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Brady Hoke passes buck on Shane Morris injury as Michigan continues freefall

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Brady Hoke is paid over $4 million annually to run the University of Michigan football program, and as these modern, high-paid coaches are quick to note, it's always a "program," not just a team.

The program brings in about $85 million to $90 million in revenue, a number that grows every year thanks to expanding television fees from its conference-owned cable network. It employs dozens of people and trains scores of players.

It's a big operation. Real big.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Hoke, 55, has coached college football since 1981, including head stints at Ball State and San Diego State before coming to Michigan in 2011. He has proven to be overmatched in Ann Arbor when it comes to winning games, but there is no indication he doesn't care about his players' well being, specifically their long-term physical health.

His players, current and former, swear by him – "Coach Hoke is a great guy … we're all behind him," said defensive end Frank Clark.

His coworkers, assistants and bosses through the years praise him – "anyone who attacks his character doesn't know what they're talking about," assistant Greg Mattison said.

Even his rivals kind of feel bad that Hoke is on the hot seat as the Wolverines' losses pile up.

"Don't like Michigan. Never will," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said to ESPN last week. "But I respect [Hoke] as a coach and a man … I have an affinity for Brady as a person."

The images from last Saturday of a wobbled Shane Morris, Michigan's starting quarterback, not just staying in the game but later returning after being pulled for what Hoke called a leg injury, have gone viral. Suddenly the entire thing has swirled into something no one could have foreseen.

A debate about Hoke's coaching acumen was expected as the Wolverine fell to 2-3. One about his character, insinuating he cares nothing about his players? One that wonders if Michigan itself is just a callous football factory pursuing lonely victories over safety?

"When your integrity and your character is attacked … I think that's unwarranted," Hoke said during his weekly news conference Monday.

Morris took a shot to the head in the fourth quarter against Minnesota and looked like a possible victim of a concussion, almost falling down as he appeared out on his feet.

This was obvious from Michigan Stadium's massive grandstands. It was clear up in the press box, where the ESPN broadcast immediately shifted its focus on the injured Wolverine. Everyone watching at home noticed it.

It apparently wasn't as obvious to anyone in Brady Hoke's football program, since Morris continued to play. He was eventually pulled, but Hoke has repeatedly said it was due to a leg injury, not a possible concussion. Then, even worse, he was reinserted into the game for one play after QB Devin Gardner lost his helmet.

The entire thing is terrifying to watch and a sign of how serious the public has begun to take brain injuries involving football players.

It was apparently never determined that Morris was concussed, but the visual is enough to leave questions about protocols and awareness and even whether Hoke should finally start wearing a headset on the sideline so someone upstairs might be able to scream to get a kid out of the game.

"No," Hoke said of donning a headset.

This is the crucible of the entire saga and the damning part of the Brady Hoke regime.

You can continue to believe that he's a good, caring and reasonable coach and that he simply didn't realize Morris was under duress. What you can't do is excuse that a "program" as large as Michigan's, with a headman paid as much as Hoke, shouldn't have handled this better in real time. The kid got rocked in the head in the middle of the largest stadium in college football. This wasn't some obscure event. If not one person in the program noticed, then what are they capable of seeing?

And then, even worse, when Michigan clearly didn't handle it well, it should've resulted in Hoke standing up on Monday (actually sooner) and assume full responsibility for the failure.

If nothing else, he needs to be accountable for the fact that he's in charge.

"I knew the kid had an ankle injury," Hoke said. "That's what I knew … We would never, ever, if we thought a guy had a concussion, keep him in the game, and [we] never have."

How didn't he see Morris stumbling, though? How did no one see it? And why was Morris ever allowed back in? Michigan's policy is a good one: The medical staff determines if a player is healthy enough to play; the coaches have no say in the matter.

It seems unlikely, however, that a full concussion test could've been administered in the brief time Morris was on the sideline. Is anyone paying attention down there? Or up in the box, where television replays are available?

An injured Shane Morris talks to one of his coaches on the sideline.
An injured Shane Morris talks to one of his coaches on the sideline.

This was an obvious breakdown and the only positive is that Morris wasn't further injured because of it.

To lean on a series of "I didn't knows" and "It's not my call" and "The doctors will release a statement" is the opposite of the leadership this moment calls for.

After losses Hoke is always quick to take the blame, saying he and his staff need to coach and prepare better. So why not acknowledge that he too was horrified by the failure to pull Morris immediately and that his program will make sure it does better next time?

It's OK to say you screwed up and say that this wasn't a haunting mistake.

Perhaps even more troubling, or indicative of how Michigan athletics is operating, is that on Monday afternoon, nearly 48 hours after this incident, Hoke said he still hadn't discussed it with his boss, athletic director Dave Brandon.

Not at all? How is that possible?

Could Brandon really be the only person in Ann Arbor not interested in finding out what happened?

And even if he somehow wasn't a bit interested in the subject, once the negative wildfire began spreading through social and traditional media to the point where the Wolverines' entire football culture was under attack, how does the AD not call the coach, or jump in on the damage control?

If this isn't the job of the athletic director, what is?

Brandon and Hoke love to brag about the "Michigan Brand." They are paid handsomely to protect it.

Right now it is under almost unprecedented assault, even from its most loyal fans and customers. "This is NOT Michigan," the fan blog MGoBlog railed Monday.

Maybe it is unwarranted to suddenly conclude formerly good man Brady Hoke is actually a heartless villain, but it isn't uncalled for to demand why the response has been so poor.

Or more specifically, why Dave Brandon apparently fiddled as his beloved brand burned.