Brady Hoke has more serious problems than an inept offense on gameday.
Before Hoke coaches another game at Michigan, he’ll need to provide better answers than ignorance for allowing his potentially concussed player to take two more snaps, including one after he had returned to the sideline to be replaced by a backup.
In the fourth quarter of a 30-14 loss to Minnesota, quarterback Shane Morris — already hobbled with a leg injury — took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Minnesota defensive end Thieren Cockran.
Morris limped to the sideline to get the next play, but he dropped his head and had to be held up by offensive tackle Ben Braden. Morris, making his first start of the season, waved his arm to stay in the game.
Cockran was called for a roughing the passer penalty, though he could have been ejected for targeting. ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham called the officials’ oversight “appalling.”
That level of ignorance pales compared to what transpired later from Hoke. Morris continued for one more snap, an incomplete pass. Only then, did Morris take himself out of the game, wobbling to the sideline.
Do we know with certainty that Morris suffered a concussion? No. But Michigan and the broadcast team saw enough to warrant having Morris on the bench to determine for sure.
Morris didn’t stay on the bench long. Three plays later, replacement quarterback Devin Gardner lost his helmet on a run toward the sideline. By rule, he had to sit out a play.
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While third-string quarterback Russell Bellomy scrambled for a helmet, Morris ended up back in the game for a handoff before returning to the sideline. Cunningham called the player management “atrocious.” Even before the Cockran hit, Cunningham was critical of Hoke’s handling of an obviously injured Morris, who continued to throw passes from the pocket on an injured left leg.
The entire sequence was textbook negligence for the safety of a player, but Hoke’s explanation was so much worse, it's embarrassing.
“Well, I don't know if he might have had a concussion or not,” Hoke told reporters after the game. “I don't know that. Shane's a pretty competitive tough kid. Shane wanted to be the quarterback. So believe me, if he didn't want to be, he would have come to the sideline or stayed down.”
That statement is unacceptable.
I don’t know if he had a concussion or not.
Did Hoke not see what the ESPN cameras picked up? Did he not see a dazed Morris being held up by a lineman? That’s possible, even if Minnesota was flagged for roughing the passer. Did a member of the staff catch it? Also possible, but Hoke is not wearing a headset, so it's plausible that someone in the booth was unable to effectively communicate with the head coach.
But the lack of certainty is enough to pull Morris. And not only did Morris stay in the game for one play after the hit, he returned. Take a timeout. Take a delay of game. Have a running back take a knee It doesn’t matter. Anything that stops Morris from returning to the game.
Shane wanted to be the quarterback. So believe me, if he didn't want to be, he would have come to the sideline or stayed down.
Hoke is deflecting the responsibility onto his 20-year-old quarterback who may or may not have sustained a head injury, not the man in paid in excess of $4 million to make quick decisions that in part concern the safety of his players.
Blame players for poor execution or poor preparation, that’s fine. But deciding which players should and should not be on the field is part of the job, and Hoke was incompetent for a stretch of four minutes in this regard.
Whether Morris sustained a concussion or not, Hoke whiffed, and he may need to answer for it with his job.
Watch the entire sequence:
UPDATE: Michigan coach Brady Hoke released a statement Sunday evening through the school:
“The safety of our student-athletes is always our top priority. We generally never discuss the specifics of a student-athlete's medical care, but Shane Morris was removed from yesterday's game against Minnesota after further aggravating an injury to his leg that he sustained earlier in the contest. He was evaluated by our experienced athletic trainers and team physicians, and we're confident proper medical decisions were made. The University of Michigan has a distinguished group of Certified Athletic Trainers and team physicians who are responsible for determining whether or not a player is physically able to play. Our coaches have no influence or authority to make determinations if or when an injured player returns to competition. The health and welfare of our student-athletes is and will continue to be a top priority.”