Stake & stakes: Michigan tries to hold it together
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Brady Hoke spent much of his 20-minute news conference Monday talking about stakes - one that started the latest cringe-inducing moment for Michigan football and what's left to play for in this season of discontent.
Michigan (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten) enters the stretch on Saturday with a homecoming game against Indiana and needing to win three of four to become bowl-eligible.
Hoke said he has not talked to his players about making it to the postseason. The focus is on the Hoosiers (3-4, 0-3) and keeping a team that has fallen apart on the field from giving up.
''We have talked about this being homecoming,'' Hoke said. ''We have talked about as a team staying together and the way they came in (Sunday), I think there's a huge commitment on our football team to each other.''
This is nowhere near what was expected of the Wolverines in their fourth year under Hoke. A roster stocked four straight top-25 recruiting classes figured to at least take a step forward after going 7-6 last year.
Instead, the slide has continued and what's left is almost nonstop speculation about if or when Hoke will be fired.
''I think those things will be talked about at the end of the season,'' said Hoke, who is 29-17 overall at Michigan, but 5-11 since starting last season 5-0. ''Have I talked to anybody about those things? No. I don't worry myself about those things. I'm confident about what we're doing.''
Michigan brought in Doug Nussmeier this season and paid him $850,000 to fix the offense and develop quarterback Devin Gardner. It hasn't worked. The Wolverines rank 92nd in the nation in yards per play (5.26), and Gardner still gives the ball away constantly. Michigan is second-to-last in FBS in turnover margin at minus-14.
Hoke said Gardner will start against Indiana.
''We're as upset and frustrated as anybody out there,'' offensive lineman Jack Miller said. ''This team is resilient and there is a lot of fight in it and there is not another option than to go out and compete every Saturday and do it for each other.''
Hoke's future seems to be a foregone conclusion among many of the Michigan faithful. Their wrath has shifted to his boss, athletic director Dave Brandon, the former Wolverines football player and Domino's Pizza CEO who has led the athletic department since 2010.
The Michigan Daily student newspaper reported Sunday that 2,000 T-shirts with ''We support the team, the team, the team. (hash)FireDaveBrandon'' will be distributed in the student section during Saturday's game.
New university president Mark Schlissel, the former provost at Brown University, assured the board of regents this month that he was sensitive to their concerns about the direction of the football program and the athletic department and open to their thoughts.
''I'm being thoughtful and deliberative in examining these issues,'' he was quoted as saying by MLive.com. ''This university deserves nothing less than my careful, deep consideration.
''I'd like to thank the regents in particular for their help and advice in these issues as I work closely with them to carefully consider our way forward.''
University spokesmen said Brandon and Schlissel were both unavailable to comment on Monday, the day after another humbling weekend for Michigan football.
As if getting pounded again by Michigan State wasn't bad enough, there was also the stake-plant fiasco. Linebacker Joe Bolden took a tent stake that had been used by Hoke on Friday to illustrate the need for teamwork and planted it in the turf at Spartans Stadium on Saturday before the game.
Michigan State, which never misses a chance to feel disrespected by Michigan, took offense and beat the Wolverines 35-11 for its sixth win in the last seven meetings.
Hoke publicly apologized to Michigan State on Sunday for the stake stunt and called Spartans coach Mark Dantonio. Hoke said Monday the apology was all his idea.
He said he knew his players had taken the stake onto the field before the game started, but because he leaves the locker room after the players he had no way of stopping them from spiking it.
Hoke said Bolden would not be disciplined.
''Joe feels as bad as anybody,'' Hoke said. ''There was no disrespect intended for anybody.''
After the Wolverines play Indiana, they're on the road against Northwestern, host Maryland and travel to Ohio State. The goals left - aside from beating the Buckeyes, which is never a small thing for Michigan - are modest.
Hoke said he's not concerned about keeping his team motivated and in the moment. And he showed he can still have a laugh during tough times.
As he wrapped up on Monday, a reporter asked Hoke what's his favorite steak.
''Cowboy cut,'' he said, with chuckle and thanked everybody for coming.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP