At his core, Brady Hoke is a defensive line coach. Looks like one. Talks like one. Acts like one.
Ask him about defensive line play, or watch him work with the defensive tackles at Michigan, as I have, and you can feel the enthusiasm he has for the job. He's in his happy place, his comfort zone.
At times during Hoke's Michigan tenure, particularly in recent weeks, he has looked a lot less comfortable being the CEO of a big-deal program. We knew Monday's news conference would be a difficult one for Hoke, as the Shane Morris incident in Saturday's loss to Minnesota had gained national traction, not just in the sports media but on "Good Morning America" and "Today."
So the D-line coach played defense, responding to criticism that the sophomore QB should have been removed from the game immediately after absorbing a helmet-to-helmet hit from Minnesota's Theiren Cockran. Hoke did not see the hit, but after reviewing it, he believes it to be targeting and submitted the play to the Big Ten for review.
Hoke said he would never compromise a player's health, especially when the player had potential head trauma. He said Michigan's medical staff is the only group that determines whether a player can re-enter a game, as Morris did. He said that Morris was not concussed, and the only health issue that hampered the quarterback was a high ankle sprain.
"There should be some criticism when we talk about the performance, and that's me and coaching and I understand that," Hoke said. "But when your integrity and character is attacked, I think that is really unwarranted."
Hoke's character shouldn't be attacked here. Anyone who knows the coach -- inside or outside Schembechler Hall -- will vouch for him. He loves his players. He loves Michigan. None of that should be in doubt.
But his performance, not only with wins and losses but with an ability to oversee a high-profile program and all that comes with it, including handling a crisis, should be scrutinized. Several folks around the college football world I corresponded with Monday said the same thing about Hoke: good coach, great guy, tough guy, but the Michigan job might be too big for him.
Every FBS head coach must project an image of complete control, but it's even more important to do so at programs like Michigan that are constantly under the microscope. It takes a certain personality, usually a flashy one and an unflappable one, to handle the toughest of situations. Hoke doesn't exactly fit the profile.
It's fine that Hoke was watching the ball during the play in question, but someone on Michigan's sideline should have seen the hit and Morris' subsequent stumble. Even if it was just the ankle giving out, someone needed to intervene and ensure Morris didn't take the next snap.
Hoke said those people are there and would step in if they saw a problem.
"I would assume yes," he said, "because they do every other time."
Well, this time they didn't. That's a problem.
That brings us to the headset question. You knew it was coming on Monday.
Unlike most head coaches, Hoke doesn't wear a headset for the majority of games. He's often mocked for it, as some say he's not fully plugged in. Hoke thinks it's just the opposite; he can teach more and be more engaged without a headset.
But he was asked Monday if he would wear a headset in the future to be more clued-in about potential injuries.
"No, thank you," he said, clearly annoyed.
Whether the headset matters or not, the image does. So does the image of Morris stumbling into offensive lineman Ben Braden after taking a blow to the head. And so does the image of Hoke going on the defensive with the media.
All these images form a bigger picture and a question: Should Hoke be the face of Michigan football?
If things don't improve quickly, it's hard to see him moving forward as CEO.
This happens in college football. Some coaches are better-suited to different roles. Charlie Weis, twice fired as a head coach at major programs, surely will have opportunities as an offensive playcaller. If Will Muschamp doesn't make it at Florida, he'll likely have his pick of defensive coordinator jobs.
It could be the same thing with Hoke.
There were a million things he'd rather be doing Monday than responding to reporters' questions under the glare of the national spotlight.
Like coaching defensive linemen.