April 20, 2012

Former Wolverines have faith in Hoke

The splinters that pervaded the Michigan football program were far from secret by the time Brady Hoke was announced as the Wolverines' 19th head football coach Jan. 11, 2011.

Now, less than a year and a half into his tenure, to say that those potentially crippling cracks have been sealed is an understatement.

Over 300 former Wolverines made the trek to Ann Arbor to participate in the festivities of Team 133's spring game, and it is readily apparent that the winningest football program in college football history is healthier than ever following a special 2011 season that culminated in a Sugar Bowl championship.

"Obviously any time you win, it makes you a little bit prouder," said former All-American offensive tackle Ed Muransky, who started 33-consecutive games for U-M from 1979-81, "but I think even if it wasn't at that level, I was just so proud to see this program going in a new direction.

"Brady Hoke has come in here and is bringing back all of the alumni, and he gets all of our traditions. We are getting back to Michigan football, playing good defense and winning big games well ahead of schedule."

"Winning the Sugar Bowl was absolutely awesome," former All-Big Ten running back Ricky Powers (1990-93) said. "You ask any former player, and they will tell you they love the fact that Michigan is back to being Michigan again. This was something that needed to happen."

Powers was just one of a contingent of more than 100 former players that participated in the fourth-annual alumni flag football game that took place prior to the spring game.

Former quarterback John Wangler (1977-80) looked like he hadn't missed a step, throwing for five touchdown passes en route to Co-MVP honors, but feels even more comfortable with current direction of the program.

"We had three tough years and that's not Michigan football," said Wangler, who tossed 26 touchdown passes in winged-tipped helmet. "It was painful to be a former player, and a Michigan fan. The way this team reacted last season, and to see this program bounce back the way it did, it was very gratifying. It shows you what kind of character these kids and those coaches have.

"Brady is a tremendous guy and has done a great job. If you have a kid, you would be proud to send him to play for Coach Hoke. I'd love to send my kids to play for him.

Although a BCS victory in year one speaks volumes on the job this staff has done, for many former Wolverines it is the way in which Hoke and company have found success that has meant the most.

"They have the right formula, and they are doing everything right," said former kicker Phil Brabbs (1999-2003), who will be forever remembered for hitting one of the more dramatic field goals in Michigan Stadium history to down Washington 31-29 in 2002.

"They're representing the university in the right way, focusing on mental toughness and the fundamentals that make Michigan. I think they will be very successful because they have the right priorities in place."

"As a former player, my chest was out and I was proud of how we were winning," added Muransky, who was a fourth round pick in the 1982 NFL draft. "It shows you how much, on any level, coaching and fundamentals mean in football."

Sometimes it takes a keen eye to recognize just how effective this staff has been at teaching their players the little things that are so important in attaining success at the highest level.

"You saw that there were some talented players there [last season], and the staff really taught them how to do the right things," former head coach Gary Moeller said. "They are going to do the simple things in football very well, and I think that helps enormously.

"It helped the kids to mature last year and, no matter what, they will get their kids to play tough and hard."

"They will always be a well coached team," former tight end Andy Mignery (1999-2003) said. "The fundamentals were instilled last year, and they starting this year with a solid base. They constantly improved and it was a monumental task to finish last year as Sugar Bowl champions with 11 wins. I think they are going to bring that momentum into spring ball and into next season."

Michigan men of the past and present are hoping that this momentum will end the program's longest Big Ten title drought since Bump Elliot era.

"They have to go for the Big Ten title," said Moeller, who posted a 44-13-3 record and won three conference championship as U-M's head man. "I don't care about anything else. That is the special prize, and I really believe that they have an opportunity to do that."

"They have a legitimate shot this year, especially if leaders like [senior quarterback] Denard Robinson continue to get better and nobody stays stagnant," Mignery added. "We have a lot starters, and a lot of talent in general, coming back. If the football gods can give us a break here or there, and we get a couple of big early victories like last year, the sky is the limit for this team."

Since day one, Hoke has stated that the goal for his squads in Ann Arbor will begin and end with the Big Ten crown. But some former players see a higher ceiling for the program in the not-so-distant future.

"I know Brady will be mad at me for saying this, but I see a national championship in the next few years," Powers said. "Honestly, what he is doing is awesome. Obviously, a Big Ten championship comes first, but I think a national title is going to come next."

"Let's just put it this way," Mignery said, "with the recruiting path they are on, they are potentially going to have the talent within five years to win a national title.

"More importantly, you get a group of guys that are collectively focusing on the right things, who knows where that could lead."

"I don't think there is a ceiling," Wangler added. "They have the right coaches and staff to get to the top. They do it the right way, and I think we will be where Michigan should be very shortly."

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