Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is putting Brady Hoke’s job security squarely on his shoulders this fall.
During Big Ten media days earlier this week, Gardner was asked several times about Hoke and whether the fourth-year head coach is fighting for his job this season.
"My job's to make sure he's not on the hot seat," Gardner said. "I'm going to make sure we win enough football games. And I’m going to play as hard as I can with my teammates, and I’m going to encourage my teammates, and my teammates are going to encourage me, and we're gonna make sure that's not a talking point."
Hoke came to Michigan with high expectations, and those expectations were heightened when he won 11 games his first season, the first 11-win season for the Wolverines since 2006. But since then, Hoke's teams have steadily declined. Michigan won eight games in 2012 and then struggled to 7-6 last year, which included a paltry 3-5 Big Ten record.
In the past three seasons, the Wolverines have watched Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Michigan State surge by them in success. In 2012, Ohio State might have played for a national title had it not been for NCAA sanctions. Last year, the Spartans won the Rose Bowl.
Hoke is just 2-4 against the Buckeyes and Spartans during his tenure.
Hoke more or less refused to address his future this week, but his players were more than eager to take up his cause. Frank Clark, a 2013 All-Big Ten second-team defensive end, said the team is aware of the hot seat talk, but the players try to isolate themselves from it so it doesn’t become the focus of the season.
“It should motivate the whole team just to look out for coach and his business,” Clark said. “At the end of the day, when our four or five years are done, we want our coach to still be here representing the best school in the nation. Coach Hoke being on the hot seat, I mean, you’re going to have bad seasons. The demand that people have nowadays is ridiculous. They want you to go undefeated every year."
If Hoke does find himself out of a job this season, it won’t be because he didn’t try to make his team better. This offseason, he hired offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier from Alabama in hopes of recharging an offense that ranked 86th nationally and 10th in the Big Ten.
Gardner, who started his first full season last year, had some major growing pains. He accounted for 32 total touchdowns, but threw 11 interceptions. He completed 60 percent of his passes, but also was sacked 34 times. He also broke his foot against Ohio State, an injury from which he said he’s 100 percent healed.
Gardner said Nussmeier’s system is simple, which should allow the offense to be on the same page, something with which it struggled at times last season.
"I'm ID'ing the Mike (linebacker) every single play now, and if I don't, coach Nuss is gonna let me know about it. I'd never ID'd the Mike in my life," Gardner said. "I'm glad that (Nussmeier) came this year. I'm still learning the protections, the basics of it. I know everything that everybody does but it's gonna take through the summer for me to get better at it. I'd even picked Peyton's (Manning) brain about their protections ... It's hard to learn. We had the whole spring, and coach Nuss forces you to learn. He's a very intense guy. He helped me a lot with it."
As for whether a change in offense will lessen the pressure on Hoke? Well, that remains to be seen. In the meantime, players are trying not to take the hot seat talk too seriously.
“Coach Hoke is always hot, he’s always sweaty,” Clark said. “He’s probably sweating right now.”
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