The Michigan football program has traditionally enjoyed stability at the top. From coaches like the legendary Bo Schembechler to Lloyd Carr, the last coach to enjoy sustained success, the program has been spoiled to say the least. Now in the midst of searching for its third coach in seven years, Michigan has recently strayed from that path. A handful of former players who have had to deal with the same sort of situation drafted a letter to the current players, offering encouragement and support.
Most of the former players are those who went through the transition from Carr to Rich Rodriguez, and then from Rodriguez to Brady Hoke.
“I remember it was tough as a player going without a coach, that was the toughest time,” former Michigan defensive end Ryan Van Bergen told MLive.com by phone. “So anything positive to just get the current players some support during that time, it’s rough.
“When you lose a coach and you’re coach-less for a little while, it’s tough. We wanted to do something for them.”
The letter reads as follows:
First, we would like to formally thank Coach Brady Hoke and his staff. Regardless of win percentage, Brady Hoke was an incredible mentor and strong positive influence in all of our lives. He, along with his staff, had a very genuine love and passion for the University of Michigan and the players he recruited. We wish you and your families all of our best.
As the search for a new head coach continues, it is important that we support the current members of the University of Michigan football team. We also support the individuals tasked with making the decision of hiring our new head coach. We have no doubt that the upcoming decision will represent the best interest of the University of Michigan and its rich football tradition. We write this letter to publicly support Michigan interim athletic director James P. Hackett and University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and believe their current effort will lead to the right hire.
As former members of the team, we believe it is our place to lead by example and publicly commit to the current players and to the new coach. We have a first-hand perspective of coaching transitions and how they can affect a program. We were present for the first year under Rich Rodriguez (2008, 3-9), as well as Brady Hoke’s first year (2011, 11-2).
There is no denying the skepticism surrounding the Rich Rodriguez hire. Many at the time considered this to be a poor decision. Coach Rodriguez was not familiar with the Big Ten conference, and was introducing a very different system. Fans and players struggled to initially accept Coach Rodriguez, and this doubt spread among the players. This caused many veteran players to transfer, which drove a wedge between players and coaches, resulting in the poor 2008 season. A poor season lead to more scrutiny, which was difficult to overcome and ultimately lead to the firing of Rodriguez.
When Coach Hoke was hired, he was recognized as a “Michigan Man”. Our fans and alumni provided a very warm welcome and there was an optimistic outlook toward the future of Michigan football. The positive outlook rubbed off on us players. We were able to come together and prevent the mistakes made during the previous transition. We were able to fully commit to this new coach and staff, which made us that much stronger during the season. We saw the commitment of former players and the re-commitment of fans which allowed us to have whole-hearted belief in our coaches. This provided the environment for our team to be successful. We were able to win every home game that year, as well as win the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
Our purpose of collectively writing this letter is to encourage the same welcoming and positive atmosphere that was afforded to Coach Hoke in 2011. If the new hire is looked at with skepticism similar to Rich Rodriguez, we can be sure that we will see similar results. We believe in the new head coach and offer our long-term support during his career. We believe in the current players and the recruits. They have the ability to be successful and for continued success. Before they can have success, they need our confidence and our support. So most importantly, we want to provide a statement of confidence to the players and belief in the new coach.
We, the former players, believe you can be successful. Michigan is, and will continue to be, one of the most prestigious academic and athletic universities in the entire world. We encourage other former players and fans to share this message, along with anything they want to contribute to help promote a positive outlook toward the future of our program. We love our program and our University, and want to continue the tradition of ‘the Leaders and Best’.
Tyler Fenwick is the managing editor of The Big House Report. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.