On Friday, the University of Michigan took a giant leap forward toward the restoration of its football program. Whether former athletic director Dave Brandon resigned voluntarily or was forced out is irrelevant. The important thing is that he’s gone and Michigan can finally move forward. There were many gaffes during the Brandon era and he deserved to lose his job. Regardless of that fact, Michigan still has many of problems with its program. The truth is that the problems with Michigan football were there long before Dave Brandon was hired as athletic director.
Legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler passed away on Nov. 17, 2006. As the head coach of the Wolverines from 1969-1989, Bo had a tremendous record of 194-48-5. Even when Schembechler didn’t hold an official position, his impact was felt. Michigan did well, regardless of who was coaching the team. From 1991-2006, Michigan went 157-48-3. It didn’t matter if Bo was coach or not. As long as Bo was around the program, his presence was felt. Even after Bo retired, Michigan went to 15 Rose Bowls, although they only won four. That’s a tremendous amount of success in that stretch of time. It wasn’t just Bo. Before Schembechler was in charge, Don Canham had that role. Michigan also had notable success during his tenure. So what happened between 2007 and now?
There are many of theories as to why Michigan has struggled for seven years. Some people blame former AD Dave Brandon. Others blame former head coach Lloyd Carr. Some people point the finger at former coach Rich Rodriguez. These are all logical scapegoats, but they are just that. There isn’t one specific person to blame for Michigan’s failure.
Of course, all the people mentioned above each had a part in the destruction of Michigan football, but it’s only a small part. When Bo was alive, he was the godfather of Michigan athletics. Everyone respected him. Alumni, players on the roster, former players and coaches all respected him. Whenever they had an issue or a concern, they went to Bo and he took care of it. When there was in-house bickering, he silenced it. There was stability and that was the key to success. Even before Bo served that role, Canham handled those responsibilities. He had a similar effect on Michigan athletics. He took care of all the problems that arose and did so in unifying fashion.
In the here and now, the Wolverines are struggling to say the least. They are a shell of their former selves. When the news about Brandon leaving was announced, the reaction to the news was mixed. Most fans were ecstatic. Some former players and alumni were also happy with Brandon leaving. Others weren’t. As for current student-athletes, many of them took to Twitter and their frustration was evident. It’s clear that there is division throughout Michigan athletics. There is always division and that’s exactly the problem. Opinions will always differ and you can’t get everyone to agree with each other, but you have to have one leader that can unify everyone.
Brandon tried to be that leader, but he failed. He alienated many people and that eventually led to his demise. Brady Hoke does a better job at appealing to former players, alumni and to current players, but the problem is that he isn’t winning. You can’t do that at a school like Michigan. Differing opinions are OK, but division is not. It’s a cancer that can kill programs and it’s especially dangerous at big-time programs like Michigan. You can’t allow politics and in-house bickering to get in the way of success. But that’s exactly what Michigan has allowed to happen.
We often hear that there are two factions, the Lloyd Carr people and the Bo people. That has to stop now. These factions have to realize that this division will continue to hold Michigan back, while other programs rise. These people can’t put their own goals and needs ahead of what is good for the program. There should only be one faction and that’s the Michigan family. It has never about Brandon, Hoke or Carr. It’s about Michigan. It’s a family and a community. When you don’t have a leader of a family, it will go astray. If Michigan can find an athletic director that will appeal to all groups and all factions, they’ll be back on the right track.
That’s easier said than done, of course. That’s why President Mark Schlissel should take his time. The next two hires will shape Michigan’s future for the next decade. The next AD has to be respected by all and be able to work with all groups. Michigan needs a unifier and that’s what it’s been lacking since Bo died. Michigan can get back to what they once were, but they need what they once had.