The Illusory Michigan Man


There’s a certain brand of University of Michigan fan who would like to believe in the Michigan Man. That fan maybe isn’t even indicative of the whole fan base, but he’s certainly the loudest, proudest faction. And, for the past two years, he’s had egg on his face.

Going back to last season, UM is 4-9 in its last 13 games with wins over Miami (Ohio), Indiana, Appalachian State and Northwestern. Losses over that span include red letter games against Notre Dame, Michigan State, Ohio State, Kansas State and most recently, Utah and this…for the Little Brown Jug. As if losing in a second-tier bowl game to the skin sack formerly known as Bill Snyder isn’t bad enough, as if getting pile-driven by Notre Dame 31-0 isn’t bad enough, as if seeing your in-state rival win the 100th Rose Bowl isn’t bad enough, Michigan resorted to giving tickets away via a Coca Cola-sponsored “buy two Cokes get two tickets free” deal in their own student union. The Big House—which is a horribly uncomfortable stadium sized for 80,000 people, tops, populated by 100,000-plus alums with wine buzzes and the mindless mass of non-grads who’ll drop $95 for a ticket—can’t sell out any more.

It’s all because those fans got their way and hired a Michigan Man—current head coach Brady Hoke—in 2011. The Michigan Man ideal stems back to some bullshit Bo Schembechler spouted in 1989. Bo, the former head football coach—by then the AD—fired then-basketball coach Bill Frieder just before the regular season ended, as Frieder had announced he was taking a job at Arizona State following the season.

As the legend goes, Schembechler announced that a “Michigan man is going to coach Michigan” and lifted assistant Steve Fisher into the big seat just in time for the tournament. Fisher successfully continued a strategy of getting Glen Rice the basketball and won the 1989 title.

The “Michigan Man” then went on to recruit the greatest freshman class of all time with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars from an illicit booster and was ignominiously fired as one of the heaviest hammers the NCAA ever dropped in hoops came down on the program. It suffered under the ramifications of those restrictions for more than a decade after his departure.

That’s a Michigan Man.

It’s also some inbred ideal a portion of the fan base craves—someone with a stocky build who likes to talk about base-level football things like ‘punching people in the mouth’ and ‘running north and south’ who just happens to be very good at producing an effective running game and lockdown defense. This mythical Michigan Man was supposedly hired in 2011 when Hoke came riding to the program’s rescue.

They’d been saddled with Rich Rodriguez, a decidedly un-Michigan Man who put together a cutting-edge offense and middling defense, since former-sorta-now-definitely-totally Michigan Man Lloyd Carr retired in 2007.

Hoke, noted fatass and deficient play-caller, once coached under Carr when the two split a ring with Nebraska in 1997. He’d coached linebackers. He spouted platitudes. He looked like he could probably hack it in 10 degree weather and had compiled a 47-51 at Ball and San Diego state universities prior to landing at Michigan.

In retrospect, of course it was a dumb hire. Hoke is a mouthbreather who has proven incompetent at hiring assistants and consistently gets his lunch handed to him by superior coaches throughout the Big 10 and college football in general. He recruits five star-rated athletes who more often than not fail to ever really progress. He can’t win the big game.

On message boards, blogs, the UM-friendly confines of Detroit newspaper sports pages, sports radio shows and podcasts (all of which I can’t stay away from as a very gleeful fan of Michigan State University) the fan base is ripping Hoke, the program and itself to shreds. There’s denial: Actual fans claimed that an injured freshman cornerback cost them the game vs. Notre Dame, and that the game wasn’t really that much of a blowout. There’s regret: Why did we ever hire Brady Hoke!? We should have been nicer to Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles. There’s acceptance and anger: We’re the worst team ever and should fire Brady Hoke.

But, there’s precious little self-reflection. Hoke was supposed to be your Michigan Man, the one who would save you from the effete coastal systems RichRod forced upon you. He was going to stiffen the defense’s back, turn Denard Robinson’s September Heisman into a December Heisman and build on the glory that was taking four RichRod recruiting classes to the Sugar Bowl in 2011. You, Michigan fan, clamored for him.

Now you have him, and this is what life under a real Michigan Man looks like. Maybe look for a coach when this explodes, instead of an archetype.