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January 8, 2014

Wednesday Thoughts: Al Borges 2013 season's first casualty

Michigan's 2013 season didn't go as planned - not even close, with a 7-6 record. On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Al Borges became one of the first to pay when head coach Brady Hoke relieved him of his duties.

It's very possible he won't be the last.

"Decisions like these are never easy," Hoke said in a statement. "I have a great amount of respect for Al as a football coach and, more importantly, as a person. I appreciate everything he has done for Michigan Football for the past three seasons."

While not a stunning move - rumors of staff changes have been swirling since the Wolverines lost to Kansas State, 31-14, in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl - the timing is surprising. Many felt any changes forthcoming would take place after Signing Day in February, and that position coaches might be the first to go.

It became clear midway through the season, however, that there was a disconnect on the offensive side of the ball. The Wolverines rushed for negative yardage in back to back losses at Michigan State and to Northwestern behind an offensive line that struggled to find consistency throughout the year.

Athletic director David Brandon blogged about accountability and seemed to lend support to the defense, insisting Brady Hoke would be retained and mentioning Greg Mattison by name. There was no such stamp of approval for the offense, though, nor should there have been. While the offense had its moments, including a 41-point outburst against Notre Dame, failing to score a touchdown against Michigan State for the second straight year and struggling to move the ball against the better Big Ten defenses sealed Borges' fate.

So who's next?

Someone who shares Hoke's philosophy on offense, most likely a pro style guy and someone who has been around a while and enjoyed great success. Don't expect someone to get the job just because he has Michigan ties, for example, or someone who has never been a coordinator before - Brandon and Hoke have likely already discussed potential names, and chances are the man they bring in will be not just a 'name' hire, but someone who has been proven. There's talent on the roster, and 2014 is critical to the program's short-term success.

Given the importance of recruiting, too, it shouldn't be long before we know who that is. They'll want to introduce the new hire sooner than later to let kids know there's stability. Brandon firmly believes Hoke is the right man for the job, but as we learned with basketball coach John Beilein, sometimes it takes tweaking (or an overhaul, depending on how you look at it) to make things work. One step backward does not have to be a death knell, especially for a capable coach.

The pieces are still in place for future success. There were plenty of Michigan - like moments in the Wolverines' first two seasons under Hoke, and they've recruited extremely well.

We'll find out soon, though, how much of last year's staff will be around to build upon the foundation. As one close to it said, "this proves that nothing - or nobody - is off limits."


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