CHARLOTTE –When most football fans hear the name Brady Hoke, they have visions of maize and blue and his recent stint as head coach at college football power Michigan. But Hoke has been blue collar for long stretches of his long-stretching coaching career, working with the defensive line and Michigan and Oregon but also at Western Michigan and Oregon State.
Now Hoke has been hired to again work with those charged with doing the dirty work up front – this time on the biggest of stages.
"I'm more formally trained as a defensive line coach," said Hoke, whose 37th season as a football coach will be his first as an NFL coach. "I'm extremely excited. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it."
Hoke, fresh off serving as the University of Tennessee's interim head coach for the final two games of this past season, is replacing Eric Washington – now the Panthers' defensive coordinator – as Carolina's defensive line coach. Hoke began one year with the Volunteers coaching the defensive line and did so at times during all three of his head coaching tenures – at Michigan, San Diego State and Ball State – all a part of 20-plus seasons spent with a hand in how his team at the time performed along the defensive front.
Beginning with his first job, as defensive coordinator at Yorktown High School in Indiana in 1981, Hoke has helped defensive linemen learn their trade. Now, with one of the best fronts in the NFL at his disposal, the job is no different even if the ability of his players is.
"It's all about the players – whether they're college students or professionals like we have here," Hoke said. "Julius Peppers, here's a guy who has played 17 years. I have a lot of respect for that, but you've just got to be yourself, got to be genuine.
"You've also got to be able to teach and bring guys to the next level."
This is a new level for the 59-year-old Hoke, but it's a challenge he's always considered taking on. His older brother, Jon, is entering his third season as the Buccaneers' defensive backs coach and his 16th season holding that positon on the pro level. The brothers will be on opposite sidelines twice in 2018 – for the first time in a long time.
"He was at Bowling Green and we were at Western Michigan," Hoke said of the last time he faced his brother, a lopsided stretch from 1984-86. "Not good for Western Michigan. But it will be fun. Our mother will enjoy it. The other thing it does is give me an opportunity to see him again. In the coaching profession, there haven't been a lot of times to be able to do that.
"Every offseason we get together and he'll tell me, 'You need to get to the NFL.' So we are excited to be able to do that."
Hoke, too, is excited about the situation he's inheriting and the people who will be a pat of his journey in Carolina.
"What Eric has done with this front is something that's pretty special," Hoke said. "All you have to do is turn on the film and look at it. I think it's a shared philosophy that we have. Number one, up front you're going to rush, you're going to rush, you're going to rush. That's so important but at the same time we have to be a group of guys who have the unselfishness to do a great job in the run game in holding points and getting your hat in crack.
"It's neat to watch the guys. I remember playing against K.K. Short when he was at Purdue and we were at Michigan. And Star (Lotulelei), I have some friends in Salt Lake. I remember seeing him years ago. And you have a guy like Julius Peppers who's 17 years playing defensive end. I think he's doing fine."
Hoke hopes to get the chance to coach Peppers, a potential free agent mulling whether to retire or make another run at it. He knows he'll be coaching alongside Washington - who used to work his camps at Michigan - and head coach Ron Rivera, who spoke at a high school clinic when Hoke was head coach at San Diego State and Rivera was the Chargers' defensive coordinator just before joining the Panthers.
"When this opportunity came up, I went back and I've still got my notes from his talk," Hoke said. "Being here in Charlotte with the Panthers organization - the feel you have being here and the people, it's really something that's second to none."