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A Thought On Dave Brandon and the State of Michigan Athletics

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Perspective is a difficult thing to come by in any walk of life. No matter who you are or what you are doing, your world view is your own. Uniquely your own. While many of us try to place ourselves in the shoes of others in order to see things from their vantage point, our observations from their perspective are colored by our own prejudices and biases.

It is nothing to be ashamed of though. It is, for lack of a better phrase, human nature. The fact that many even attempt to see past the limitations of their own experience is simply evidence of an advancing humanity. We can only move forward if we are willing to divorce ourselves from ourselves, and attempt to view our own position from the perspective of a disinterested observer.

I say these things because of a recent piece that came up on our friends of Brew, Red Cup Rebellion's front page. For those of you who don't know RCR, it's SB Nation's fine Ole Miss blog. And that's not just a platitude. RCR is some of the finest writing in the college football blogosphere, and I highly encourage you to visit them often.

Pleasantries aside, unless you follow Ole Miss with any regularity, you probably don't understand the depth of disappointment that currently calls Oxford home. Ole Miss was once a college football power. Their basketball team was regularly in the NCAA tournament. They were once one of the premier stops for college bound baseball talent. Today, sadly, none of that is true.

This saddens me because Ole Miss is a passionate, articulate, educated fanbase whose passion for their school is unquestionable and their desire to win equals our own. Before the "HUR SEC" stuff starts, let's be clear, from all the Ole Miss alums, fans, and students I've met, they want to win the right way. They honestly believe that their school is a wonderful place to live, learn and play, and that, in and of itself is enough to attract the right players and people. You can make the assumptions you want about the big money boosters or the Houston Nutt or whatever, but the fans I know are above question on this matter.

It is because of this that this piece recently posted by The Ghost of Jay Cutler surprised me and stuck with me. I highly encourage you to read the whole thing to get a flavor for the sense of helplessness that exists in each passionate Ole Miss fan. It is not because of wins and losses. Far from it. It is because of the detachment that currently exists between the athletic department, its teams, and its fanbase. It is also because of the current culture that exists in the department, a culture that seems to accept, even condone losing. TGOJC's piece is an excellent example of what a detached athletic director and athletic department can do, and have done, to a passionate fanbase.

But that's not it. Nestled in the article was the following:

I met [Dave] Brandon at a University of Michigan alumni fundraiser event in Washington, DC. Why? Because I'm dating a girl who went there.... At this event was Brandon, head basketball coach John Beilein, head football coach Brady Hoke, and a few other higher-ups in Michigan athletics. I'll spare the details for this space, but suffice it to say that, when listening to them speak I was blown away.

Not a single one of these people took failure in stride, as if it were a part of the culture. Not a single one of them pandered to their fans any more than they had to. Not a single one of them offered any platitudes. And every single one of them was committed to success.

I heard of detailed plans for fundraising, facilities upgrades, coaching hires, recruiting plans, scholarship funds, and a whole host of other things I've only heard alluded to by the Ole Miss athletics administration, and I was hearing this as an OUTSIDER! I, technically, wasn't even supposed to be at this event! And yet, they were converting me. I was ready to donate money that I don't even have on the spot. Smart people making smart decisions regarding the future of their athletics programs, even in the wake of recent failures?! I was stunned.

(emphasis MnB)

Sometimes it takes someone else to help you realize how good you have it.

more on this after the jump.....


TGOJC's piece is timely in the sense that I was already working on a piece about Dave Brandon, but it also presented me with a fresh perspective on the man I was writing about. It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Dave Brandon. I've stuck my neck out in his defense before, and I'll continue to do until I'm proven that it's wrong. I've met him in person several times and always failed to come away anything but totally impressed.

That said, he is not infallible. He is human after all. And we're not above having some fun with him. Certainly there are differing opinions on the night game jerseys and the potential for a new mascot, but the overall health of the department and its 27 different teams is unquestioned. Michigan has rarely been on sturdier ground, and that's saying something. That is why, in my opinion, Dave Brandon may very well be the best athletic director Michigan's seen in a generation.

The new scoreboards at Michigan Stadium and Yost Ice Arena. The first night game in Michigan Stadium History. The basketball practice facility. John Beilein's extension. Red Berenson's contract extension. The handling of the Rich Rodriguez/Stretching NCAA investigation. The Yost renovations. The promotion of men's and women's Lacrosse.

The list goes on, and on, and on. And then, for comparison, there is the current status of Ole Miss.

The Ghost of Jay Cutler's piece was eye opening in the sense that we as Michigan fans are truly spoiled. We have the benefit of coaches and an athletic director who do not, under any circumstances, consider failure an option. They do not shirk from responsibility for mistakes or past failures, but they are driven to ensure those circumstances do not arise again.

I think "driven" is the most relevant word in that paragraph, and the word that most aptly describes Brandon. There is a look in his eye, a purpose to his decisions, and a reason behind every action he takes. And that is to make Michigan the center of the NCAA sporting world.

It is perfectly clear that Brandon's sole motivation is to put Michigan in front of the pack, and to keep it there. He has identified new revenue streams for the athletic department without sacrificing Michigan's core values (for example: saying, unequivocally, there will be no advertising in Michigan Stadium). He has ensured that Michigan will have the best facilities in the country for every sport in which it competes. Where sports struggle, he takes decisive action to remedy what ails them. When he feels teams don't have the resources to compete, he provides them. He is not content for Michigan to be good as some things and okay at others. No, he wants Michigan to be great at everything.

RCR's piece also puts into perspective the squabbles the Michigan fanbase has had recently over the "corporate culture" Brandon has brought to Ann Arbor. In certain pockets of the Michigan fanbase there seems to be the presumption that Brandon will sell off or trade whatever tradition he can to generate more cash. Personally, I don't know where this idea spawned or where its coming from.

There is no question regarding Brandon's love of Michigan. This is a man who played for Bo. He left a multi-million dollar a year job to take the helm of the athletic department at a fraction of his former pay. There is no question regarding his understanding of its tradition. There is also no question that, as the man who oversees a $120 Million athletic department, he has a better understanding than anyone of what is needed to run it appropriately. I think there is also no question that Brandon inherited an athletic department in need of renovation.

To an extent, the pre-Brandon athletic department did have several similar characteristics to the Ole Miss situation. Remember the brewhaha about Bill Martin being out sailing during the coaching search? The issues that arose because people weren't doing their jobs in compliance. The old boy network was so prevalent that it actually started to bring down the once indomitable football program. These are just small examples, but if you think back, you can name many, many more and plenty others you heard about.

Brandon has done away with it. He has cleaned up in-house, and out of it. He has taken back the Block M, and revitalized the symbol of Michigan athletics. He has removed the people who were not committed to the same level of excellence that he is. He trumpets the fact that Michigan is MICHIGAN, but in the same breath reminds us that to be Michigan we must always be at the forefront of development and investment. He respects tradition and welcomes innovation.

In a sense, the "corporate culture" he has instilled is the very culture that Michigan fans trumpet as their own. Michigan may be the leaders and the best, but simply saying does not make it so. You must lead to be the best. You must take a proactive approach to your job and toward the future of Michigan athletics. When problems arise, you must accept responsibility openly, make amends, and create systems that prevent the problem from arising again. This is what has made Brandon so successful in his limited time at Michigan's helm. Brandon has, in my mind, achieved excellence without sacrificing Michigan's core values.

There are plenty of examples of the extremes here. Look at Oregon and Ohio State on one end and Ole Miss on the other. Oregon is now the sole property of Nike's color blindness division. They have sold out to a corporate empire and are smiling ear to ear because of it, tradition be damned. Look at Ohio State's system of denial and blindness to its problems, all in the name of a few football wins and a pile of ill-gotten money. On the other end, re-read RCR's piece and realize the pain behind it caused by a disinterested athletic department.

The Michigan Athletic Department is in good hands. Michigan itself is in good hands. And we as Michigan alumni and fans need to realize this. Look at the positives. Look at the direction of the programs the athletic department controls. Look at the overall health of the school. The future of Michigan athletics is as bright as it's been in decades, and the guy in charge certainly deserves some of the credit for that.