It was a tough season for all involved in the Michigan football family in 2014. In a season that saw the athletic director resign, a full-scale national media crisis, and a player arrested on charges of domestic violence combined with uninspiring play on the field, one thing about the offseason is for sure; changes will be coming.
These changes will go beyond a new coach. While it’s almost a forgone conclusion that Brady Hoke will not remain as head coach, there will be several other question marks surrounding key positions both on and off the field. A great deal of uncertainty will surround the quarterback position, as Devin Gardner will depart after completing his 5th year. A two-horse race between junior Shane Morris and redshirt freshman Wilton Speight will likely determine next year’s starting quarterback, with no clear front-runner at this point.
The heart and soul of the defense, Jake Ryan, will be playing on Sundays next year, leaving a major leadership vacancy in the unit that has been the strength of the program during the Hoke era. More broadly though, questions will also surround the fate of some of Hoke’s lead assistants, such as offensive and defensive coordinators, Doug Nussmeier and Greg Mattison, as a new coach enters the program.
In hindsight however, everybody should have known that a tough season was coming after a 31-0 debacle in South Bend on September 6th. Gardner’s three picks set the tone for the season, in which he would throw 15 interceptions and struggle to maintain any consistency. Despite the embarrassing early performance in South Bend, hope remained that the Wolverines would turn things around by the time conference play began. Those hopes were shattered when the Utah Utes came to Ann Arbor and held the Michigan offense to three points, sending Devin Gardner to the bench. At 2-2 with tension mounting, everything seemed to burst the following week when amidst another subpar performance, the coaching staff mismanaged the head injury of Shane Morris and let him return to the game after exiting earlier with an apparent concussion. The national media got hold of the controversy and it created a frenzy of negative energy surrounding Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke. The weeklong controversy seemed only to illuminate a couple of key facts; Michigan had no answer for the deteriorating quarterback situation and Michigan was not a very good football team. After losing 26-24 to Rutgers that week in another game of bad clock management and turnovers, Michigan sat at 2-4 and 0-2 in conference play.
The rest of the season felt as if everybody, including players, fans and coaches, were playing out the string. The Wolverines got a nice win against Penn State under the lights at Michigan Stadium, but failed to capture victories in Columbus and East Lansing. The most demoralizing loss for the fan base occurred in the final home game against Maryland, where Michigan yielded two 2nd half touchdowns en route to a 23-16 loss. The loss all but sealed Michigan’s chances at qualifying for a bowl game.
2014 will unquestionably be remembered as a season where off field distractions won out. With every loss, the fan base appeared to express more and more anger at the policies of Dave Brandon. It got to a point where the ire surrounding his presence took attention away from the football team and it was time for him to be removed. Declining attendance figures were also a key point of discussion, as Michigan only averaged about 104,000 fans per game, far below the stadium’s capacity, which has been known to hold more than 115,000 fans. The positive momentum Michigan established in early November took a hit when the news of Frank Clark’s domestic violence arrest hit. That not only forced attention off the field again, but also took away Michigan’s most effective pass-rushing option at a time when he was playing the best football of his career.
All of this translated into a team without much fight. The senior quarterback regressed with every game. The receivers, who were supposed to be a strength, were very disappointing. The defense had a knack for making untimely mistakes. The specific teams unit was absolutely horrific in all facets. And finally, the reputation of Brady Hoke took a huge tumble, as it became clear that he did not have the makeup to be a successful coach at a big time program. At 5-7, the Wolverines will miss the postseason for the third time in the last seven seasons. They have not won at Big Ten title since 2004. With two consecutive unsuccessful coaching regimes, Michigan has endured a sustained period of mediocrity and now the program finds itself at a crossroads. The next coaching hire cannot be a failure if Michigan wants to regain its status as an elite football program nationally. Let’s all hope Mr. Hackett, Michigan’s interim director of athletics, gets it right and turns the ship around. The 2015 season begins Thursday, September 3rd in Salt Lake City, where Michigan will get an opportunity to avenge this year’s loss to the Utes. Let the countdown begin.