ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon resigned on Friday, setting the stage for new leadership at the top of one of the nation’s most prominent athletic departments.
Brandon’s departure comes amid a dismal football season and concerns over the school’s handling of everything from its concussion protocol to student seating at games. Football coach Brady Hoke’s future has been in doubt for a while because of his team’s lack of progress, but Brandon also became a target of disgruntled fans and students.
University president Mark Schlissel, who officially took over in September, said at a mid-October regents’ meeting that he wanted to do an in-depth review of Michigan athletics. Displeasure with Brandon and Hoke was already mounting at that point, with the football team struggling and the department still being criticized for its handling of quarterback Shane Morris’ head injury in a Sept. 27 game against Minnesota.
The timing of Brandon’s departure gives Michigan a chance to find a replacement by the end of the football season, when a decision on Hoke’s status could come. Jim Hackett, who graduated from the university in 1977, was appointed interim AD.
Brandon, a former university regent, became Michigan’s athletic director in 2010, stepping down as CEO of Domino’s Pizza Inc. and returning to his alma mater to take over the sports program. Brandon, who played football at Michigan under Bo Schembechler, made a major change after less than a year on the job, firing Rich Rodriguez after three tumultuous seasons as coach.
Hoke was hired to replace Rodriguez and took Michigan to the Sugar Bowl in his first season, but the program has declined steadily since then. The Wolverines are 3-5 heading into Saturday’s Homecoming game against Indiana.
Hoke was sharply criticized for not immediately sitting Morris for the rest of the game after the sophomore took a hard hit in the fourth quarter of a 30-14 loss to Minnesota. Morris was later diagnosed with a probable concussion.
Brandon said communication was a problem — both during the game when Morris was hit, and during the next couple days.
Michigan’s mediocre football performance has been accompanied by a growing sense of malaise among fans. Empty seats in the area where students sit have become common. Brandon has acknowledged that the decision to replace assigned seating for students with general admission in 2013 did not go over well.
That policy was quickly changed, and the school recently announced that it was cutting student ticket prices next year.
Brandon was not without his supporters. John Beilein — the school’s successful basketball coach who was hired before Brandon took over — called the AD a “great leader” recently. Under Brandon, Michigan began playing night football games at the Big House, a move that proved fairly popular.