The debate over whether Brady Hoke would be another Rich Rodriguez-mismatch for Michigan should have ended at his introductory press conference.
Unlike his predecessor, Hoke knows exactly what he’s operating in Ann Arbor. He also understands what he’s selling and against whom he’s competing. This is all positive, because Hoke flaming out like RichRod would be counter to Ohio State’s interests, as a weak Michigan helps nobody outside of East Lansing.
Separate from all that, Hoke failing at Michigan is a vacuous, misplaced dream.
He is the archetypical Michigan Man, Ohio roots and all. Hoke was the perfect hire – it's been my position since his hiring, it was my position following last season when it was evident the Wolverines would slide a bit in 2012 and it's my stance until further notice.
"Hoke is a great coach and an even better program steward," I told a couple of Buckeye fans I met last week at Caesars Palace. "By all accounts he's a great guy too. You'd be better off appreciating him. He's good for the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry."
"That's what I was afraid of," sighed the shorter fan, whose name might have been Michael. "I had hoped Rodriguez left them in too big of a hole to climb out of so quickly."
"Nah, anyone can coach Michigan to nine wins," said the taller one. "And Hoke is nothing like RichRod. He's more Charlie Weis."
That comparison was new to me. "Charlie Weis? Why, because he's fat and you don't like him?"
"No," he said casually. "Look it up."
Look it up. These two bachelor party bros I had run into in Vegas didn't know me and I didn't know them, but of course I was going to look it up. I sternly told my iPhone to remind me to do so after the haze of Sin City was in my rearview.
Over the weekend that reminder appeared as scheduled, and I pessimistically set out to uncover how the turgid, cheating jackass whom Notre Dame fired in 2009 could in any way resemble the peer-appreciated blue collar illuminato who resuscitated Ball State, San Diego State and now Michigan.
I saw no similarities aside from both men being conspicuously chubby – in America, where almost everyone could lose a few pounds. So I searched. And I was amazed.
That lanky sage at Caesars was an accidental genius or a master troll. Either way, because of him I now realize the tenures of Weis at Notre Dame and Hoke at Michigan at this point are virtually identical.
|# of letters in name||Four (two vowels; the e is silent)||Four (two vowels; the e is silent)|
|US PRESIDENT at BIRTH||Eisenhower||Eisenhower|
|Attended college in||Indiana||Indiana|
|...After X Games||36 (fired before bowl game)||37 (fired after bowl game)|
|5* & 4* PLAYERS in first FULL RECRUITING class||Two 5* & Ten 4*s||Two 5* & Ten 4*s|
|5* & 4* PLAYERS IN 2ND RECRUITING CLASS||One 5* & 12 4*s||One 5* & 16 4*s|
|5* & 4* PLAYERS IN 3RD RECRUITING CLASS||Three 5* & 16 4*s||Trending that way|
|inherited popular Quarterback||Yes (Quinn)||Yes (Robinson)|
|recruited blustery quarterback||Yes (Clausen)||Yes (Morris)|
|BCS BOwl in first season||Yes (Fiesta)||Yes (Sugar)|
|CRUSHING LOSS to SPARTY in first SeASON||Yes||Yes|
|LOST BOWL TO SEC TEAM in SECOND SEASON||Yes (LSU)||Yes (So. Carolina)|
|TOTAL WINS THROUGH TWo SEASONS||19||19|
|ADULT DAUGHTER'S NAME||N/A||Kelly|
On paper, anyway. Hoke has not treated his post as gracelessly as Weis did. Calling Ohio State Ohio may lack accuracy or any real insult, but it's colorful and gamesmanshippy. His sound bytes are harmless. He sounds like you. He sounds like me.
Conversely, Weis once said of Notre Dame's chief rival, "I've never lost to (then-Southern Cal coach) Pete Carroll and I'm not going to start now." Carroll ended up 5-0 against Weis, winning by an aggregate score of 198-85. Despite his bluster, Weis never beat Carroll as a head coach.
He also said, following a home loss to Michigan State in 2005, that Notre Dame "would never lose to the Spartans again on his watch." Michigan State beat the Irish again the next time they visited South Bend as well as the year after that.
Time after time, Weis inserted his pre-diabetic foot into his self-important piehole and embarrassed countless Notre Dame fans who then had to absorb the consequences of his priggishness each time they punched in at the car wash. It was a brutal period for adopted scholastic pride.
The only real chagrin Hoke has given Michigan fans is that they're unable to enjoy fat jokes the same way they did when Weis was next door. They're no longer funny – just infantile and lacking the sophistication of calling Ohioans cooler poopers.
We really don't need to relive Weis' infamous and catastrophic run at his alma mater, despite how invigorating it is for all decent people to reminisce in that glorious era. But as he entered his third season, his coaching demise was merely an outcome that was hoped for, not guaranteed. The only thing guaranteed was the $40MM Notre Dame is still paying him through 2015.
No one is crediting Rodriguez for Hoke's fast start, just as Ty Willingham received zero praise for the roster Weis inherited. Fortunately for Michigan's athletic department budget, Hoke isn't being rumored for NFL jobs the way Weis was. He'll be on the Wolverines' sideline for a long time.
Still, these similarities – while immensely entertaining to me – are just anecdotal, not unlike the false kinship between Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy (and if you're wondering which coach would be Lincoln and who is Kennedy, the answer is Weis is William Howard Taft and Hoke is Grover Cleveland).
It may break your heart, but the larger anecdote will flame out spectacularly when Michigan's win total easily exceeds Notre Dame's (Weis went 3-8 in year three) in 2013.
But the truth is that despite the numerous coincidences, Hoke will turn out nothing like Weis, much as he was never anything like Rodriguez. Aside from his decided phlegmatic advantage, he's just a much better coach.