ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — After three years, one winning season and a singular postseason appearance under Rich Rodriguez, it would seem that Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is on the right path. The Wolverines were 11-2 last year, their best record since 2006, and they finished the year with a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech.
But for Hoke, his first year was just the foundation for what he hopes will be the rebuilding of the once proud tradition in the wake of the spread offense debacle under Rodriguez.
"We got a lot of work to do, team No. 133 is now coming together, every team is different, every season is different," Hoke told Yahoo! Sports. "A lot of preparation lays ahead of us.
"We'll continue to move in the direction that we want to be. Our goal and expectation this year is to win the Big Ten championship and we didn't do that last year— we failed in that regard. We need to get guys who want that goal, guys that will meet that expectation."
It wasn't an easy job for Hoke to come into a program that had undergone NCAA sanctions under Rodriguez and struggled mightily to win games. His ability to turn Michigan around was recognized this weekend by the Maxwell Football Club as he was named the 2011 College Coach of the Year, helping to restore the program's luster.
He also made strides on the recruiting trail.
The past three years, Ann Arbor had not been the destination for top players as it had been in the past, but after a successful 2011, Hoke pulled in the seventh-best recruiting class in the nation according to Rivals.com. Hoke said it was the type of class that can bring the Wolverines conference titles and into BCS bowl games.
"When you look at the group of linemen offensively and the defensive linemen that we've brought in — that is where the game starts," Hoke said.
"We filled some needs at wide receiver, a little bit at running back and at linebacker too. I'm happy with this class."
The season included a win over Ohio State in what is arguably the deepest college football rivalry north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Now, with Urban Meyer as head coach of the Buckeyes, Hoke has serious competition in the Big Ten as the coach with the most swagger. Meyer made a big splash on Signing Day as he hauled in a bevy of national recruits, including the highly touted Noah Spence out of Pennsylvania.
However, Hoke is embracing the big-name coach on the Buckeyes sidelines as the next chapter of this storied rivalry unfolds. He even went as far as calling the school down south by its proper name.
"It's never about a coach in this rivalry, it is about two great universities," Hoke said.
"We have a lot of respect for that school, for Ohio State, and I like to think they feel the same way about us."
Follow Kristian R. Dyer on Twitter: @KristianRDyer