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Published: Saturday, 1/15/2011

Michigan's Hoke thriving under the radar

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR — There don't seem to be many great Brady Hoke stories floating around.

Guys who have played for and worked with Hoke don't readily burst into laughter or tears when thinking back to something he once did or said. An Internet search on Hoke doesn't reveal anything overwhelmingly odd or interesting about the 52-year-old coach who grew up in Kettering, Ohio.

In many ways, Hoke, Michigan's new head football coach, is a basic guy. It's a label he has never shied away from, and it could be argued that based on him being hired as the head coach of the winningest program in college football history last week, he has used it to his advantage.

"The best phrase I've heard to describe him is: Gritty not pretty," Michigan junior Kevin Koger said.

Before his name began surfacing in Michigan's search, Hoke, a former UM defensive assistant under Lloyd Carr, was relatively unknown, having been a head coach at non-BCS programs Ball State, and most recently, San Diego State. Although a stranger to outsiders, he was appreciated by those who know him professionally.

"He's a great man, he's a great coach — a players' coach," said Glen Steele, a former UM defensive lineman who was coached by Hoke. "I think he's going to do well."

Dan Simrell agrees.

Toledo's head coach from 1982-89, Simrell hired Hoke in '87 to be his linebackers coach on the advice of John Harbaugh, who had just been let go at Western Michigan, where Hoke was his defensive line coach.

Simrell asked Hoke if he could start the next day. Hoke responded, "I can start tonight."

Hellraiser

John and Patricia Hoke raised four kids in their home in Kettering, Dayton's most populated suburb. They named their first son Jon — same name, different spelling — and their second, Brady.

Jon is in his ninth season as an NFL assistant coach, currently with the Chicago Bears. He has a sister, Heidi Thomas, who lives in Perrysburg, and a brother, who will soon lose his California tan now that he's moved to Michigan.

"He was a real boy," John Hoke said of Brady. "He raised some hell, but he was good. Never got in big trouble."

Brady was rebellious, and we know this because of the college team he rooted for — Michigan. His friends at school liked Ohio State, and his father played under Ohio State coach Woody Hayes at Miami. It would have been easy, and natural, to be a Buckeyes fan.

"Brady never was," John said. "But that's Brady."

There was something about that maize and blue toughness that appealed to Brady, that made him set a personal goal of one day becoming Michigan's coach.

Last week, at the press conference to announce that his son's dream had come true, John sat in the front row, a tissue in hand to wipe away the tears before they traveled too far down his face.

The previous evening, when Brady phoned his parents with the good news, crying could be heard on both ends of the phone.

"We're very emotional," John said. "We like to hit it hard and go with it. I call him, crusty. He has a little bit of Woody in him. It's interesting to see how he works."

12-0 season

Like his predecessor at Michigan, Rich Rodriguez, Hoke had the pleasure of turning around his alma mater's program before advancing his career. For Hoke, it wasn't easy. He won just 15 games over his first four years at Ball State, never finishing higher than a tie for third in the Mid-American Conference West division.

Patricia Hoke said those who roll their eyes at Hoke's 47-50 record "ought to know the particulars behind that." She's referring to a textbook scandal at Ball State in 2005 that involved 89 athletes in 10 sports. The NCAA penalized the football program by removing three scholarships and suspending several players.

A rebuild that wasn't going to be easy in the first place became harder.

"That affected his first two years," Patricia said.

The program was officially resurrected in 2007 when the Cardinals played in the school's first bowl game in 11 years. The transition, though, actually began two years earlier. It was then that Hoke convinced a high school senior from Bellaire, Ohio, with a learning disability to come to Ball State.

That player, Nate Davis, threw for 74 touchdowns in three seasons before entering the NFL Draft after his junior season, in which the Cardinals finished the regular season 12-0.

One of the reasons Davis chose Ball State is because he is dyslexic, and Hoke was passionate about assisting Davis in his classroom and athletic studies. Davis' runner-up choice was Toledo.

"Nate Davis, I think, went beyond all of our expectations," former UT coach Tom Amstutz said. "Brady and his staff did a really good job of recruiting him."

When Davis went to the NFL, Hoke, who was sharing an office at BSU, decided to leave too. It was off to San Diego State, where he would, in just two years, turn around a second program, leading the Aztecs to their first bowl game in 12 years.

To recap, Hoke in his career has snapped bowl game droughts of 11 and 12 years. Now he's charged with cleaning up another mess at Michigan.

"Prepared as you want to be," his father said. "He will do the job. You can't believe what the people in San Diego think of him. They looked at him and said you might be crazy to take this one when you're home free out here. But he'll win."

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com or 419-724-6160.



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