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February 23, 2011There are many ways to measure a man's character but one of the best is to ask his peers. Brady Hoke has been Michigan's football coach for a little more than a month and he hasn't met everyone in the athletic department yet but almost everyone is already impressed ...
Hoke's most recent public appearance came last Friday, when he was introduced to the nearly 7,000 fans that crammed into Yost Ice Arena to watch U-M best Western Michigan 6-3 and his simple approach to his introduction was noticed.
Three years earlier, Rich Rodriguez donned a Maize and Blue hockey jersey and took a stab at Score-O - the second-period intermission game in which three contestants attempt to slide a shot from the blue-line through a tiny opening into the net. The student section roared with delight. That was Rodriguez's way and that didn't make it wrong but his occupation of the spotlight did offend some folks.
Flash-forward (or rewind) to Friday night. Hoke stepped onto the ice from the north entrance wearing jeans and an untucked collared blue shirt. He looked uncomfortable as the patrons rose to their feet just as he appeared a bit out of sorts at a men's basketball game a few weeks ago. Hoke probably would have retreated quickly, disappearing out of sight, but the band broke into a rendition of The Victors and Hoke was soon pumping his fists in unison with the crowd.
Hoke's reticence shouldn't be a knock against him; he understands how big of a gig this is, how much pressure he's under and how important his role as ambassador of the program is, but he also has no desire to be the center of attention.
"I think when you look around this campus, this is a very proud athletic department, one that constantly talks about being the 'Leaders and Best' but at the same time you don't see a whole lot of coaches self-promoting," a current U-M assistant coach said.
"In every sport we compete in, there's probably more famous coaches at other schools in the Big Ten or in the country, household names, but our most famous coach is probably Red [Berenson] and he might be the humblest coach we have.
"He's won national titles and goes to the NCAA Tournament every year and you ask him about his success and the first thing he does is talk about the players.
"That's what Hutch [softball coach Carol Hutchins] is like, what John Beilein is like, what Lloyd [Carr] was like when he was here. We've got some of the best teams in the country, and our coaches are competitive but they're not full of themselves.
"That's what I've liked about Coach Hoke so far. Even in his first press conference, someone is giving him some praise and he heaps it back on the players, and at the same time he's willing to shoulder all of the responsibility. That's the kind of man you respect and it's the kind of coach that kids will compete at the highest level for."
Hoke has to win games immediately in 2011 and then achieve at a consistently high level after that before he's proven anything but in a Michigan coaching fraternity that emphasizes representing this university to the highest ideals it stands for, he's off to a great start.
"I have colleagues at other schools that you ask them about a high-profile coach in another sport and they immediately shrink and lower their head and mutter something - because they're embarrassed," a current U-M head coach said.
"Football is king here and you want a coach at the heart of the program that stands for everything you stand for, everything Michigan stands for. You want a guy you can be proud of and when you get asked about him you stick your chest out and say, 'Yep, he's our guy' and there is not one iota of shame in your voice.
"That's why I want Brady Hoke to succeed at the highest level, because he's that guy."