Wiedmer: Can Hoke copy AU's Chizik?

Wiedmer: Can Hoke copy AU's Chizik?

January 13th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

Exactly one year ago Wednesday evening, one of the most controversial, least satisfying hires in college football history came to an unexpectedly swift close.

That's the night Lane Kiffin left the University of Tennessee football program for Southern Cal after a mere 13 months on the job. That's the night UT athletic director Mike Hamilton learned the bitter lesson that swinging for the fences sometimes leads to striking out.

In Kiffin's wake has come a three-pronged NCAA investigation into baseball, men's basketball and football that may ultimately do far more damage to Bruce Pearl's hoops Vols than the other two sports.

Kiffin's departure also had much to do with the Vols' third losing season in the past six years, if only for those who left the program and the natural problems that envelop a team that's attempting to become comfortable with its third head coach in three seasons.

Somewhere down the road - probably 2012 - the Big Orange will almost certainly be better off for going from a jerk to a gentleman in Kiffin replacement Derek Dooley.

But getting there won't be easy and one can't help but wonder if Florida's decision to hire Texas assistant Will Muschamp might not leave to similar frustrations for the Gators.

Not because Muschamp's likely to bolt for another job. No offense to UT, but Florida has lots of advantages the Vols post doesn't, beginning with an in-state recruiting pool second to none.

But bringing in former Notre Dame coach and longtime NFL assistant Charlie Weis to run your offense smacks of the same all-star staff that Kiffin assembled, but with arguably bigger egos.

If it works, Hamilton should probably get a bonus from Florida AD Jeremy Foley for first hatching the concept to hire a flashy young assistant, then handing him enough money to assemble the best staff in the business.

But if it doesn't, perhaps Foley and much of the rest of college football might give a nod toward Auburn, where the out-of-the-box hire of Gene Chizik two years ago delivered the Tigers a national championship on Monday night against Oregon.

Or has Michigan already followed that model in hiring former Wolverines assistant Brady Hoke?

Just as Chizik isn't an Auburn alum (Florida), Hoke didn't graduate from the Maize and Blue. Instead he starred at Ball State.

But just as Chizik ran a defense that led Auburn to a perfect 13-0 record in 2004 and ran the D at Texas that won a title the following year, Hoke was a prominent assistant on Michigan's 1997 national champs.

Also, much as Chizik earned a reputation for savvy recruiting during his years on the Plains, Hoke once discovered Tom Brady when he was still a California kid "with skinny legs," according to Hoke, rather than the three-time (at least) Super Bowl-winning quarterback he's become with the New England Patriots.

Beyond that, neither Chizik nor Hoke came to their current jobs with winning career marks, though to be fair to Hoke, his previous stops at Ball State and San Diego State had delivered dramatic improvements. Chizik's two seasons at Iowa State had shown so little promise that most Auburn fans - including Charles Barkley - panned the hire.

Barkley said Chizik probably had, "the worst resume." One infamous YouTube post had a fan screaming, "We want a leader, not a loser."

But Chizik's players never felt that way. They always played hard and smart under his leadership. They strongly supported him when Auburn AD Jay Jacobs asked for their opinion of him.

In hindsight, they obviously knew more than the fans. And so it is with Hoke, whose former Michigan players overwhelmingly pushed him for the job.

Or as 1997 Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson told the media, "I'm excited for Brady Hoke and even more excited for Michigan. [Now] we can begin to restore the tradition and respect that was once Michigan."

If he can do it in much the same way Chizik delivered Auburn its first national championship in 53 years, a lot of schools may start looking to their past coaching staffs to shape their future successes.