ANN ARBOR, Mich. (Detroit Free Press) -- After two years of disappointing records, Michigan football coach Brady Hoke is moving a different direction.
He changed offensive coordinators. He shuffled the defensive coaches' responsibilities. Now, he's altering the leadership path.
Michigan has elected at least one captain since 1879 (except for 1882 when there was no team) and, for most of those years, it was a preseason selection.
Hoke decided in February and announced Monday that he will change that this fall, electing the captains after the season-ending Ohio State game, similar to what U-M did under former coach Rich Rodriguez in 2008 and 2009.
While the captains are traditionally seniors and occasionally a fourth-year junior – as current senior Jake Ryan was last season – this team is about cohesion, not separation.
"We've had unbelievable leadership throughout the team and we've talked about, if you're good enough, you're old enough," Hoke said at his weekly press conference.
U-M will rotate portions of its 18 fourth and fifth year players at the weekly coin toss to give them a visible role, but balance is important to him after last season's leadership struggles.
While delaying act itself is not significant, the statement about the team's balance may be.
The conscious effort to view the classes as equal is a trait Hoke felt was missing, especially last year. With so many first and second year players in prominent roles – 11 are listed as possible starters for Saturday's season opener against Appalachian State – it's a critical component that they feel as important as the seniors.
Some of it was driven by the young classes and their ability to handle more mature roles as well.
"The preparation has been really stressful for them when we've put them in those stressful situations," Hoke said. "(It's) the quality of what they are positionally from the genetics to how they are athletically. That sophomore classis a little bit different. And the freshman class. They have a little bit more of an edge."
The question was how the seniors would respond when the rite of passage promised over their careers was pulled out just before their senior season.
U-M quarterback Devin Gardner spoke in July about his desire to be a U-M captain and how it was one of the highest honors a U-M player could receive. But after hearing from Hoke and what this path is, Gardner downplayed it Monday.
"I feel like I'm going to be looked at by the position I play," Gardner said. "Even some of the young guys call me Captain Gardner -- which is weird, I told them not to do that. It's not a big deal, we just want to win football games. That's not something that's going to hold us back.
"Coach Hoke made that decision because he thinks it's something that will help the team."
While the symbolic nature can take on a greater significance, especially at Michigan where the captainship ties together each season's defining players, Hoke felt this was less a commentary on the seniors than a team philosophy.
"We've got great leadership in our senior class, especially on the defensive side of the ball and Devin has been fantastic, but at the same we've talked about leadership throughout the team, throughout the classes," Hoke said. "We have a representative group that is a big part of what we do. The seniors, I met with them when we talked about this. They're always going to be the guys we try to play for, coach, for. That's not changing. Their influence is important. But every team's different and this team is unique in a lot of ways."
Note: Former Michigan kicker Jay Feely was released today by the Arizona Cardinals.