Robinson (far left) gets one last chance to relish victory over the Buckeyes, while Hoke (below, with daughter Kelly) looks forward to winning on signing day.
each other like, Man, we have to be a part of this.” Before the weekend was over, Hoke had eight new commitments. “There was a lot of emotion around Michigan athletics that weekend,” Hoke says a year later. “If we can’t sell what this place is about then, we can’t sell it at all. Do I think that’s why a group that large all committed that weekend? It sure didn’t hurt.”
BRADY HOKE’S MISSION OF RETURNING MICHIGAN FOOTBALL TO A RECRUITING POWERHOUSE IS MADE A BIT EASIER NOW THAT THE WOLVERINES RULE THE HARDWOOD.
RYA N M C G E E
ONE HOUR BEFORE tip-off, around 8 p.m., Brady Hoke arrives at Crisler Center to watch some basketball. En route from Schembechler Hall, the head football coach passes by a digital countdown clock mounted on the wall of the Wolverines’ football HQ. He had it hung there when he took the job two years earlier: 298 days … 16 hours … 58 minutes … BEAT OHIO. Hoke practically glides along the hardwood during pregame, looking crisp in a white Oxford boldly striped with maize and blue. He glad-hands boosters, waves to shouting students and pauses to chat with ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico. “How’s the class look, Coach?” Tirico asks, knowing Hoke’s recruiting haul is projected to be a top-five nationally ranked group. “Right now? Great,” Hoke says. “Ask me again this time tomorrow. But hey, there’s nothing we can do about it now but wait.” Hoke has been waiting awhile to sign this class, his second as Wolverines head coach. It was mid-February last year, 17 days after signing day 2012, that a pack of recruits—led by Jake Butt, the No. 4 tight end and an eventual Michigan signee—flooded Ann Arbor. That weekend’s itinerary included outings to see the hockey team’s 3-2 OT win over rival Northern Michigan and, of course, the 19thranked basketball team’s 56-51 upset of No. 6 Ohio State. As Butt recalls, “We all looked at
THE OHIO STATE football rivalry, like Hoke’s countdown clock, hangs over every aspect of life in the Great Lake State, particularly on the night of this basketball game. All the talk about beating “Ohio,” all the eyeballs affixed on the recruiting rankings, it’s just garnish for The Game. “We only get to play football against them once a year,” says Denard Robinson, the effervescent quarterback/receiver/running back who spends the evening as the unofficial student section yell leader. “So the rest of the year we take any win against them we can get. Between basketball and recruiting we could get two in the next 24 hours.” Actually it’s more like 12 hours, and the next morning could have a tremendous effect on what happens when the clock hits zero on Nov. 30. As coaches look for every edge in the increasingly cutthroat world of football recruiting, hoops plays a crucial part in inking the best prospects. “There are schools where the two big sports don’t play well together,” admits Jeff Hecklinski, Michigan’s football recruiting coordinator and receivers coach. “Michigan is not one of those schools. Each side knows they can call on the other for help.” The basketball arena has always sat in the literal shadow of the Big House, and after a $4.5 million construction project bridged the buildings, the connection between the programs is more real than ever. On football Saturdays, it’s not uncommon to see recruits from both sports go up to Mortenson Plaza, which overlooks acres of tailgaters. And during the winter, five-star prospects walk through that same plaza on their way to see one of the nation’s best college basketball teams. Recruiting, of course, is a copycat enterprise, and other coaches employ similar tactics to give prep stars that lasting memory of their campus. Les Miles has long taken recruits to
03/18/2013 ESPN The Magazine
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LSU’s Alex Box Stadium, the awe-inspiring Mardi Gras of college baseball. And when Larry Fedora took the reins at UNC, he immediately befriended Roy Williams just in case he needed a friendly handshake beneath the banners of the Dean Dome to help seal a deal. As Ty Law, an All-America Michigan defensive back in the mid-1990s, says: “I remember when I made my trip to Ann Arbor they gave me the tour and I was blown away. But I was like, This is cool and all, but when am I going to get to meet the Fab Five?” On this night, no recruits make that walk from Michigan Stadium to Crisler Center. Only Hoke. And that hop in his trot? A facade. The 54-year-old is worn slap out. Since Michigan’s heartbreaking Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina, there has been no rest, just recruiting. War room meetings, trips to high schools and round-the-clock—well, as much as the NCAA will allow—correspondence with those prep stars who were very close to declaring their intent to be Michigan Men. The weekend before signing day, Hoke hosted a handful of potential signees at the Big House for one last sales pitch. Since then, it has been all quiet on the recruiting front, per NCAA rules. And it’s during that torturous silence when every coach, no matter how confident, swears he can hear the air leaking out of his recruiting balloon.
MICHIGAN VS. OHIO STATE: THE FULL RIVALRY
Sure, Ohio State has owned Michigan in football lately. But when we counted up all-time head-to-head wins (no multischool or quad meets) across all NCAA varsity sports, we found that Michigan leads its rival 862–591, with 32 sister kissers. At least the Buckeyes basketball teams are pulling their weight. WINS FOR MICHIGAN
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TRACK AND FIELD
MORE THAN THREE hours after walking into the arena, Hoke rises from his seat in Section 134. As the victory celebration continues, he disappears down the tunnel. That night, unknown to Hoke, texts and tweets fly among the guys who had been there for the last home win over Ohio State. “My phone was blowing up,” says quarterback Shane Morris. “Guys were texting: ‘That was just like last year! I can’t wait to fax my letter in the morning!’ ” Not even six hours after arriving home, Hoke is back in the office. (“Did I sleep? A little. Maybe.”) By 7:30 a.m., he’s sitting by the fax machine as it screeches to life. As the class of 2013 rolls in, the calls from those wanting in for 2014 begin. Wilton Speight, a 6'6", 220-pound quarterback from Richmond, Va., commits to Michigan one signing day ahead of schedule, having not yet played a down as a senior. “I’m excited,” he says that afternoon. “Did you see that basketball game last night?”
WINS FOR OSU
2 11 3
SWIMMING AND DIVING
630 27 5 MEN’S TOTAL
Records show wins and losses through Feb. 23; vacated games not reflected. Contested results deferred to UM record book. (Hey, home-court advantage!)
illustration by MARCO GORAN ROMANO PREVIOUS SPREAD FROM LEFT: ROSS DETTMAN; JOHN LOOMIS
For ESPN The Magazine's One Day, One Game Issue, I edited this feature story on how a successful basketball team impacts football recruiting...