Hoke rooted in D-line play

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Those poor felt-tip markers, they had no idea what was coming. When Brady Hoke would enter the defensive line meeting room at Ball State, their shelf life became much shorter.

A man whose passion was so strong he would be sweating by the time he finished putting the day's plan on the dry erase board, writing implements stood no chance.

"He probably went through 1,000 erasable markers," former Ball State defensive lineman Drew Duffin said. "Just breaking the felt tip off the pen writing plays on the board.

"He was ruthless on the ink board as well."

The pens were collateral damage to a coach who showed intensity in his first head coaching job -- and every one since -- from the beginning of the day until the end of the evening.

Anyone who has seen Hoke coach at Ball State, San Diego State or the past two seasons at Michigan has seen it. Anyone who has listened to him speak or watched him on the sidelines understands, deep down, he is a defensive line coach at heart.

It is his way of keeping to his roots -- he spent almost his entire assistant coaching career working with defensive linemen in some aspect -- and using his expertise to help his team.

Having the head coach around on a daily basis, coaching, prodding and teaching, led to a sharper focus in practice. It also added pressure.

"We knew coming in that was where he was going to focus his attention," former Ball State defensive lineman Amara Koroma said. "He was the same type of guy as a head coach as a position coach. It was just in the tighter confines.

"You would not want to mess up on a play when he was in the meeting room all the time. He would call you out in that meeting and the defensive line coach would make sure to bring it up again. He was very hands-on and the reason our unit progressed like it did."

Hoke, who works with the defensive tackles at Michigan, isn't afraid to jump in a drill to show his players how it should be done. Players from Ball State and Michigan described his coaching style as almost like a classroom with an extremely involved instructor.

Hoke had no problem digging into his players -- one of his favorite cracks was calling upperclassmen "freshman" when they made mistakes -- as well as instructing them on the smallest details.

Ball State defensive lineman Cortlan Booker said Hoke jumped in weightlifting sessions with his group in 2006. It was an energy that seeped through every second Hoke coached --detail-oriented, consistent and rarely changing.

"When his eyes are on the defensive line during practice or whatever it will be, he'll put you right to him," Booker said. "Still breaking down the play, he'll break down exactly what you did, what you were supposed to do and then send you away.

"The best thing about Brady Hoke is he'll tell you how he feels."

Those messages come through the most during practice and film sessions, where Hoke has been meticulous about details throughout his entire head coaching career -- the one consistent surprise among players who have experienced him as a position coach while he also ran the entire team.

Hoke preached perfection -- a perfection that, frankly, would never come -- down to the centimeter. At first, this confused his charges -- until they got into games.

"The angle of your thumb when you place it on someone's chest when you take on a block. It has to be perfect or the rep wasn't good enough," former Michigan defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen said. "It gets to be that specific. Your footwork, three inches the wrong way ruins the entire rep and you have to do it again.

"At first it seems like a ridiculous request for you to fix these things that are so seemingly miniscule."

Van Bergen realized once he started playing last season under Hoke the difference it made in games. Every detail Hoke preached made things easier. It helped him grow as a player.

Those details went into how Hoke wanted his defensive linemen to play, which was a departure from what Van Bergen and others had experienced. Instead of stalemates on the defensive line to give linebackers clear paths to the ball, Hoke wanted his players to engage and attack.

When they didn't it wasn't met with a dressing down, but a sense of disappointment, which Van Bergen described as worse than being screamed at.

If Hoke or Greg Mattison seemed disappointed, it could haunt him even after he left Schembechler Hall.

"Our coaches really emphasize pushing into the backfield so you can make the play you need to make as opposed to waiting for the play to come to you," Van Bergen said. "Any time that it looks like a guy comes up on the ball, stops his feet and stalemates, there's going to be a pause in the film room. You can pretty much guarantee it.

"I think it is his biggest peeve, Mattison's biggest peeve. I don't know who originated it, who had a problem with it in the first place, but now it is all of their problems and they do not like it."

Hoke may be a head coach now, but there's a reason he'll say from time to time he is just a defensive line coach or he coaches the defensive line. Those are his guys. That is where he feels most comfortable.

Markers broken, intensity rising, when he is with a defensive line, it is simple. Hoke is home.

"You can tell," Van Bergen said. "That's his favorite part of the job."