• The Old Guy. There's not much left to write about Rich Rodriguez that hasn't been written many, many times over the last three years, and then written again. But it probably is worth beginning with a pair of reminders. One: RichRod's record over the course of turning West Virginia into a short-lived national power made him an attractive hire in December 2007 — Alabama tried to hire him the previous December, and thought it had, before aiming its checkbook at Nick Saban — and two: The tumbleweed-strewn lineup left by the Lloyd Carr administration mandated a rebuilding period regardless of who inherited it. In fact, after four straight defeats against Ohio State and eternal humiliation at the hands of Appalachian State in Carr's final season, a fresh start under an outsider who intensified workouts, expanded recruiting into Florida and traded old-school brawn for the speed and misdirection of a 21st Century spread attack was an integral part of Rodriguez's appeal.
Forty years removed from their last losing season, however, Michigan fans' idea of "patience" did not include a home loss to Toledo, a 3-9 record, a last-place finish in the Big Ten, the complete collapse of the defense, the arrival of probation for the first time in school history or the extension of the losing streak against the Buckeyes to seven years, with no end in sight. They certainly didn't include a head coach who tears up to the strains of Josh Groban in public.
Even beyond his 0-9 record against Ohio State, Michigan State or Penn State, Rodriguez's lack of Maize-n-Blue pedigree divided a fan base that clutches its history to its chest like the family pearls. Even after three full years, he still had to insist that, yes, he truly did "want to be a Michigan man." But too many people were never convinced, and after the 52-14 debacle at the hands of Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl, even his defenders were too tired of waiting to protest much when new athletic director Dave Brandon decided to pull the plug.
• The New Guy. At the time, of course, Rodriguez's exit was accompanied by the hope that the job would lure one of two accomplished prodigal sons, ex-Wolverines Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles. Officially, Brandon admitted to talking to both but insisted he never offered either; in reality, it looked like two big whiffs on a pair of swings for the fences, followed by a seeing-eye single: Brady Hoke.
At least Brady Hoke was excited. An Ohio native, Ball State alum and longtime Wolverine assistant under Lloyd Carr, Hoke made no secret even while still employed at San Diego State that Michigan is his dream job, the endpoint he's been aiming for most of his career. He also fits at least the first two criteria Brandon laid out for Rodriguez's replacement, as Hoke is both a) An experienced head coach, with stints at Ball State and San Diego State; and b) A defensive coach, having presided over one of the most dominant units on one of the dominant defenses in the last 20 years as defensive line coach for Michigan's 1997 national championship team — a far cry from the rock-bottom units that struggled as Big Ten whipping dog under beleaguered defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.
Hoke's track record for producing winners is less obvious, beginning with his actual record: Just 47-50 in eight years as a head coach. He does have two major credits over the last three years, the first for resurrecting Ball State as an undefeated MAC frontrunner in 2008. He got out of Muncie just in time to avoid a crippling exodus of talent after that season, and had his new team (now his old team), San Diego State, in a bowl game last year for the first time since 1998. After a solid decade as Mountain West doormats, the Aztecs won nine in Hoke's second year, with all four losses came by a combined 15 points.
But the new boss' most obvious asset is his willingness and ability to serve as the symbol of Michigan's official repudiation of Rodriguez. So far, Hoke's resumé hasn't mattered nearly as much as his success in evoking the halcyon days of yore among Carr-era alumni, who have yet to tire in their praise of deep respect for tradition and insistence on building a "physical" presence from the sissified remnants of the spread. The fact that he was able to make the best hire of the offseason by luring former colleague Greg Mattison from the Baltimore Ravens to resurrect the conference's worst defense doesn't hurt, either.
• Immediate Impact or Slow Burn? It may sound like sour grapes when Rodriguez says in interviews that he finally had the team in position to win this fall, if only he'd been given one more chance, but on paper it's hard to argue with him: His teams improved each season — from three wins to five to seven — and with electric quarterback Denard Robinson leading nine returning starters from the conference's most prolific offense, the Wolverines were probably a new defensive coordinator away from turning the corner under the old administration. Instead, Hoke inherits a veteran roster in far better position to deliver something resembling a vintage Michigan season than the attrition-ravaged bunch Rodriguez took on in 2008.
His arrival also coincides with the ongoing disintegration to the south, where Ohio State will roll into Ann Arbor on Nov. 26 without either of Rodriguez's chief tormenters, Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor, and possibly with far less to play for if the NCAA is feeling particularly vindictive. If the emergency coach and/or quarterback transfer doesn't take, the Buckeyes' streak in the rivalry is in serious jeopardy for the first time since the epic 1 vs. 2 showdown in Columbus in 2006.
The optimism is tempered by the philosophical shift under new offensive coordinator Al Borges, whose West Coast-y system figures to give Robinson far fewer opportunities to run than Rodriguez's "spread 'n shred," which was designed specifically around the quarterback as a threat to run. (Robinson personally accounted for 67 percent of the team's total offense last year as a runner and passer.) But the defense can't possibly be worse, and with Mattison, is likely to be dramatically better. Hoke may not be a better coach than Rodriguez, and his first team may not achieve anything it couldn't or wouldn't have under the old regime. His first team should be better than any of Rodriguez's offerings, though, possibly by a wide margin, and the good vibrations will buy him all the time his predecessor never had.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.