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Asked Monday how he would feel to be named coach of the year in the Big Ten, Michigan's Brady Hoke drifted off in his response, lauding the efforts of everyone from team physicians to the equipment room staff to the crew that feeds players.
His senior captain, David Molk, responded more succinctly, offering "He deserves it."
On Wednesday, Hoke was announced the winner of the award for his success in restoring the Wolverines to prominenence in his first season. He was voted top coach by both the media and the coaches.
The honor is becoming customary for Hoke, who has won three league coach of the year honors in the four years, all coming in a different conferences. In inheriting an unstable program that went 15-22 in the three years prior to his arrival, Hoke finished the regular season 10-2, beat Ohio State to end a seven-game drought against OSU, and has seemingly a fair shot at a BCS game.
"It's a great honor, it's humbling, and all of those things," Hoke said Wednesday in an interview posted on the school's Web site. "But there's so many people involved in awards, whether it's the Heisman Trophy or the balloon toss."
Hoke's main competition for the distinction was probably Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, whose teams will square off Saturday in the inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. Unlike Dantonio and Bielema, few expected Hoke to enjoy the success he did upon taking over a team that went 7-6 in 2010 and ranked 107th nationally in scoring defense.
Hoke brought most of his staff with him from San Diego State, and enticed Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison with a $750,000 annual salary to come to Michigan. Together, the coaches scrambled to salvage a fragile recruiting class in February and wasted no time securing top prospects for this year's class, a class figured to be ranked in the top five on signing day. The momentum Hoke and his staff produced extended to the field, where the Wolverines strung together five straight wins to begin the year, including an epic 35-31 triumph over Notre Dame. From week to week, the defense improved, allowing 18 fewer points per game than in 2010 and jumping 98 spots in that statistical category.
It didn't take long for Hoke's players to learn his stance on discipline. He suspended standout senior receiver Darryl Stonum in May for driving while intoxicated for the second time in his career before reinstating him in August and ordering Stonum to redshirt. Hoke sat punter Will Hagerup for the first four games for violating team rules and exiled Marvin Robinson to the bench at the end of the season after Robinson was charged with breaking and entering.
"I love him," Molk said. "He's a great coach, he's a great mentor, he's a great friend. He's every single thing you want a college coach to be and he does it flawlessly."
Hoke, who made $2 million this season in base compensation, will not receive a bonus for coach of the year, per terms of his contract.
Hoke has built a reputation on fortifying programs. He turned around his alma mater, Ball State, before bolting after a 12-1 season in 2008 when he was named Mid-American Conference coach of the year. At San Diego State, he posted seasons of 4-8 and 9-4 and collected Mountain West Conference coach of the year accolades in 2010. In Hoke's first five seasons as a head coach, he was just 22-37 with one winning season. In four years since, he's 35-15.
A former Michigan assistant and childhood fan who dreamed of some day being the school's head coach, Hoke declared in his initial news conference he would've been willing to walk to Ann Arbor from San Diego for the job. When he accepted the position, Hoke did so without inquiring about pay.
"I have the greatest job in the world," Hoke said. "It's fun. Fun being with those kids."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.