ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon fired Rich Rodriguez a year ago Thursday, he was looking for a defensive-minded coach who would focus on special teams and help the team strive for consistency.
Brandon found exactly what he was looking for in Brady Hoke.
"Brady and all the coaches on his staff achieved every one of my expectations," Brandon said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. "I couldn't be happier."
The 13th-ranked Wolverines beat No. 17 Virginia Tech 23-20 in overtime Tuesday, winning their first BCS bowl game since 2000 and 11 games overall for the first time since 2006.
"Michigan's back," receiver Junior Hemingway told reporters in New Orleans after catching two touchdowns in the game.
"Michigan never left," he said.
Hoke became the third coach to cap his debut season at a school with a BCS bowl victory, joining Miami's Larry Coker and Boise State's Chris Peterson.
The Big Ten Coach of the Year got a lot of credit for taking players recruited by Rodriguez and making them much better on defense and special teams.
Those facets of the game helped Michigan overcome its offensive woes to beat the Hokies.
Brendan Gibbons made three field goals — a season after making only 1 of 5 attempts for a team that missed 10 of 14. He connected on the game-winner from 37 yards in overtime after appearing to catch a break by not drawing a penalty for taking a step toward the line before the snap.
"I moved a little bit," Gibbons acknowledged.
Michigan's defense moved from being one of nation's worst defenses in 2010 to having a respectable unit under Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. The Wolverines gave up 17.4 points per game this season after allowing an average of five-plus touchdowns in Rodriguez's final season.
"It's been an amazing turnaround for this year and I think the seniors left an amazing legacy," defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. "Team 132 will be the fifth team in Michigan history to have 11 wins. That's significant when you play in a program that has the tradition that Michigan has."
The Wolverines scored seven more points on offense than they did last season, but were much more balanced by asking quarterback Denard Robinson to make plays not miracles as offensive coordinator Al Borges likes to say.
Robinson ran for just 13 yards on 13 carries against Virginia Tech and completed less than half of his passes, but found Hemingway twice for improbable touchdown passes.
The team's lackluster performance may have strengthened the argument that Michigan, which lost twice and didn't win its division in the Big Ten, didn't belong in the BCS game.
"That's part of the beauty of college football, part of the beauty of the BCS and all that kind of stuff," Hoke said. "I can tell you that team we played is a pretty doggone good football team and I think we're a pretty good football team.
"So people are going to have their opinion. We just happen to disagree with them."
Robinson and cornerback J.T. Floyd are seeking opinions from the NFL Draft Advisory Board to get a gauge of where they might get selected if they skip their senior seasons, but both are expected to return.
Michigan will miss some key players on defense and some on offense.
The defensive line will need to be rebuilt without departing seniors Mike Martin, Van Bergen and Will Heininger.Comment on this story
Significant players on offense without any more eligibility include All-American center David Molk, offensive tackle Mark Huyge, tight end Kevin Koger and Hemingway.
Michigan, which won all eight of its home games in 2011, will have a much tougher schedule in Hoke's second season.
The Wolverines open against Alabama in Cowboys Stadium and play on the road against Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State. They will attempt to end a four-game losing streak against Michigan State on Oct. 20 in the Big House.