ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Dave Brandon took over Michigan’s athletic department four years ago with so many of the right qualifications: success as a businessman, experience as a university regent — and he’d played football for Bo Schembechler, too.
That football program is the barometer of sporting success at Michigan, but the Wolverines have fallen on hard times recently.
Those struggles — and the handful of other problems they helped magnify — led to the end of Brandon’s tenure as athletic director.
“Dave feels that it would be in the best interest of our student-athletes, the athletic department and the university community if he moved on to other challenges and allowed the important work of the department and the university to continue without daily distractions,” school President Mark Schlissel said. “I agree with this decision.”
Schlissel announced Brandon’s resignation at a news conference Friday, and although the tone was respectful and appreciative, the president acknowledged that the athletic department has gone through a rough stretch recently.
Brandon’s departure comes amid another disappointing football season — and concerns over everything from the school’s concussions protocol to student attendance at games.
Football coach Brady Hoke’s future has been in doubt for a while because of his team’s lack of progress, but Brandon also became a target of disgruntled fans and students.
Schlissel was asked if he was prepared to fire Brandon if the athletic director hadn’t resigned.
“I’m not at all prepared to deal in a hypothetical,” Schlissel said. “But he and I had been working closely, as you might imagine, through the controversial events of recent weeks.
“We discussed iteratively the best way to set the athletic program in a stronger and positive direction, and we’ve been working closely together on that. It was Dave that mentioned and raised the prospect of his decision to resign.”
Will Hoke be the next to go?
The timing of Brandon’s departure gives Michigan a chance to find a replacement athletic director before the end of the football season, when a decision on Hoke’s status could come. But Schlissel indicated he would take as long as necessary to find a new AD.
Jim Hackett, who graduated from the university in 1977 and like Brandon played football for Michigan, will serve as interim athletic director. Schlissel indicated Hackett could potentially be empowered to make the decision on Hoke’s status.
“Football, like all of our programs, are evaluated by the athletic department through the season, but particularly at the end of the season, so I would imagine that the interim athletic director will be intimately involved in charge of the evaluation of football,” Schlissel said.
“The interim AD is the athletic director until we hire a permanent AD. I feel comfortable hiring deans and provosts. I feel a little bit less comfortable — I’m not the guy to make a decision about a particular coach. We have an athletic program that I delegate that authority to.”
Brandon did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. His resignation becomes official Saturday, and the university has agreed to pay him a total of $3 million through 2018.
“I’d like to thank Dave Brandon for his commitment to Michigan,” Hackett said. “The athletic department is in great financial condition. We have new varsity sports that will continue to make Michigan a destination for aspiring student-athletes, and Dave worked extremely hard to modernize Michigan’s athletic facilities.”
But those successes have a hard time registering when the football team is playing poorly. Michigan for years was a power both in the Big Ten and nationally, but not anymore. The Wolverines are 3-5 heading into Saturday’s homecoming game against Indiana.
Brandon, a former university regent, became Michigan’s athletic director in 2010, stepping down as CEO of Domino’s Pizza Inc. and returning to his alma mater to take over the sports program.
He made a major change after less than a year on the job, firing Rich Rodriguez after three tumultuous seasons as football coach.
Hoke was hired to replace Rodriguez and took Michigan to the Sugar Bowl in his first season, but the program has declined steadily since then.
Hoke and Brandon faced sharp criticism for the coaching staff’s handling of quarterback Shane Morris’ head injury in a game this September against Minnesota. Morris was allowed to play briefly after a hard hit. He was later diagnosed with a probable concussion.
Brandon said communication was a problem — both during the game when Morris was hit, and over the next couple of days. The school announced a change in protocol soon after.
The team’s lackluster performance has been accompanied by a growing sense of malaise among fans. Empty seats in the area at Michigan Stadium where students sit have become common.
Brandon has acknowledged that the decision to replace assigned seating for students with general admission in 2013 did not go over well. That policy was quickly changed, and the school recently announced that it was cutting student ticket prices next year.
Brandon was not without his supporters. John Beilein — the school’s successful basketball coach who was hired before Brandon took over — called the AD a “great leader” recently. Under Brandon, Michigan began playing night football games at the Big House, a move that proved fairly popular.
“I’ve spoken regularly with Dave over the last few weeks, and we both want what’s best for Michigan athletics, which is to be able to pursue the highest levels of excellence in all aspects of our programs,” Schlissel said. “I believe Dave has always had the best interests of the University of Michigan in his mind and in his heart.”
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