As I sat there on a bus coming back from playing in my own football game Saturday, I watched Brady Hoke pull his most trustworthy person, Devin Gardner. One of two things came into my mind: Either Hoke finally realized that his job is on the line and he had to make the change, or he gave in to public temptation, which could start a huge issue within the team.
Gardner is beloved among his teammates. They love his grit and determination, the epitome of that being his toughness to battle through the fourth quarter in the Ohio State game last year with a broken foot. He led Michigan in that fourth quarter from two touchdowns back to tie it up once and ended up a two-point conversion away from winning it. It’s safe to say that won over a majority of the locker room, if not all of it.
Where is that Devin Gardner? No, I’m not saying he needs to go out and break his foot. Where is the Devin Gardner who missed one pass against Appalachian State? Where is the skill that he showed us from the Ohio State game? Where is the Devin Gardner who dominated Notre Dame in 2013 and seemed like a likely Heisman candidate? Where is the consistency he showed at the end of the 2012-13 season, when he had to come in for the injured Denard Robinson? The Devin Gardner who almost won at Ohio State and in the bowl game against South Carolina? Where is the top dual-threat high school quarterback of his class?
It seems as if we will never see that Devin Gardner. His confidence is so shaken and beaten down to a pulp. This is such a sad situation because we have seen what Gardner could have become: a Heisman hopeful. He has had to go through two head coaches and three different offensive coordinators. Heck, he even switched to wide receiver at the start of the 2012 season. Then, in that same season, he had to go back to quarterback. He showed flashes of greatness in that 2012 season, which is what led to all the hope and hype leading to the 2013 season. He took over against Notre Dame and all the hype seemed reasonable. Then the whole team seemed to collapse down the stretch.
After the 5-0 start to last season, they since have a record of 4-8, which is one game better then what Rich Rodriguez was able to do in his first season. The difference in the teams is that Hoke’s team is superior to Rodriguez. We brought Hoke in to replace Rodriguez and to bring back “Michigan football.” 4-8 is not Michigan football. Gardner was a big reason why there was a collapse. We haven’t even gotten to the pressure of him dawning “Ol’ 98.” We put all the pressure of the Michigan world on his back, and at some point, he was going to break down.
I still believe that Gardner has that level of talent to dominate, but when you have a young offensive line and inconsistency at wide receiver and running back, you are going to struggle. It has been a pressing issue for not just this year, but last year as well. Why isn’t the talent around Gardner developing and improving? Yeah, some people have improved very nicely, like Derrick Green and Devin Funchess, but what about the rest?
You can’t turn a blind eye to this. The coaching staff simply isn’t getting it done. I’m not going to call out Nussmeier because he has only been there for four games, and I’ve seen enough improvement on the defensive side of the ball to be fine with Greg Mattison.
That means there is one person left, and that is the person who leads the team. Hoke knows it. He showed that he knows it when he pulled Devin in the fourth quarter. He knows his coaching seat is scorching hot. His time might already be up, because it’s hard to foresee major improvement within the year. If he can show his team can make larger strides, he might be able to save his job for another year. That task will be next to impossible with the morale of the team right now. They usually sound confident off the field, but when Hoke said he is not sure who will start at quarterback this week, that is the sign that time is running short. If Hoke wants what’s best for the Michigan football program, it’s time for him to throw in the headset—oh, wait—because such a prestigious football program cannot endure this hideous display of football much longer.