Monday, November 17, 2014

Bye Week #2 offers no help to Hoke

Bye weeks for a head football coach are supposed to be quiet weeks. They give blessed relief and recovery to the injured and two weeks of time for the staff to analyze and prepare for the next opponent. For an embattled coach, it might be a few days in which rewording a resume's most recent position is set aside for a rare night with the family. A cold beer and a movie. And one would expect, a bye week would offer a brief respite from the glare of camera lights and the inquisitional wall of reporters. 

This was not Brady Hoke's bye week.

Not long after closing the door on the farcical win at Northwestern on November 8, Hoke was pulled into the spotlight again defending the academic record of student-athletes under his watch. In what has become Apology Central, this time Hoke was the recipient when President Dr. Mark Schlissel apologized for his earlier comments questioning the academic qualifications of student-athletes compared to admissions standards for other students. It's not that Schlissel was wrong in his assessment or that Hoke was wrong in defending his players. It was just another off-the-field exchange that gained broad media attention at a time when little more of that is really needed or welcomed.

The actual bye weekend came along and what do you know? Northwestern (inept victim of the previous weekend's said farcical 10-9 Michigan victory) racks up 43 points to Notre Dame's 40 under the glare of Touchdown Jesus and goes back to Evanstan a national hero. What does this have to do with Brady Hoke's bye week? Maybe I'm stretching it a bit, but this is what I see. I see Notre Dame kicking the bejeezus out of Michigan earlier this year, 31-zip. It was early, you say. The team was still developing. OK. Let's consider that true. In November, it's later in the season and the team must have developed a bit. They rush onto the field in Evanston and then proceed to play in what some have called the best "worst game ever". It took four quarters for Michigan and Northwestern to come to a 10-9 decision in a game that highlighted the amateur nature of amateur athletics... and not in a good way. If last year's loss to Ohio State felt like the biggest of moral victories, the win at Northwestern had a stink about it. The high point, besides the tick mark under the "W" column, was the defensive play of Jake Ryan and Frank Clark. It sure was nice to have some players to count on! And so great to see Frank Clark overcome his difficult childhood and earlier legal problems at Michigan to come into his own as a possible high NFL draft pick. 

And then Sunday happened. And Frank Clark, faced with a weekend off to do whatever he wanted to do, chose to get himself into a predicament that landed him in an Ohio jail charged with domestic violence. It's alleged that he hurt his girlfriend in an altercation at their hotel. (In retrospect, hanging out with Devin Gardner at the C.S. Mott event might have been a better choice.) Hoke did the right thing and announced this morning that Clark has been dismissed from the team. Although he's innocent until proven guilty, the university and Hoke would face a poopstorm of criticism if they allowed Clark to play, especially after his earlier suspension for theft and the high profile attention being given to the growing problem of violence against women in both the NCAA football ranks and the NFL. It's sad that it came to that. His victim has suffered. Frank Clark's future will suffer. Team 135 will suffer. Losing Clark won't make the Maryland game any easier and Vegas is probably already reviewing their line on the Ohio State game. 

At this point in the season, Brady Hoke must be mentally and physically exhausted. There would be no bye weeks for him this year. There's no hiding. There's no break from the wilting glare of the spotlights or the wall of microphones in his face. There will always be something dragging him from the private refuge of Schembechler Hall or his own living room to answer or apologize for the next negative that surfaces. I don't even know if a 50 point win over OSU would stop the train that's moving down the tracks out of town now. 

The "bye" week he's most likely feeling on the horizon is the quick version of "bye-bye". And he must know it will be longer than a week.

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