Think back to early January of 2011. A large shadow rested over the Michigan football program after former head coach Rich Rodriguez spent three seasons running in place. The search for a “Michigan man” came to a somewhat surprising conclusion when Brady Hoke was hired on Jan. 11, becoming the 19th coach of the Wolverines.
That first season was magical. But here we are three years later, and that early success is looking more like a sad reminder than a fresh start.
2011 was exactly as I just described it. Most are probably willing to forget the fact that one of Michigan’s losses came at the hands of Michigan State because of the liberating feeling a 40-34 win over Ohio State and a BCS bowl victory offered in return. Not only were the miserable days of Rich Rodriguez done and gone, it symbolized a new beginning with a new system that was going to do incredible things for a program and fanbase that wanted nothing more than a return to the glory days.
2012 — no big deal, right? It’d be unreasonable to expect such lofty results to be sustained by a coach only in his second season. Every Michigan fan got comfortable with saying something along the lines of, “He’s working with players who weren’t cut out for his system.” That’s exactly right, but using it as justification for following up an 11-2 effort in 2011 with only eight wins the next season — including losses to Michigan State and Ohio State — most likely numbed the crowds for a bitter 2013 season.
This last season may have been the most difficult to deal with for fans of the Wolverines. Yeah, Rodriguez had this program in the dumps for three seasons, but he never put together anything nearly as impressive as an 11-2 record with a BCS bowl win stapled to it. I’m not going to label that 2011 campaign as a season of false hope — though it has the same feeling — but it did set up the program for a speechless reply to back-to-back seasons of mediocrity.
Think about this: as a Michigan fan, are you hesitant to mention Hoke’s first season in a debate? If you are, surely it’s because you know what the immediate response will be. You’ll be asked to outline the next two seasons of Michigan football, and that’s something you can only do while staring at the ground.
Instead of pointing to 2011 as a season that kick started the program and launched it from the ruins in which it rested under Rodriguez, it’s now a sharp tool often used against Hoke, who’s now heading into his fourth season.
Like it or not, the time is grim, and the window has been slowly closing for the last two seasons. Don’t get me wrong; as Michigan fans, you should be proud of that 2011 season. It was — I’ll say it again — magical. However, the very fire that launched the ship could be the same fire that brings it down. Only time will tell if success truly haunts Hoke’s future.