Tag Archives: hot seat

2014 – The Second Year for Mike London

It will be a happy day for Virginia football fans when the talk of the program is focused on games and players rather than the job performance of the head coach. Today is not that happy day.
 
Mike London was hired in 2010 to take over a program that was weary from the leadership of the know-it-all curmudgeon Al Groh. When Mike London was announced as the new head coach at UVa, I was as pleased as any Virginia fan. My brother-in-law (a fellow UVa die-hard) and I went to a “meet the staff” event where Coach London and his new staff mingled with UVa fans and donors. Mike London was impressive. His message was a breath of fresh air.  He said that Virginia football was going to win with kids who went to class, who showed class, and who graduated with their degrees.  He spoke of his background in law enforcement before he began his coaching career. It was obvious that he would connect with kids, their families, and high school coaches who for years had written off Virginia football. While Mike London was hired in 2010, it is my position that 2014 is only his second year with the tools he needs to win and in reality the second year of the Mike London era.
 
When we “met the staff” in 2010 I was enthralled, swept up by the overwhelming sense of optimism. I intentionally ignored the sneaking feeling that something was askew. Virginia football fans always feel like something is askew even in the best of times, so it was easy to suppress this feeling. I was delighted to see three former UVa greats, Anthony Poindexter, Shawn Moore, and Ron Mattes on the Virginia staff. These guys knew how to win at Virginia. I was pleased to see a mix of respected coaching veterans in Jim Reid, Jeff Hanson, and Mike Faragalli mixed in with coaching newcomers Bill Lazor and Vincent Brown.  Chip West and his legendary recruiting acumen was an added bonus to the staff. What I was choosing to ignore was an anxious concern that none of these coaches had a track record of winning D-1/FBS football games. I saw lots of FCS experience and 1-AA success, but no one had delivered sustained success in a major FBS conference. I chose to bury that concern with optimism and alcohol and I headed to the bar for another drink.
 
It might have been buried, but my concern was neither dead nor unfounded. After posting our second 4-8 record in three seasons, Virginia overhauled its coaching staff, firing coaches Reid, Hanson, Moore, and Faragalli. Bill Lazor left the program to return to the NFL. In their places, Virginia hired Tom O’Brien, Jon Tenuta, Mike Archer, Steve Fairchild. All of these coaches have significant D-1/FBS experience. They have won at national D-1 programs. They have a track record of success over time in the ACC or equivalent conferences. 2014 is the second year that Mike London has the tools he needs to win which is why this is the second year of his tenure. The first year of his new tenure was a disaster as we installed new systems on both offense and defense, shook off a ridiculous and ineffective quarterback rotation, and players figured out the nuances and expectations of 4 new coaches.
 
While the new coaches are a needed infusion of experience and know-how, there are lingering questions. Can the contrasting styles of Mike London (a players coach and inspirational leader who connects with the players) and Tom O’Brien (a stern disciplinarian and Naval Academy graduate who served 9 years in the marine corps and has won consistently everywhere he has coached) mesh to deliver a winning system and more importantly a winning culture? Can Mike London compliment his innate art of leadership with the science of winning football games? Most importantly, can we leverage the wealth of coaching experience currently in the program into a winning record in its second year? That’s all the time we have. We squandered the good will and optimism of Mike London’s first three years with a staff that was learning on the job. As a result, have one season to show that this is the staff that can bring winning back to Charlottesville.
 
There is no doubt that Mike London was a big part of the hiring process of his initial staff and owns the ultimate responsibility for its composition. However, as is always the case with Virginia football, something is always a little different. Meddling and heavy-handed Associate AD Jon Oliver is never far from the decisions surrounding the Virginia football program. How influential was he in the hiring of the first staff? We don’t know, but there is no doubt his fingerprints were on the hiring of the initial staff as they were on the hiring of Mike London. The unfortunate reality for Virginia football fans is that we have exactly one more year to find out if this new, highly qualified staff can win, or we get to start the coaching conversations all over again and the happy day when we move beyond talking about coaching staffs to talking about winning football games will be forestalled, once again.

The Hot Seat

will-muschamp-guarantees-win-over-georgia
I recently stated when West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen may be looking for a new job next season, let’s look at other coaches who are on the hot seat.
Florida coach Will Muschamp’s most important flaw is that he isn’t and never will be Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer. Muschamp is not an offensive genius and his once touted defensive mind has taken a great hit. The Gators went from a Sugar Bowl appearance to a 4-8 in just two years. That kind of performance just won’t cut in the Swamp. Unless Muschamp can turn the program back around and finish in the Top 10, he’s gone.
Kansas coach Charlie Weis just doesn’t fit into college football. He is a pro coach and somehow his tactics aren’t translating to college. Granted Kansas is no football powerhouse but his wins can’t only come against South Dakota and South Dakota State.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini consistently wins 8-9 games a year which is fair in this era of college football parody but his non-Nebraska attitude and feel will eventually cost him. His outspoken brash attitude just doesn’t mesh with the hard working cornnusker faithful . Again he wins games, but Pelini just might not be right at Nebraska.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke needs to step up his performance or this Michigan man may not last. Hoke’s record goes from 7-6 to 11-2 to 7-6 and that won’t work. He needs to get better play in all facets of the game. Last year’s offensive coordinator was fired in the hopes of washing the bad taste of some awful offensive performances out of their mouths. Losing to Ohio State and Michigan State on a regular basis is inexcusable but also losing to Penn State and other ‘lower tier’ Big Ten opponents will get you fired.
Virginia coach Mike London should have been fired years ago but benefits from an indifferent attitude in Charlottesville. His overall record is 18-31 and was 2-10 last year. In this year’s ACC coaches poll Virginia is the only Coastal Division team not given a chance to win it (not receiving a single vote to finish first). If Virginia ever wants to compete in the very friendly Coastal Division, they need to prove it and act like coaching and winning are important.
As always there is an innumerable amount of coaches on the hot seat and coaching for their careers. The ones listed just top my list and as the season starts and unfolds more coaches will jump on and off the hot seat. Also there may be the surprise firing or coach jumping to the NFL (i.e Nick Saban), which just adds another pressure packed dimension to the football season.

Can Winning Fix Everything?

When you Google “fire Brady Hoke”, you get approximately 225,000 results which tells you something.  Granted there’s probably a number of them that are completely unrelated for one reason or another.  Even if you say that only half of them are relevant results, that’s still over 100,000 links to websites that are calling for Brady Hoke’s job or claiming that he’s in danger of losing his job.
None of them have time to read them all, but it’s easy to take an educated guess at what all of them recommend: he needs to win.
Just to refresh our memories, Hoke went 11-2 in 2011 and then 8-5 and 7-6.  The seeds of doubt have begun to creep into people’s minds now, making them wonder if that first year was just a fluke.  Even if it was, going 8-5 is nothing to sneer at.  There’s programs out there right now that would kill to go 8-5.  There’s some out there that would even be happy to go 7-6.
But none of those programs are the University of Michigan.
The University of Michigan is known as “the winningest program in college football”, racking up an impressive nine-hundred and ten wins with a win percentage of .723 over one-hundred and thirty-five years.  They also have the most winning seasons at one-hundred and fourteen, and twenty-three undefeated season.  So clearly there is a history of winning, so much so that the fans are really rather spoiled and probably a little over demanding of their program.
All of which brings up to the million dollar question: how many wins is going to take to save Brady Hoke’s job?
The first thing to do is to take a look at Hoke’s predecessor, the much maligned Rich Rodriguez who coached the Wolverines from 2008-2010.  As we’re all aware, in his first year, Rodriguez’s team posted a record of 3-9 which was the worst in school history and caused them to miss a bowl game for the first time in thirty-three years.  The following year they improved to 5-7 with the arrivals of Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson.  In his final year, Rodriguez lead the team to seven wins but was then annihilated by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
If we look at just the numbers it doesn’t look good for Hoke.  Rodriguez was getting better a consistent two wins per year as he slowly got the guys he need to run his scheme installed.  Hoke is trending in the opposite direction.  Given the direction that Hoke is going and the way Rodriguez was going, it is debatable if Hoke’s first year should even count.  The vast majority of the players he used to win eleven games and the Sugar Bowl were recruited by Rodriguez.  By all logic, by collecting players to run his more traditional system Hoke should have at least stayed at a similar win rate instead of constantly dropping off.
However, RichRod came in with such a dismal failure of a first season that it is debatable if he would ever survive.  Brady Hoke came in talking of years gone by and the way that legendary coach Bo Schembechler used to do things, and then won eleven games.  That earned him a significant amount of leeway.  Also he did something that hadn’t been done since 2003: defeated Ohio, also known Ohio State University.  Granted it was a water-down version, fresh off its suspension of Terrell Pryor and Jim Tressel and his mystical sweatervest.  However as anyone can tell you, all that matters is that you won.
In addition to Hoke’s victory against Ohio, he also defeated in-state rival Michigan State in 2012 to reclaim the Paul Bunyan trophy.  Not only that but he went 2-1 against hatred rival Notre Dame, the one loss coming during Notre Dame’s undefeated march to the BCS National Title Game.  So what do we glean from this?  That other than the years coached, there isn’t a whole lot in common between Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez.
Unfortunately there is only one other man to coach Michigan in this most recent era of football.  That man is Lloyd Carr, who coached from 1995 to 2007.  It would be unfair to compare Hoke to Carr, as Carr won five Big Ten titles and one National Championship.  Only once did Carr not post more than seven wins (2005) and then the team bounced back to go 11-1 in the regular season.  So despite what some of my family members might claim, Carr was a great coach and to compare Hoke to him at this juncture is not fair to either man.
So here we are back at square one.  We have no solid comparisons in recent school history.  Hoke was preceded by a questionable, possibly desperate, hire and a man who is now in the College Football Hall of Fame.  To be honest, we should just be happy if he falls somewhere in between but that’s not an answer.
What is the answer then?
The answer might not be a number, but which wins Hoke gets.
Here’s a scenario:  Brady Hoke and the Wolverines go 7-5, with Indiana somehow pulling off some absurd upset because otherwise it won’t happen.  They then go to the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Bowl and lose a close game to some Big 12 or SEC school.  Technically a winning season, right?  That’s the same number of wins as 2013 and people were calling for Hoke’s job.
Here’s the kicker though:
Those five losses are Notre Dame, Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota.
That means Hoke’s team beat Ohio State and Michigan State.
Now what happens?  Can people still be mad?  It’s a winning season despite not being a great season but Michigan’s two biggest rivals were vanquished.  That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?  Would you rather be 10-2 but those two losses to Michigan State and Ohio State?  Not only are they our rivals but now they’re both in the same division.  Michigan might not win the division but they’d be also might also be the nail in the coffin of their rivals conference title hopes.
What does this means?  To me, it means not all wins are equal.  As far as Brady Hoke’s job is concerned, they might not all be equal either.  Give us another 7-5 season but with wins over our biggest rivals, maybe even one out of two and Brady Hoke will survive to coach another year.
 

Is Brady Hoke on The Hot Seat?

Michigan Wolverine's Head Coach Brady Hoke. Photo: MGoBlog, Flickr.
Michigan Wolverine’s Head Coach Brady Hoke. Photo: MGoBlog, Flickr.

It’s probably a little early to give my official predictions of coaches on the hot seat (I was 7-3 last year), so I’ll quickly speak to the fact that many are suggesting that Michigan coach Brady Hoke needs to appear in a BCS game to keep his job.

The long and short of it is, he’s as safe as Urban Meyer.

Yes, I just compared the job security of Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer.

The truth is, Hoke – in order to keep his locker room believing in him and to continue recruiting high quality athletes to Michigan – needs to win about nine games, and appear in a top-tier bowl game. Beating Ohio State and/or appearing in the conference championship game will only bolster his position and extend his longevity.

To compare Michigan’s path to a national championship with Ohio State’s is foolish for all, including Wolverine detractors. Although the programs appear far apart, in reality they couldn’t be closer. I’m not suggesting the Wolverines can’t get the national championship game this season, but their path is more difficult.

Like Ohio State, they only face one BCS opponent (Notre Dame) in their non-conference schedule, but they face worthy in-conference challenges against Penn State then Michigan State, Nebraska, and Northwestern in consecutive weeks before facing Ohio State at the end of the season.

On paper, their schedule is tougher, and in reality, their team isn’t as strong. Hoke’s recruiting skills have proven to be formidable over the past two off-seasons, and assuming Michigan only loses three games this season, he will survive and the Wolverines will secure an appearance in a top-tier bowl game.

I’ll go ahead and make the assumption that Michigan takes two of three from Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State and say they play in the conference championship game, and play in a upper-level bowl game.

They’ll only be able to do this if Hoke’s defense plays as well as expected, and Devin Gardner quickly adapts to whatever scheme offensive coordinator Al Borges comes up with for the quarterback.

To oppose that, Michigan will have three new starters on its offensive line. If they don’t have their ills figured out by the time they play Notre Dame, they better have it figured out by the time they face Penn State and Michigan State.

I say all that, not to evaluate the X’s & O’s of what Michigan can do this year, but to quiet those who think Hoke is in danger of losing his job.

Officially, I see no reason for Michigan to lose more than two games in 2013.

Do you think Brady Hoke is on the hot seat, or has he built enough good will to carry him a few more seasons?