The following is a guest column from Matt Dery, host of the Locked on Lions podcast, The Pistons Podcast and contributor at 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland. The views and opinions in this piece are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect that of Maize n Brew, its contributors, and SB Nation.
The 2021 Michigan Wolverines football season will be the last one called by its current radio broadcast team. The announcement was made last week in a bombshell announcement dropped in right before the start of the Western Michigan game.
No one expected to hear the news delivered live on the radio that longtime Michigan football staple Jim Brandstatter was retiring at season’s end, joining his broadcast partner Dan Dierdorf in retirement. Dan had previously retired but returned to broadcasting for the opportunity to work with Brandy in 2014, so it was not a shock to hear it he was going to hang it up.
It certainly was to hear Brandy say that this is his final season on the play-by-play microphone, even though there had been talk in the past he and Dierdorf would consider stepping out together. Jim is also in his seventies but he’s like a college kid when you watch him greet fans at a tailgate or talk to him off-air in Ann Arbor on game days. Nobody is a better ambassador for Michigan than Brandstatter. For years he has hosted the coaches’ shows, Michigan Replay, and a few years back took on the tough task of replacing Frank Beckmann as the lead radio voice, sliding over a chair from his analyst spot. He’s not a play-by-play guy, though. Brandstatter has always felt a bit out of place in his play-by-play duties but has made up for it with his popularity, commitment to the Wolverines, and his charm. Brandy will be missed, and he is sorely missed in the Detroit Lions booth.
What looms over this conversation like a dark cloud is whether Brandstatter’s strong defense of Bo Schembechler this offseason and questioning of Dr. Robert Anderson’s sexual assault accusers has anything to do with his departure, or if this is merely a coincidence.
“It’s not just me. There are hundreds of other players that find these charges hard to accept and square with the Bo Schembechler that they knew,” Brandstatter told the Detroit News this summer in response to Anderson abuse claims from Matt Schembechler and others.
He has attempted to distance himself from directly attacking the victims, but many of his statements have come with a “but” attached with it.
“I sympathize with anyone who suffered at the hands of sexual abuse,” Brandstatter would later say. “That’s abhorrent behavior. But in my judgment, it’s also really poor behavior to make an unsubstantiated allegation against someone when that someone can’t defend himself. Bo Schembechler did not do this to them.”
He and Dierdorf, among many other former players and figures within the program, signed a letter this summer in defense of the claims against Schembechler. The university is currently in litigation with at least 850 victims of Anderson’s decades of abuse among former students from the late 1960s through 2003. Schembechler died in 2006. Anderson died in 2008.
During last week’s game against WMU, Michigan seemed to distance itself from Schembechler throughout the afternoon. Bo was not featured in any of the presentation elements of the football game, whether it be the pre-game hype video or “The Team, The Team, The Team” banner that has been brought out between the third and fourth quarters. Bo’s most prominent presence in Ann Arbor last week was the statue of his likeness outside the football building that has his name attached to it. The only reference to Bo in the stadium last week was on Brandy’s white hat.
The timing of this is certainly worth discussing if nothing else.
So who replaces Brandstatter and Dierdorf? This is certainly a big job to fill as Michigan football on the radio is an institution to many.
Here is what I am hearing:
Unless there is some sort of major change of heart, Jon Jansen is primed to be the radio analyst. This is a no-brainer. Jon already works on the radio broadcasts for Learfield on the pregame show, hosts his “In The Trenches” podcast, and works for the University. The former U-M co-captain is excellent on the air, has already filled in on some games when Dierdorf couldn’t attend, and bleeds maize and blue. This will be an easy transition for all parties involved. I’d like to see fellow Wolverine alum Marcus Ray get a shot in some sort of capacity as either a third man in the booth or replacing Jansen on the pregame show. Marcus does a great job on the ESPN3 MAC broadcasts as an analyst, so he has experience. Furthermore, the entire seven-plus-hour broadcast features no women and no people of color either.
What about the play-by-play chair? This is where it gets interesting. Here are some candidates:
I think this is the leader in the clubhouse right now. Brian does a nice job on Michigan basketball as their radio play-by-play voice and already has ties to Learfield Sports and U-M. He has experience as a fill-in announcer for Learfield calling football and already co-hosts the “In the Trenches” podcast with Jansen. Sources tell me Brian is well-liked and is moving up the ladder at Learfield and U-M.
I talked about Brandstatter and his loyalty to U-M, but is there anyone more loyal to the “leaders and best” than Karsch? Doug is a mainstay in Ann Arbor and has worked as the sideline reporter for U-M football on the radio for the last two decades. The co-host of the daily “Karsch and Anderson’’ show on 97-1 The Ticket is a total pro and company man who really has a good feel for the sideline role and is solid as the lead host on the network pregame show. The question is, can he call games? Karsch has limited experience as a football play-by-play guy (not that the last guy had any) and that could be a checkmark in the negative column. And no, he wasn’t given the job the other day despite the joke that Valenti and Rico played on their audience on The Ticket. Some of you are extremely gullible by the way.
Alright, hear me out here. Many of you will read this and say “Shep would come back?” I think this is a long shot, but social media was buzzing with his name last week when the Brandstatter announcement came down. Matt has the most football play-by-play experience of anyone on this list, still calls Eastern Michigan football on the radio once Tigers season ends, has deep U-M ties, and his son works in the Sports Information Department. Some Michigan fans would love to have Shepard back calling both football and basketball. I don’t think the ultra-patient suits at Bally’s Sports Detroit are giving up on Shep and the rotating Tigers analysts just yet, so again, I see this as a long shot.
Remember this name for the future. Adam is currently in his second season as the voice of the Central Michigan Chippewas. He is a young guy with a lot of talent that does a nice job on football and basketball. I don’t think U-M will go with such a young-sounding Jaksa, but this is a voice that is up and coming and certainly, this market could use some new voices.
If you are asking if Learfield and Michigan are going to consider anyone from outside of the market for this job, I think the answer is no. Let’s be honest, when was the last time ANYONE in this market brought in ANYONE from the outside in ANY sportscasting role? I’d love to hear the words “National Search” and find the best person, but we don’t do that here.