Ann Arbor — Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, who has been under intense fire and scrutiny particularly these past five weeks, is resigning.
The announcement was made Friday afternoon during an on-campus news conference with Michigan president Mark Schlissel.
Brandon, whose contract had been extended through June 2018, is not expected to attend the news conference. According to his contract, if he is fired without cause, the school must pay the remainder of his base salary, which is about $3 million.
James Hackett, who played for legendary Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler in the 1970s and spent 19 years as CEO of Steelcase, a Grand Rapids-based maker of office furniture, is to serve as interim athletic director.
Brandon became athletic director at his alma mater on March 8, 2010, taking over while the football program was being investigated for rules violations by the NCAA, and since then has upgraded facilities for all Michigan's teams, brought major sporting events to Michigan Stadium, and fired a football coach and hired another.
But it has been a downward spiral for Brandon since the mishandling of a serious player safety issue in Michigan's football game against Minnesota on Sept. 27 and the subsequent public relations gaffes. Quarterback Shane Morris, later diagnosed with a "probable mild concussion" remained in the game one play after taking a hard hit in the fourth quarter and then, because of what later was described as sideline confusion, returned for one play.
Brandon has, since then, been the focus of an on-campus student rally demanding he be fired. The rally moved to the lawn of the president, who had said in recent weeks during his only public comments that he would be deliberative in evaluating the athletic department and its leader. Schlissel is working with a group of eight Regents heavily weighted against Brandon. An online petition also was created by a U-M graduate student to gather signatures of those who supported firing Brandon.
The students had been especially angered by Brandon after changing the student football section to general admission during the 2013 season and then had their season tickets raised to the highest in the Big Ten this fall. This was an issue he tried to remedy with an announcement last week indicating after working with the Student Central Government, the season ticket prices would be lowered next season.
Despite that announcement, students still planned to distribute 2,000 "FireDaveBrandon" T-shirts for Saturday's homecoming football game against Indiana.
Pressure on Brandon became more intense this week.
On Monday, Stephen Ross, the Miami Dolphins owner and Michigan's biggest donor, told the Wall Street Journal he would not stand in the way of any decision Schlissel made with regard to Brandon. Only a few weeks earlier, Ross had publicly issued his support of the embattled athletic director.
And then on Tuesday, MGoBlog, a popular Michigan sports-related blog, published email exchanges between Brandon and Michigan fans. Although the website could not say with 100 percent certainty the emails were written by Brandon, there was a common dismissive tone in the responses. Fan reaction on Internet message boards beyond MGoBlog and on local sports talk radio was fierce and, mostly, punishing.
It was the handling of the Morris situation that put Brandon under the microscope, though, and began the downward spiral.
He and the football program became the subject of intense national and local scrutiny after the game with Minnesota at Michigan Stadium and how the situation with Morris was handled.
The story appeared on various national network shows such as ABC "World News Tonight," "Good Morning America" and the "Today" show. During football coach Brady Hoke's weekly news conference, he said that as far as he knew, Morris had not suffered a concussion.
Meanwhile, Brandon was working to piece together the chain of events during the football game to understand where the breakdown occurred. He authored a lengthy statement after determining the events of that game night and the aftermath, pointing out there was a communication breakdown with medical and training staffs.
But the statement was publicly released just before 1 a.m. the following Tuesday. The timing was widely criticized.
Two days later on Oct. 2, Brandon conducted a series of one-on-one interview with a number of media outlets. He was apologetic, absolved the coaching staff and said Michigan was changing its sideline procedures as far as enhancing injury detection. That day, The News obtained a letter supporting Brandon that had been signed by all of the Michigan head coaches.
But during a regularly scheduled Regents meeting a week later, Schlissel, in his opening remarks, said he was "deeply disappointed" in the athletic department's initial response handling the Morris situation.
"We must be accountable for the facts, with a response that is timely and takes responsibility for errors," Schlissel said. "Without this, we break trust with our stakeholders. There are a number of additional issues facing our athletics department that will require a longer term approach as we work to establish the right balance between competitiveness, financial stability and the athletic traditions we hold dear."
Schlissel, inaugurated as Michigan's new president in September, has worked with a Board of Regents that has been divided 6-2 based on political lines regarding Brandon. He said the university was conducting an internal investigation of what happened during and after the football game on Sept. 27.
"Without a doubt, athletics is a huge part of our identity, tradition, our students care about it, our alums care about it, fans across the world care about it," Regent Mark Bernstein, who issued a "no comment" when asked if he supports Brandon, said after the meeting earlier this month. "The thing that is most disappointing, and I'm speaking for myself, is that there is this sense among many of our students, as expressed by our student body president and fans and alums, that there is a feeling athletics has been stolen from them in some way. It's our job to help get it back, and that's an important job of this board.
"The Shane Morris incident, the performance of the football team (currently 3-5), is like a spark in a very, very dry forest. There's not a lot of water around. The actions of the athletic department, I think it would be, I believe, generally agreed, have drained whatever reservoir of good will there is in Michigan football, particularly, so it makes navigating this issue far more difficult."
Regent Andrea Fischer Newman has been a staunch Brandon supporter. And while her support has not wavered, she agreed with the assessment that communication must improve.
"I think the university was slow in responding to everything that's happened the last month," she said after the meeting. "We agree there was a response problem. We need to respond when there's an issue to respond to. We did a poor job of that."