Brady Hoke took a stand during the first practice of this Michigan football season Monday, but it had nothing to do with who was on the field for the Wolverines.
It had everything to do with who was off it.
By sitting Fitzgerald Toussaint and Frank Clark on Monday and not giving a definitive timetable for their return, Hoke is sending a message to everyone else on his roster. Doesn’t matter who you are, if you find yourself with serious legal issues, you aren’t going to practice or play.
This is an important step for Hoke as Michigan’s head coach, especially considering his players have found their way into the courts often during his season-plus at Michigan. He also has shown he’s willing to treat different cases with the letter of severity they likely deserve, from no suspension for misdemeanor destruction of property charges for Will Campbell and Jerald Robinson to a spring practice suspension of Josh Furman as he waded through a domestic violence charge, where he was acquitted after a trial.
Last season, of course, he suspended and then redshirted then-Michigan receiver Darryl Stonum the entire year following his second drunken driving arrest. He dismissed him from the team after he violated his probation shortly after Michigan's win in the Allstate Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech.
Hoke even showed the difference between Toussaint and Clark’s legal situations in the statements he released announcing their suspensions. In the statement suspending Toussaint after a drunken driving arrest, he said this would be a chance for Toussaint to learn. In Clark’s statement following being charged with second degree home invasion, a felony, he said he would follow the lead of the legal system’s investigation.
So it left Hoke a door to treat the players differently should he see fit.
Toussaint’s suspension, though, was Hoke’s first real convergence of star player and legal issue. He could have let Toussaint, one of the top rushers in the Big Ten, continue to practice but not play while his drunken driving arrest played out. Instead, he took a hard-line stance -- and one that might cost him in the short term.
Michigan needs Toussaint, its most experienced back on the roster, against defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 1 in Arlington, Texas. Without him -- and without him ready to go for the season -- the Wolverines' chances at an upset are greatly diminished.
And each day he sits is one less day of preparation he will have for the toughest opponent, defensively, he will have faced to date. Yet right now, that doesn’t faze Hoke. He’s sticking to his beliefs.
The first day of camp is important to players. It is the beginning of another season, the chance to play again after a summer of just running 7-on-7 drills and not working with coaches.
Listen, Hoke could have Toussaint back on the field by the end of the week and he could end up seeing the field against the Crimson Tide, but even deciding to sit Toussaint for a day shows something admirable about his decision.
It shows players to take their decisions seriously and that, if a player does get in real trouble, there will be legitimate consequences within the Michigan football program.
It is a lesson Hoke, frankly, shouldn’t have to teach. But since he has to, at least he is going about it in the correct way.