ANN ARBOR — For the first time in more than 130 years, the Michigan football team will not have set captains for this season.
In a shift from a longtime norm, UM coach Brady Hoke announced this week that the Wolverines will elect a captaincy contingent on a game-by-game basis, beginning with Saturday’s season opener against Appalachian State, and the coaching staff will choose among the 18 fourth or fifth-year players to represent the team at each pregame coin flip.
It’s the first time since 1882 that Michigan has not had set captains during a season.
According to UM’s media guide, the school did not field a football team that year.
It can be perceived as a more egalitarian approach to the team dynamic, or as a radical change in the culture in one of college football’s blue-blood programs. It can also be seen as another manner of motivation for the Wolverines, who stumbled to a 7-6 record last season, losing five of their final six games.
“Coach Hoke made that decision because he thinks it’s something that will help the team,” quarterback Devin Gardner said.
Wolverines linebacker Jake Ryan said Hoke informed him in March that when it came to 2014’s captains a change was in store and that captains would not officially be voted upon until after the season.
Ryan, the only returning captain from 2013, sat on that until this week when Hoke made the decree public.
“We’ve tried to do things differently this year,” said St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Miller, a redshirt junior center. “When Coach Hoke said, ‘That’s the way we want to do it,’ I said, ‘OK.’
“It’s exciting that if I get to go out for a coin toss, that would be great. But I trust in what Coach Hoke says, and that’s what we’re going to do, so I’m all for it.”
Many believed Gardner would serve as one of UM’s captains this season. Yet unless he’s one of the Wolverines at midfield for the pregame coin flip, Gardner will serve as a de facto captain.
And that doesn’t bother Gardner.
“I feel like I’m going to be looked at by the position I play,” Gardner said. “Even some of the young guys call me ‘Captain Gardner,’ which is weird. I told them not to do that. It’s not a big deal, we just want to win football games. That’s not something that’s going to hold us back.”
Still, Ryan noted, being named a captain is a role that has a certain added meaning for those who have held the title at Michigan.
“Tom Brady came in and talked to us and told us it was the biggest compliment of his life,” Ryan said. “Being chosen by your fellow teammates is a huge deal. You’ve got to fulfill that role. Every single day you’ve got to come in and work.”
Ryan, however, said he hasn’t yet seen any benefits — or drawbacks — of the new format for captains, and he noted that Hoke had only made the announcement official earlier this week.
“There’s a ton of leaders on this team,” Ryan said. “I think it’s going to be cool, and it’s a different thing to do.”
PAYOUT: Michigan will pay Appalachian State a $1 million guarantee for Saturday's game. In a contract dated Aug. 25, 2011, and obtained by The Blade through a Freedom of Information Act request, Michigan will pay Appalachian State the $1 million guarantee by Feb. 1, 2015.
The guarantee amount was originally $850,000 but rose to $1 million after Appalachian State announced in March of 2013 that it would become an FBS program. It joins the Sun Belt Conference this season after 31 years as an FCS program and will be bowl-eligible in 2015.
UM APPEALS RULING: Hoke said Wednesday that the NCAA denied the initial waiver request that would allow running back Ty Isaac to immediately play.
Hoke said Michigan appealed the ruling last week for Isaac, who transferred from Southern California to Michigan earlier this summer to be closer to his family in Joliet, Ill. Isaac, a former five-star recruit, ran for 236 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries for the Trojans in 2013, his first season of college football.
Isaac is not immediately eligible to play at Michigan, as NCAA rules require him to sit out a year without a hardship waiver, which would have granted him immediate eligibility.
The NCAA typically grants hardship waivers if a player transfers to a school within 100 miles of his hometown. Michigan’s campus is more than 250 miles east of Joliet, Ill.