Sometimes we forget how criticisms of football coach affect the players on the team. For a number of players who chose to commit to a school in large part to their relationship with the head coach, criticisms about the coach can be taken somewhat personally. Take Michigan wide receiver Dennis Norfleet, for example. On Tuesday Norfleet acknowledged the increasing criticisms of his head coach, Brady Hoke. Norfleet’s response to that talk is a reminder there is much more to coaching than winning football games(or so they say).
“I took it to heart this morning, they were really talking down on coach Hoke, saying his time is coming,” Norfleet said. “Coach Hoke does a lot. For me and the team. There have been times when I needed to see my family at a critical time, or I needed to see my daughter and he was there by my side throughout the way. It’s more than (just) football. In life, he’s a good coach. And right now, the way people are talking about him I don’t feel — and the team doesn’t feel — that it’s right.
Norfleet then took aim at fans, specifically, that seem to have turned on Hoke. That image was painfully put on display Saturday when after a lengthy weather delay the vast majority of Michigan Stadium was left unfilled once the game resumed. There were more Utah fans remaining in Michigan Stadium than Michigan fans, it is estimated. Utah was leading comfortably at the time of the break in the fourth quarter, but the image was lasting regardless.
“If we lose, if you’re a Michigan fan you’re supposed to be with us 100 percent to pick us up,” Norfleet said. “We need our fans just as much as we need a win. So, yes, it hurts. It hurts a lot.”
This is not meant to be a pity party for Hoke. Hoke has many responsibilities in his role as head coach. Norfleet suggests Hoke does many things admirably, and that very well could be the case. Unfortunately, the bottom line is Michigan has failed to meet expectations on the field at a time when the Big Ten has more or less been there for the taking. Michigan has not played in a Big Ten championship game in the first three years it has bene in place and the win total has dipped each season since Hoke’s debut in Ann Arbor.
There is still time for Hoke to turn things around at Michigan. With Big Ten conference play opening up, it is as close to a clean slate as any coach or team can get in a regular season. What Hoke does with his clean slate could determine his fate at the end of the season.