The seasons of 2008, 2009 and 2010 are among the darkest in Michigan's long history. Under outsider coach Rich Rodriguez the Wolverines put together a pitiful 15-22 record, including a 3-9 season in 2008.
Rodriguez and his staff were justly and unceremoniously fired in early January of 2011. Very soon after Rodriguez's firing, it was announced that Brady Hoke would become the next head coach at Michigan. Hoke has since been viewed as the prodigal son by some Michigan fans.
He is a direct link to the legendary Bo Schembechler.
Hoke also installed two of the best assistant coaches in the country. Former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison went to Ann Arbor to serve as DC. Mattison was formerly defensive coordinator at Michigan in the mid-1990s.
Additionally, Hoke's offensive coordinator from San Diego State came to offer his services at Michigan.
The future looked bright and a turn-around was in the makings. But did it work? In a word: yes.
In their first season at the helm, Hoke, Borges and Mattison led the Wolverines to an 11-2 season and a BCS bowl berth and win.
Greg Mattison is a product of the glory days of Michigan football. He coached the defensive line from 1992 to 1994, and fielded crushing defenses as coordinator in 1995 and 1996. Mattison left before the defense he had cultivated squeezed the life out of teams en route to a 1997 national championship.
After tenures at Notre Dame, Florida and a stint in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, Mattison came full-circle back to Michigan.
Evidenced by their 7-5 record, the 2010 Wolverines were clearly not performing well on defense. Re-watching matchups from that season confirms it. Very straightforward tackles were missed, coverage blown and pass rushes shrugged off.
In 2011 things were a bit different. Greg Mattison installed a defense which emphasized pressure, aided by tight coverage in the secondary. He employed brilliant blitz packages and taught young safeties and corners how to stick to their receivers and play on the ball.
As a result, the defense gave up an average of 17.6 points per game in the 2011 regular season. When you compare this with their 2010 regular-season average of 33.8, the difference is clear.
Mattison was a finalist for the Broyles Award for the nation's top assistant coach.
The later Rich-rod days, particularly 2010, were not unproductive offensively. In fact, quarterback Denard Robinson set an NCAA record for season rushing yards by a quarterback (1,702). However, that offense was unstable and prone to disaster.
Rodriguez's offensive coordinator put together an offensive scheme which relied heavily on option play. This system required his very young quarterbacks to make split-second decisions under pressure. It could be either very productive or disastrous.
Plays during the Rich-rod era either resulted in big plays, big losses or turnovers.
When Al Borges took over, he installed a hybrid offense with option plays and drop-back pocket passing. This more balanced style produced more consistent results.
Additionally, it is a more comfortable offense for Denard Robinson to adapt to and feel comfortable in. It will foster his growth as a quarterback.
The point of an offense is to score more points than the other team. Al Borges certainly accomplished that (with the help of a stern defense) in 2011. Borges' offense put up an average of 34 points per game in the regular season.
There were, however, two instances where Borges seemed stumped. The offense could not gain momentum against Michigan State or Iowa. Michigan was held to 14 and 16 points, respectively, in those games.
This is the guy who took the skills of Mattison and Borges and brought them together. He makes the whole thing work. He weaves the offensive and defensive game plans together into a recipe for victory.
Some poor conduct of the coaching staff caused some Michigan players to actually leave the university. Players who left included Kurt Wermers and Justin Boren. Boren went on to an All-Big Ten season for rival Ohio State in 2009 after transferring following the 2008 season.
When Brady Hoke took over, the family atmosphere was re-instated. Hoke knows that players will play their hearts out for a coach that inspires and encourages them rather than belittling them.
Additionally, Hoke gives the fans the peace of mind of knowing there is a true Michigan man at the helm of their football team.
As a coach, Hoke's specialty is turning teams around. He started by taking the relatively unknown Ball State Cardinals of the MAC to an undefeated 12-0 record in 2008, while Rodriguez was leading former powerhouse Michigan to a 3-9 record.
Hoke's Cardinals were ranked as high as No. 12 in the coaches poll. This was the first time the Cardinals had ever broken the Top 25, let alone being considered the 12th-best team in the country. Hoke also brought the San Diego State Aztecs to a 9-3 regular season in 2010.
Hoke's recent 11-2 season at Michigan is a large turn-around from the 7-5 2010 season.
Brady Hoke was voted Big Ten coach of the year.
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