Brady Hoke sat sweat-slicked and exalted at a dais inside New Orleans' Superdome on the night of Jan. 3, 2012. The coach had just led Michigan to an 11-2 season, capped by a BCS bowl win over Virginia Tech. A reporter asked if the traditional college powerhouse was back.
"Michigan never left," Hoke said.
Exactly 1,000 days later, Hoke stood Monday at another podium to defend his 2-3 football team and the way he handled the head injury of sophomore quarterback Shane Morris. The Wolverines were two days removed from a 30-14 loss to Minnesota, their third double-digit margin of defeat this year.
Hoke's future – and the future of the man who hired him, athletic director Dave Brandon -- has never looked so dim at Michigan. Both are responsible for several missteps that have the program scraping rock bottom after such a promising start three-plus years ago.
How did the proud Wolverines get to this point? There have been plenty of highlights (and lowlights) that mark the trail:
Jan. 3, 2012: Michigan defeats Virginia Tech 23-20 in Sugar Bowl -- The Wolverines completed an 11-2 season in Hoke's first year by kicking a field goal in overtime to beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Michigan may have backed its way into the BCS and didn't exactly win cleanly, but those were details. Bowl wins and Big Ten championships seemed like a realistic part of the program's near future. No one assumed that Michigan had reached its high point (thus far) under Hoke only 357 days after he was hired.
Sept. 1, 2012: Alabama defeats Michigan 42-14 in season opener -- The Wolverines started the season ranked eighth in the AP poll, but Nick Saban's Crimson Tide offered a harsh reminder that Michigan wasn't ready to compete against the country's top teams on a big stage yet. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson picked up only 27 yards with his feet, but more shocking was that Alabama (and Robinson's own coaches) limited the electric runner to 10 carries. In Hoke's first year, Robinson played to his scrambling strength. In 2012, the coaching staff tried to shoehorn "Shoelace" and his teammates into a pro-style offense that didn't play to their strengths. The team lost four more times that season, finishing with an 8-5 record.
Feb. 6, 2013: Michigan signs touted 27-man recruiting class -- Hope that Hoke still had the program pointed in the right direction grew around his ability to recruit big-time talent. The Wolverines ranked sixth in ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings and as high as second on other sites' rankings on national signing day in 2013. The 27-man class, headlined by five-star running back Derrick Green, featured 15 of ESPN's top 300 prospects. The young talent has yet to live up to its billing at the college level. Hoke made a large leap to the Michigan job from San Diego State, where he never experienced the process of fine-tuning and motivating blue-chip recruits.
April 23, 2013: Athletic department increases student ticket prices to $280 per year -- Athletic director Dave Brandon rubbed fans the wrong way by increasing the cost of attending football games to $40 per student. The school also did away with a seating policy that made it easier for students to sit with groups of their friends. The department later revised that policy, but students were left with the impression that Brandon sees the student body as customers rather than as a part of the university. The most common complaint among protestors calling for Brandon's resignation now is that he values the bottom line more than the football program's long tradition.
Sept. 14, 2013: Skywriters hired by Michigan leave "Go Blue" message in East Lansing -- In a lead-up to its 28-24 win over Akron, Michigan's athletic department paid thousands of dollars for a skywriting company to leave messages among the clouds throughout southeast Michigan. One requested target was Lansing, where in-state rival Michigan State plays. The cheeky ruse backfired, as have several other stunts coordinated under Brandon's watch. Some of his attempts to spread the university's brand have been viewed by fans as marketing gimmicks from the former Domino's CEO.
Nov. 2, 2013: Michigan State defeats Michigan 29-6 -- Sparty got its revenge two months later. Michigan's running game hit a historic low with minus-48 rushing yards in a thorough drubbing. The Wolverines failed to reach the end zone against Michigan State's defense for the second straight year. The loss, which highlighted Michigan's biggest offensive problem at the line of scrimmage, wasn't just a sign that the two programs were headed in opposite directions, but it began a stretch of five losses in six games to end the year. Since last November, the Wolverines are 3-8.
Nov. 30, 2013: Ohio State defeats Michigan 42-41 -- A failed two-point conversion with 32 seconds remaining handed the Wolverines another loss to rival Ohio State. A successful extra point attempt would have sent the game against the undefeated Buckeyes into overtime at the Big House. Hoke talked about the importance of beating "Ohio" the first time he was introduced as the program's head coach in 2011 but is 1-2 against the rival so far. Later that night, star offensive tackle Taylor Lewan allegedly punched an Ohio State fan outside a bar, leading to assault charges. A trial date has been set for later this month.
Dec. 20, 2013: Brendan Gibbons separates from the university -- Michigan officially cut ties with starting kicker Brendan Gibbons, according to documents uncovered by the student newspaper. Gibbons violated the school's sexual misconduct policy when he was accused of sexual assault as a freshman in 2009, although no charges were ever filed. Three days later, Hoke said Gibbons wasn't with the team at its bowl game because of a "family matter." The coach's evasive way of handling the matter was brought up again recently as questions about his integrity were raised in the aftermath of Shane Morris' concussion last week.
Jan. 10, 2014: Brandon introduces new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier -- Michigan needed to make changes after a disappointing 7-6 season, and they started on offense. The Wolverines' linemen took most of the heat for an offense that allowed 113 tackles for loss, more than any other FBS team in 2013. Hoke fired Al Borges and replaced him with former Alabama coordinator Doug Nussmeier two days later. But it was Brandon who introduced Nussmeier at a press conference in Ann Arbor. The athletic director, who reportedly watched film with the coaches on Sunday mornings in the past, scoffed at the idea that he was influencing football decisions for the program. Nussmeier's work with the offense has yet to yield the desired results.
Sept. 30, 2014: Michigan apologizes for mishandling Morris' head injury -- Brandon and university president Mark Schlissel both released written statements acknowledging communication breakdowns that allowed an injured player to return to the field three days earlier. Brandon's statement contradicted several things Hoke said a day earlier in a press conference. Hoke declined to clear up any of those discrepancies Wednesday. The incident has magnified the heat coming from back-to-back embarrassing losses to Utah (26-10) and Minnesota (30-14).
Where do Brandon, Hoke and the team go from here? The Wolverines get a welcome reprieve from the turmoil on campus this weekend with a trip to Rutgers. They host Penn State the following week for the third night game in Michigan Stadium's history. Then comes a bye week, during which there is an Oct. 16 meeting of the university's Board of Regents, a group that can make changes in the athletic department. Without a turnaround in the near future, the next item on the timeline for Hoke and Brandon could be their last.
Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg contributed to this report.