(The account’s graphics person meant “vs. Ohio State & Michigan State,” obviously.)
As we wait to see just what a Jim Harbaugh regime looks like over the long haul, it’s jarring to remember derided former coach Brady Hoke started out about as strongly. It’s a stat tailor-made for Paul Finebaum’s audience, and it’s easy to see why it took off. Laughing at such a headline-hogging coach will always be popular.
Adding in some context shows Michigan isn’t exactly right back in the doomed Hoke era, though.
1. Harbaugh has far better wins.
Hoke beat two 10-win teams (11-3 Virginia Tech and 10-3 Northwestern) in four years. Harbaugh beat five (10-3 Northwestern, 10-4 Florida, 10-4 Colorado, 11-3 Penn State, and 11-3 Wisconsin) in two.
2. Harbaugh’s faced harder schedules.
Hoke’s 2011 and 2012 strength of schedule ranked in the 30s or 40s, depending on where you look. (That 2012 team played several elite teams, but also a whole lot of bad ones.) Harbaugh’s 2015 and 2016 SOS ranked in the teens or 20s.
Hoke faced an interim Ohio State head coach in 2011, beating the 6-7 Luke Fickell in Ann Arbor for one of two “rival wins.” Harbaugh’s faced a fully operational Urban Meyer Death Star, taking it to overtime in Columbus in Year 2.
Hoke didn’t play Penn State during this 31-game start, but lost to the NCAA-hindered Bill O’Brien shortly after. Harbaugh is 2-0 against James Franklin’s Penn State, beating the 2016 Big Ten champion by 39 points.
They did each beat one slumping Michigan State, with Harbaugh getting to face a 3-9 version, but that’s about the only point in Hoke’s favor in this section.
3. Hoke arguably took over a better team than Harbaugh did.
Michigan went 7-6 the year before Hoke arrived, but 5-7 before Harbaugh. Both teams got blown out a lot, though.
4. Harbaugh’s faced far more coaching attrition.
Harbaugh’s initial staff lost defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, QB coach/passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch, RB coach Tyrone Wheatley, special teams coach John Baxter, and defensive backs coach Greg Jackson to promotions elsewhere or the NFL. Durkin’s since vastly improved the recruiting at division opponent Maryland. Hoke’s initial staff lost only defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery.
5. 2017 was always going to be a rebuilding year for Michigan.
After seeing all those losses to the NFL, I think most Wolverines fans would’ve accepted a 4-1 start, as long as you didn’t tell them the one would be to MSU.
And you can add starting quarterback Wilton Speight’s 2017-ending injury after only three full games. Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner were mostly available during Hoke’s time, though they each missed at least one game.
There’s an argument to be made that those NFL losses were Hoke’s recruits, but Harbaugh’s got a good shot at three straight top-10 recruiting classes, so I’m not really worried there. And remember Hoke’s offenses cratered as Rich Rodriguez’s players left the program.
But don’t lose sight of history just because of a rough stretch.
Harbaugh pulled off instant turnarounds in the FCS, Pac-12, NFL, and Big Ten. Hoke had a 47-50 record as a mid-major coach and, since leaving Michigan, hasn’t demonstrated much success as a defensive assistant at Oregon or Tennessee.
It’s true that we’re still waiting to see what it looks like when a Harbaugh tenure lasts beyond the instant turnaround, but I’m pretty confident in arguing Harbaugh’s next 20 games will go way better than Hoke’s 7-13 finish at Michigan.
We should laugh at memes in the meantime, though.
Also worth noting: Nick Saban was 23-8 in his first 31 games at Alabama, so I guess Hoke was better than Nick as well.