up.  Nobody knows how Hoke will do up against a full year's B1G conference schedule, but he seems like a pretty good guy.  And with that remarkable, earth-shattering appraisal, I agree.  It is nice that he has started 3-0, including a thriller win over Notre Dame.  Just like last year's team.  It's really nice, that we are starting off no worse than last year.

Section 1

September 23rd, 2011 at 5:32 PM ^

It is an inherently loaded concept.  "Meddling" automatically connotes wrongdoing of some kind on the part of the meddler.

Some folks criticized Rodriguez for not being involved in the defense; because after all, he's the head coach, and defense is part of his responsibility.

And then there are the folks who criticzed Rodriguez for "meddling," and insisting on a defense that his defensive coordinators didn't like or weren't capable of coordinating.

And worst of all, all of this is spouted off in the context of Brady Hoke, who was given a million bucks to get the defensive coordinator of his dreams (rightly so; any Michigan Head Football Coach should be able to get the DC of his dreams) and who is now being praised, apparently, for simply doing what Rodriguez did, which was to delgate the operation of the defense within some general outline that he prefers.  And moreover, all of this is somehow proven by Hoke's "success," which is statistically indifferent from Rodriguez's success at this point in each of the last two seasons.


September 23rd, 2011 at 6:22 PM ^

Not sure what about my post so upset you other than my comment that Hoke appears to have a better handle on the niceities of managing people than RR did.  If you remember, i was a staunch RR supporter and opposed violently the Hoke hire.  But I have been impressed by what i've seen and I'm not letting my personal bias towards RR cloud my evaluation of Hoke.

As far as your specific objections to my post i do not believe RR  wanted any opposition to his plans, especially on defense.  A weak manager, and unfortunately it seems to me that RR was a weak manager, insists on HIS plan regardless of the wishes of his subordinates.  You will NEVER convince me that Gerg woke up last year and said to RR "hey...let's run that defense I've never coached before...might be fun to learn as I go."

The rest of your objections are nothing more than taking a contrarian position on anything I supported (headsets, ND game, my guess for how he'll handle adversity) for the sake of being a board contrarian.  Nothing more...nothing less.

Section 1

September 23rd, 2011 at 7:06 PM ^

That (a) Brady Hoke seems like a nice guy, delegating to a capable OC and a capable DC that he trusts, and (b) we really don't know how any of this is going to turn out in terms of hard results for 2011.

And I agreed with you on that.

My only other point was that all of the other Hoke-worship and implied Rodriguez-comparison was weak.  Because, as you say, we really don't know, yet. 


September 23rd, 2011 at 4:17 PM ^

He hasn't really had success here. I bet if you asked him, this is what he'd say. Not a success until we win the Big 10.

Now, has he done everything right so far? Pretty much. It's hard to find something to complain about. And that makes the future look bright. But we'll see soon enough.


September 23rd, 2011 at 4:57 PM ^

At this point (3 games into the job), Hoke's success hasn't been about Management or Football Skills. His success has been in MARKETING.

It's too early to give his Football Skills or his Management abilities a grade because his job is still in its infancy. The one thing that cannot be deined right now is the work he's putting in restoring the Michigan brand.



September 23rd, 2011 at 6:24 PM ^

I'm not saying that Hoke isn't good with football, but he is a master of good management. He let's his staff coach, and doesn't meddle. Hoke has great coordinators on both sides, good position staff, he manages the PR and media, he spends time with players and parents, he's positive, humble, decisive, joyful, gets everyone on the bus. To my way of thinking, he is a casebook study of what a good head coach is. Of course, in the final analysis, it's about wins, isn't it, so we'll have to wait awhile to make real judgement. But right now, I think Hoke is great at managing well.