OPINION: Dave Brandon makes a good first impression as Michigan's athletic director
Michigan has a new public face on its athletic department. It is Dave Brandon.
The former Domino’s CEO wasn't even officially on his new job yet, but in his opening act as athletic director he showed perhaps the most important quality he’s going to need.
Brandon was flat-out impressive during the Feb. 23 press conference announcing the NCAA’s notice of allegations into the Michigan football program. He was genuine. He was confident. He didn’t stumble over words.
He acted like a CEO and a leader.
All of this even though this situation is not one any employee wants to walk into - let alone someone preparing to take over one of the country’s most storied athletic departments.
“This is a tough day,” Brandon said. “We must first and foremost take full responsibility for those events that brought us to this point. And we do.”
He broke down the allegations - five potential major ones - and admitted wrongdoing when needed. He was the star, if there could be a headliner in a three-person press conference.
By Brandon looming so large that day, by commanding so much of a presence and clearly looking comfortable at a podium defending a program he doesn’t yet have control over, it made everyone else speaking look smaller.
Especially football coach Rich Rodriguez.
Brandon stood at the podium. Rodriguez, after he made a statement that was about a minute long, sat whenever he was asked questions. It may be a tiny thing, but it made obvious who was in charge.
Not that a dynamic speaking ability is surprising to those who have dealt with him in the business world.
"He has a great balance of confidence and humility," said Chris Rizik, the CEO of Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, which Brandon helped create. "He definitely has confidence but at the same time he doesn't make it all about himself either.Â
"He portrays a confidence in his entire team, which from a leadership standpoint is a great quality."
For two years, since he was hired, Rodriguez had been the face of the Michigan athletic department. Outgoing athletic director Bill Martin would speak, but it was Rodriguez who did the majority of speaking when the allegations into Michigan’s football program were first raised in August.
Not Martin. Not Michigan’s president Mary Sue Coleman, who made a statement and then sat off to the side and watched Brandon go. It was Rodriguez.
Based on the way Feb. 23 unfolded, it won't be, and shouldn't be, Rodriguez anymore.
By Brandon doing this, it signified the official change of leadership in Michigan’s athletic department, too.
“Leadership has always been the foundation of our program,” Brandon said. “And will continue to be in the future.”
The future, if Brandon gave a glimpse of his leadership style and approach, is going to be very business-like.
There was a presentation of facts without emotion or sniping. There was an admittance of wrongdoing without arrogance or pretension.
This isn’t to say Brandon isn’t passionate about Michigan or the job he’s taking over. He is, otherwise he wouldn’t have left a stable spot as a CEO to work for his alma mater. But that he’s able to separate emotion from facts is big.
Doing all of this is critical to show he can handle himself in front of the media, which is part of the job of an athletic director. Considering how some other ADs have acted -
Mike Garrett at USC specifically over the past few months - that should be refreshing
Unlike Garrett, he didn’t try to sidestep questions. He didn’t become hostile or merely hide out. If he didn’t want to answer something or couldn’t, he said so. That should make anyone who follows Michigan comfortable.
What it also does is buy Brandon - and Michigan - early credibility when their new athletic director speaks. The more open he is about how he's handling things and the smoother he portrays it, the more public capital he'll buy.
Being a CEO for a publicly owned company, one could easily suspect he knows that already and it is part of why he is so good. That's experience most athletic directors don't have coming into the job.
That February day showed Michigan made the right hire, at least from a public relations
standpoint, in Brandon. What happens after Monday will show whether or not he was the right hire, period.