Wednesday, January 12, 2011

October 18, 1995

It's not a game day, if you're wondering (Michigan had a bye that weekend). It was a Wednesday actually. But October 18, 1995 is the reason I want Brady Hoke to be a stunning success at Michigan. I cannot promise that he will be, no one can, but I know he has the first, most important step in being a success with Michigan football; he's the head coach. Woo-hoo! Living the dream!

I don't like to be too personal on here, because it's not a style that suits me well, but Brady Hoke today struck a chord when he said he would have walked from San Diego if it meant being the new head coach at Michigan. It struck a chord because I believed him. I not only think he meant it, I sincerely think he would have figured out a way to do it. It struck me because I am pretty sure I know the exact feeling Brady Hoke had today. Mine came on October 18, 1995, the day I got my fat envelope from the University of Michigan admitting me as a part of its next freshman class. All of the joy, all of the hard work, all of my effort and energy that I had put in to a goal that I had set for myself in third grade had finally paid off. I was in at Michigan. It was the place I wanted to be more than anything in the world and now it wanted me.

There were bumps along the way. I wasn't great in my accelerated math classes. I probably could have put in a little more effort there, done a little better, made it a little less of a question as to whether Michigan would want me. I distinctly remember crawling under my computer desk in my parents' basement for several hours after I got my first ACT score back, knowing it was under the magic number and worried that it wasn't going to happen and mentally working on the Plan B Dearborn-->Ann Arbor route. That fear of failing, of coming close, but not getting what I wanted, I knew that might fall on me, might haunt me, and it pushed me to do better, to be better, because the goal was important.

If you ask anyone who knows me, even a little, to describe me, one of the first five things they might mention is "huge Michigan fan". They're right, it probably is one of the five things people know and note about me, and I wear it like a badge of honor, in good times and in difficult ones. If it helps define who I am, if it makes it easier for people to get a sense of me, I'm all for it. The things I believe about what Michigan is are things I strive to be. Michigan doesn't always get it right, it's not perfect, but it aims high and works to live up to the idea of being "the leaders and best."

Which brings me back to Brady Hoke. Do not misunderstand me when I say that I think Hoke will be successful in no small part because he is passionate about being at Michigan, that there is nowhere else in the world he wants to coach, that this is his dream job. Passion and desire can only get you so far. But I also get the sense that Brady knows in his heart that while Michigan, the university, may believe in him at the moment, to hand over the keys and say "We trust you, don't scratch it.", he knows he has to convince a number of skeptical people that he deserves it. There are a few ways a person can handle that. One is to ignore it, trust your instincts, brush it off with something along the lines of "haters gonna hate" and trust that you'll win them over and if you don't, it doesn't matter what they think. The second one is to put everything you have into showing them that you are worthy, that you deserve it. From the things I have read, Brady Hoke seems like he is many things: genuine, humble, earnest, emotional, and passionate. Does this mean that he has the best defensive schemes in all of college football? No, but it does mean that he knows he has a hill to climb and he's going to find the right people to climb it with him. Does this mean he thinks Michigan will go 14-0 next season simply by showing up? No, but I think it means he's going to find a way to convince this team, his new family, that they can be successful if they play with passion, intensity, and intelligence. Does this mean he is going to get all of the best recruits in the land? No, but I think he is going to look for players who fit his vision of a Michigan football player, who know that they're good, but they can be better, and that if you want to be a part of something special, something larger than yourself, Michigan just might be the place to do that.*

Winning football games is not a Tinkerbell problem. Simply wishing it to be so, believing really hard, and clapping your hands does not put more points on your side of the scoreboard. But today, Michigan introduced a coach who believes, with everything he has, that he will give everything he has to be a worthy successor to legends like Yost, Kipke, Crisler, Oosterbaan, Schembechler, and Carr. If Coach Hoke's results match his passion, Michigan is in good hands.

*-A strange coda, but one I feel compelled to make. I liked Coach Rodriguez, a lot. I still like him as a person and I want him to be successful in his next coaching stop. I wanted him desperately to succeed not just because I wanted Michigan football to be great again, but because I genuinely believed that he was a guy who was trying to do the right things and everything he tried seemed to make things worse. He was like the Mr. Bean of college football coaches during the last three years. It is so easy, in retrospect, to dismiss the last three years as having no value. It would be a shame if we did. There are far too many lessons we need to take from the Coach Rodriguez era, both as fans and as people. One day, when Michigan fans conclude their own Rogers Commission investigation into the Rodriguez era, we may find the reasons that Michigan did not succeed during the past three seasons. For now, all we are left with are the known knowns, and we are left to speculate on the unknown knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns of the era. We will speculate, piece together, connect dots, and hurl accusations and invective because, more than anything, the end of the Rodriguez era demands of us that we understand what the last three years have meant, and we are compelled to ask ourselves the simple question "Were they worth it?" You look around and the obvious answers point to no. But the obvious answers aren't always the best answers. Beneath the surface, there is a lot more to the last three years than a losing record, and we'll need to sort that out. We've got time, new evidence will surface, new pieces will be able to be put in to place. We'll know more. When we do, we'll make decisions from there.

But the reason this coda is here is because I want to remind people of two key points. 1). When you invest heavily in something and said thing ends, there is a grieving process. 2). Not everyone grieves on your timetable. So please be nice to your fellow fans. Let them take their time to find their way and realize that many of us are we're living in hope, of things unseen, because in the absence of evidence the alternative is fear and for many of us, it's way too cold to sleep in the long shadow it casts. We're a family, we'll be here.

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