Schlissel: 'I agreed' with Brandon's decision to resign
Ann Arbor – When Dave Brandon met on Wednesday with new university president Mark Schlissel, Brandon surrendered his position as Michigan athletic director.
Brandon had been on the job since 2010 but after considerable turmoil surrounding the athletic department in recent weeks, he opted to resign, and a day later to sign a separation agreement that will pay him $3 million to leave the job he loved.
Schlissel on Friday announced Brandon's resignation and introduced Jim Hackett, a former U-M football player and former CEO of Steelcase, as the interim athletic director who will be in place until a permanent replacement has been hired.
Brandon, according to the president, said it would be in the best interest of Michigan athletics if he left the program and allow the department to work without "daily distractions." He did not attend Friday's announcement.
"(Brandon) and I have been in very frequent contact and communication really since I've begun as president, but certainly more so in recent weeks," Schlissel said. "At the same time, I've been looking out and reaching out across the community to students, to alumni, to faculty in various settings trying to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could about the nature and the importance of athletics to the University of Michigan.
"In one of our most recent conversations, the athletic director reached out to me and said he's chosen for the reasons I've outlined to resign, and I agreed with his decision."
Schlissel said that conversation took place Wednesday.
The announcement ended Brandon's nearly five years as athletic director amid a firestorm of public-relations gaffes and as the issue of student-athlete safety was raised on Sept. 27 in Michigan's game against Minnesota. During that game, quarterback Shane Morris continued to play, although he was later diagnosed with a concussion.
Brandon, who has given $2 million to U-M's Mott Hospital, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Hackett, a former teammate of Brandon's at Michigan, currently serves on the Board of Directors at Ford Motor Company and Fifth Third Bancorp. He assumes the athletic director duties immediately and will work with Schlissel to determine Brandon's successor.
"I'm confident that Jim will immediately begin the process of moving the department forward, including working closely with me to develop a play to identify and recruit Michigan's next permanent athletic director," Schlissel said.
Schlissel listed several general qualities he expects from next athletic director.
"I will be looking for a person that prioritizes the welfare and the experience of our student-athletes," Schlissel said. "A person of unquestioned integrity, not just integrity to the level of NCAA rules but integrity to the Michigan way of doing athletics."
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 game against Minnesota, when Morris remained in the game for 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 deliberate in evaluating the athletic department and its leader. Schlissel is working with a group of eight Regents 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 ticket prices 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, that ticket prices would be lowered next season.
Despite that announcement, students still planned to distribute 2,000 "Fire Dave Brandon" T-shirts for Saturday's homecoming game against Indiana.
Pressure on Brandon intensified 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 allegedly between Brandon and Michigan fans. Although the website could not say with 100-percent certainly 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.
"Clearly the past month has been difficult for him and he ultimately decided this is about the student-athletes and the university," Regent Andrea Fischer Newman said Friday. "His decision was that it was better for them if he moved on."
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 like ABC Nightly News, Good Morning America and the Today Show. During football coach Brady Hoke's weekly news conference on the Monday after the game, 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. Tuesday, and 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 regarding injury detection. That day, The Detroit 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."
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 game on Sept. 27.
While Schlissel said he listened to advice from the Regents, all decisions he makes are his alone, he said.
He insisted Friday that politics did not come into play regarding Brandon.
"All I can say with 100 percent certainty and honesty, is politics has absolutely nothing to do with the way an athletic department is run within a university," Schlissel said. "Not in my book anyway."