There was plenty of uncertainty when Brady Hoke was handed the reins of Michigan's historic football program.
Hoke was not Michigan's top choice for its head-coaching vacancy, and was unproven for a premier job. Further questions were raised when Hoke elected to use the spread-offense personnel recruited by predecessor Rich Rodriguez in a pro-style system.
In his first season, Hoke proved his doubters wrong. He led a Michigan team which won just 14 games in three seasons to an 11-win campaign and a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. The dynamic Denard Robinson succeeded under center of an unfamiliar offense, tallying 36 touchdowns and 3,349 all-purpose yards.
"He does a terrific job," Fitzgerald said of Hoke. "He has been an outstanding coach for a long, long time. I've got the utmost respect for him. He does a terrific job. He's a better person than he is a coach, and he's a darn good football coach. It's impressive to see what he has been able to accomplish."
Fitzgerald can attest to Hoke's shifting of schemes. This year, Northwestern has adjusted its offensive attack to a run-favored spread attack, vastly different from the pass-heavy assault presented in previous seasons.
Northwestern has enjoyed tremendous success with its new look on offense. Tailback Venric Mark surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in just the season's ninth game, while quarterback Kain Colter has amounted for 1,308 all-purpose yards as a dual threat.
Similar to Hoke and Michigan, it was an easy decision for Fitzgerald to adjust Northwestern's offensive attack.
"In today's day in age, you have to adjust what you do to your players," said Fitzgerald. "If you don't, I think you're being super rigid and I think you're making a huge mistake. You've got to commend [Michigan coaches] for what they've done. We're trying to get players, formations, plays, and find what we do best."
Hoke has been forced to adjust his offense this season, due to injury issues with Denard Robinson. Knowing the starter may not be available, Hoke moved receiver Devin Gardner to quarterback and built the Wolverines' offense around him. Gardner was effective while leading Michigan to a 35-13 victory over Minnesota.
"I was really impressed by Devin [Gardner] and the way that Michigan played in the second half [against Minnesota]," said Fitzgerald. "They played very well in all three phases."
When the Wildcats and Wolverines meet in Michigan on Saturday, both coaches could have some tricks up their sleeves.