January 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm

John Niyo

Brandon still has time to find right coach for U-M

Athletic director Dave Brandon walks into the Junge Center to announce that had fired football coach Rich Rodriguez. He acknowledged the clock is running to find a replacement before potential recruits go elsewhere. (David Guralnick/The Detroit News)

Ann Arbor -- On the first anniversary of the announcement Dave Brandon would be Michigan's new athletic director, he stepped to the podium Wednesday and declared he's ready to begin defining his legacy.

A half-hour later, the most pressing question left unanswered — aside from the most obvious — was whether Brandon had waited too long to begin that "process," which officially kicked off Wednesday with Rich Rodriguez's firing as Michigan's football coach.

Now then: Fingers crossed, Michigan fans.

We'll find out soon enough if you're being naïve in thinking Brandon isn't, though in fairness, now that he finally has pulled the plug on Rodriguez, shouldn't we wait to see who Brandon lands as the next coach before we decide he already has blown it?

Look, I understand the impatience, and I get the skepticism, and I won't argue the last month seemed like an exercise in futility, giving Rich Rod one more chance to walk the plank with his team.

But Brandon, the former Domino's Pizza CEO, is no fool, or so we've been led to believe. And it'd be foolish to think he wasn't beginning to search for a solution even as he apparently searched for reasons not to do the expected in the 40 days and 40 nights since his predecessor's hastily-constructed Ark sank — again — in Columbus.

Why not just fire Rodriguez in late November after another Buckeyes bloodletting in what Brandon, invoking the memory of his former coach, Bo Schembechler, referred to as a "red-letter" game? As Brandon was surprisingly quick to note, Michigan was 3-15 in those games under Rodriguez, and it's hard to understand how a 4-14 record — had Michigan not gotten rolled by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl — would've made a difference in the final judgment.

But what's done is done, and what has been undone by the last three years of failure — "I think that (Rodriguez's) three years here can somewhat be defined as three years of turmoil," Brandon said — won't be fixed overnight.

Name isn't everything

Nor will it be fixed by hiring a high-profile coach just for the sake of saving face.

I'm not sure if LSU's Les Miles falls into that category or not — I don't think there's any doubt he's still ready and waiting for the call that never came three years ago, by the way — but there certainly are others that would.

Brandon's duty is to find the right fit, even if that gives everyone fits in the coming days. Timing isn't everything.

"Anybody who says it's a positive is lying," Brandon said when asked about starting his search one month before National Signing Day. "It's a negative — I get that. The faster we can bring a new leader in, the better. But I'm not going to be motivated by those circumstances. I'm going to be motivated by making sure I get exactly the right person to come in and be successful."

And really, there's no viable candidate who was there for the taking a month ago that couldn't still be had now. That probably even includes Jim Harbaugh, who wasn't going to make any pact with his alma mater before fully leveraging his NFL options. Brandon did everything but admit he'd already explored that possibility, and if Harbaugh ends up with a monster contract in San Francisco or Miami or Denver soon, I think it's safe to say that's where he was always destined to land.

As for where Brandon's "national search" will take him, it better extend beyond Brady Hoke, and based on one frank acknowledgement he made, you'd have to think it does.

"When you look at our compensation packages for our head football coach, we've traditionally been in kind of the middle of the pack," Brandon said when asked if paying big money would be an issue.

"And I don't necessarily believe that's appropriate. My point is, there's a market out there and you pay for value and the marketplace dictates what those price tags are. I want you to know, my philosophy, and I believe my boss and my boss' bosses, understand that concept, and we'll do what we need to do to get the right coach to come to Michigan."

Tradition what's important

Maybe I'm dead wrong, but that didn't sound like a guy who'd made up his mind to hire a 52-year-old coach from the Mountain West Conference who's scheduled to make barely $1 million annually — with bonuses — the next few years.

Nothing against Hoke, who could very well be Brandon's Jim Tressel-in-waiting at San Diego State and certainly would satisfy a sizeable portion of the Michigan family. As for the alums and larger Michigan fan base, not so much.

But if Brandon's convinced Hoke's the right man for the job, so be it. This shouldn't be about winning news cycles right now and avoiding angry calls from the alumni. It's about restoring a winning tradition and avoiding the kind of mistake former AD Bill Martin made in hiring Rodriguez in what amounted to a frantic fourth-quarter rally after all seemed lost back in 2007.

Likewise, it'd be a mistake to limit his options with that "Michigan Man" job prerequisite. Not every outsider will step as blindly — or carelessly, perhaps — into the minefield of political in-fighting and entrenched ideals at Michigan as Rodriguez and his staff did.

A year ago when he accepted this athletic director job, Brandon talked about "factions and divisiveness" and called them "enemies of success," which sounds like something you'd hear from a CEO. He vowed that it "won't be tolerated."

I'm not sure how much headway he's made in getting rid of it, though.

And Brandon addressed that issue when the subject came up, whether he felt compelled to hire a coach with direct ties to Michigan. He didn't say yes, but he didn't exactly say no, either. All he did was leave himself some options, while insisting he'll have plenty as he — cough, cough — begins his search in earnest.

"I do not believe we will have a shortage of interested candidates," he said. "I think this program is still one of the premier programs in the country."

Brandon's about to find out if others agree with that assessment, I suppose.

Better late than never? It's up to him to decide.



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