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Posted on Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 3:30 p.m.

Michigan AD Dave Brandon reshapes athletic department to instill change

By Kyle Meinke

LANSING -- When Dave Brandon took over as the University of Michigan's athletic director almost two years ago, he commissioned a "culture study" to determine exactly what he was inheriting.

Two months later, he realized his 275-person athletic department was an "inward-focused organization" that was resistant to change.

"Why? Because we're Michigan. We didn't want to change," Brandon said during a 45-minute talk at the Wolverine Caucus in Lansing. "We were stuck in, 'This is the way we do things at Michigan.' If we didn't like the way things were going, we would just sing the fight song.

"If it looked like Texas was growing faster than us, if Ohio State kept beating us, if Florida was zooming past us, we'd just sing the fight song. And the reality is, we just didn't want to change."


Eighty-five employees have retired, resigned or been fired from the Michigan athletic department since Dave Brandon, above, was named athletic director two years ago and set out to change what he called an "inward-focused organization" that was resistant to change. file photo

So, he took action.

Brandon said 85 people have "exited" the program since he took over in 2010 -- that's 30.9 percent of his original staff.

Some of the departures were the result of changing football coaching staffs. The only assistant who remains from the Rich Rodriguez era is running backs coach Fred Jackson.

Michigan also lost other head coaches in the past year, including baseball's Rich Maloney, women's basketball's Kevin Borseth, women's swimming's Jim Richardson and men's soccer's Steve Burns.

There was administration-level turnover as well.

"Some of them have been natural retirements, some of them have self-selected to other places because maybe they resist change. That's not good," Brandon said. "We had other people that couldn't perform at the level we needed. The skill level was not there to be able to carry out the change and the aspirations and expectations of our department.

"We've gone through a period of change that certainly results in a completely different organizational structure. We are much stronger."

Brandon used those openings to bolster areas such as marketing, event execution, sports administration and information technology. He's also expanded the staff to 308, and created positions such as chief marketing officer, chief talent officer and chief information officer that didn't previously exist.

"We invested in those areas where, in my humble opinion, we were underinvested (when I arrived) and it was limiting our ability to do the things we wanted to do," he said.

Brandon said one of his goals in the restructuring was to create more oversight of his sports programs, after the football team was hit with major NCAA violations under Rodriguez.

"One of the problems we had with the NCAA violations was we did not have the right chain of command to really be watching what was happening in some of our programs," he said.

Brandon also fortified information technology resources to the point where "it's the best in the country."

Brandon has instilled change throughout the athletic department, and it has impacted the football program. He pointed to his hiring of football coach Brady Hoke, the addition of permanent lighting at Michigan Stadium, the unveiling of alternate uniforms and the night game last year against Notre Dame.

None of that came easy.

"Every change I have ever proposed has been met with resistance" Brandon said. "'You're going to put lights in Michigan Stadium? You're going to play a night game? You're going to put the kids in a vintage uniform? Oh my God, you're going to put numbers on the helmets? How can you do this?'

"I don't care what it is, any change that's been proposed, this has been a culture that wants to resist it, because we all want to go back to the way it was when we were there, because that's friendly and that's comfortable.

"Every change I have proposed has been met with resistance. But you know what? I don’t care."

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

Great move to bring in both men's and women's lacrosse! It's about time we moved into the 21st century with the fastest growning team sport, at every level, in the U.S.A.! Both teams will be in the National Championship within 9 years.


Fri, Jun 8, 2012 : 2:04 a.m.

Dave's a Michigan Man.I'm not a Big Fan of His,because inside people tell me he's a ego Driven.Whatever.But i like what he is doing.Michigan is Stuck in the 70's Football and almost everything Else.If i hear one more Michiagn person talk about BO,I'm going to throw up.Why don't you people dig up Bo and set him a chair.You think he was President of The United States.Bo was batter AD than Football Coach.Dave Brandon is trying to bring you into the 19th century,my God Not the 21st century


Thu, Jun 7, 2012 : 2:47 a.m.

Sounds like DB has replaced a culture resistant to change with a culture of yes men/women who align to his views or are shown the door.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 5:10 p.m.

loved the night game. hated the candy cane striped uniform changes. love the facility upgrades bringing Michigan into the 21st century, but don't believe that facilities alone will make us the best. It will always come down to people, not buildings. Dave has done some good, and gotten rid of some of the old MIchigan Mafia, but be careful not create a new Michigan Mafia. Confidence is great, arrogance is dangerous. And Dave walks that line very closely. Go Blue! p.s. Dave, there is never a bad reason to sing The Victors!


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

Now I know why the Athletic Department has a staff of 24 people involved in raising money!


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 4:19 p.m.

Inward looking ? Resistant to change ? Add arrogant and you have the entire institution not just Athletics. Dave did you really need to do a study ? :>) ?


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

I wonder who resisted the change to remove the numbers from the helmets? Frank Nunley 57 sits on display in a bar in Henderson, NV behind a glass window.

Blue Marker

Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 4:18 p.m.

Bill, I'll bet if did a poll on the numbers on the helmets it would be a land slide in favor of removing them. I know back in the 60's they used to be there but I think they look better without. Like you said before, you can't please everyone. And if they win a Rose Bowl with those helmets I may come around!


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

Although I can be included in the resisting change camp, there is a balance between tradition and change. I would rather side on tradition. Am not against all change but Mr Brandon is getting a little too caught up on being contemperary. Over the years, the Michigan brand has been a litle behind the times but they have caught up more recently since Dave Brandon took over as AD Like it or not, more change is coming..


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

Dave Brandon will be judged by the performance of the two major college sports (men's basketball and football) and as of right now, we seem to be going in the right direction but only time will tell.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 12:59 p.m.

He's bullheaded, but overall he's made some positive changes. The hiring of Brady Hoke was brilliant, as was paying coordinators and assistants what they are worth. In the end, being a football power with an honorable coach is foremost to me when it comes to UM athletics, and those criteria have been met. Maybe not all of the small things are what everyone wants, but in the big picture, UM is back at the forefront of college athletics just like the 'good old days.' Go Blue!


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 3:35 p.m.

Perhaps these are the beginning of the "good old days," for people a few decades from now? I'm hoping so!


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 12:54 p.m.

David Brandon can add to his resume: Improvisational Comedian for the line "in my humble opinion".


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : midnight

College athletic departments: devised to create the impression that athletic prowess is a suitable adjunct to that college's academic prowess - in a form of entertainment which has nothing to do with institutions of higher learning. The reason for college athletic programs is to create public interest and support for colleges, nothing more. Without them: there would be much less public support for post-high school education and the cost would be that much higher w/o public funding. Dave Brandon: gets an "A" but not an "A+." Far better than Bill Martin but still the one who's trying to make the "Great Football Makes a Great University" plan work. He's just complaining - and rightfully - about the stagnation and inertia which developed at Michigan once it became a top university and football power. I say leave him alone - he's made no major mistakes and managed the RR to Hoke transition very well.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : midnight

My nephew is 14 and basically he remembers Michigan getting creamed in the Rose Bowl. If change brings wins, I am all for it. People are talking about Michigan again in a way that was not happening at the end of the Carr era and certainly not during the 3 years after that.

jim ralston

Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 11:36 p.m.

I agree with the Dave Brandon, change's must and should be made. I love the Michigan tradition. I see it second to none in NCAA football,basketball and other sport's. But, there is one change I do not care for. Please remove the number's from the helmet, it's too busy. I support Dave Brandon. It's made Michigan a better school.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

Lol, I like the numbers on the helmets. You can't please everyone. I don't like too many of the "legendary" uniforms.

Blue Marker

Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 11:29 a.m.

Funny, of all the things he's done (or allowed to happen) that's one that I dislike the most too. Easily the most recognizable (and beautiful) helmet in all of football. Of all the things Brandon has, can or will do messing with the helmets should not have been one of them.


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 11:20 p.m.

I have read the book "Bo's Lasting Lessons" written by John Bacon. A great book, and I recommend it to any true Michigan fan. It has a lot of stories and information about the struggles and hardships that the late great Bo Schembechler had to endure. One of the many things that I got out of that book was that Bo had to "Change" a LOT of things when he took over and I mean a LOT. Players left the program, that's why he put up the sign "Those who stay will be champions", I think most of you know about that sign. Anyway, Dave is not the first person to come in and change things and he won't be the last. This thought that Michigan never changes is misguided. I think most of us can say we love Bo, and he was one of the greatest men to ever change Michigan. And he made a LOT of changes.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 11:16 p.m.

Craig. I'm not saying he is. I'm only saying that I've heard a lot of people say they are opposed to change. It seems to me that DB is correct in that the atmosphere at Michigan (and their fans) are against change. I don't know why that is. My whole point was that Michigan does change. It has changed in the past and will change again in the future. As far as BO goes, history has proven that his change was for the better, but I'm sure he had some nay-Sayers too in his time. DB's history is still being written and only time will tell if his changes are good or bad. Some people don't like change because what they have is comfortable and familiar, but that is not always a good thing. If the world passes you by while you stay unchanged, you will miss out on some great opportunities. Some things don't need to be changed, and I understand that too. Some of his ideas are good IMHO. For instance the lights and night games. Why this hasn't been done decades ago is beyond me. Night games have been a part of football at all levels, even High School, for a long time. Why has it taken Michigan 132 years to figure this out? and why was it opposed by so many? I like the very first "Legacy" uniforms with ND. I thought they were well done and combined a good variety of historic uniforms that blended into a neat looking uniform. But then he went overboard at the MSU game. Those were horrible. The Sugar Bowl uniforms we a bit better. I would like to see maybe one game a year with the "legacy" uniform, just to mix it up, but that's it. I hope DB doesn't go overboard with it. There is a happy medium with that. Whether we "Old School" Michigan fans want to admit it or not, the alternate uniforms do appeal to today's young crowd, and after all, that's who is going to cheer on and play for Michigan anyway, so why not appeal to them. They are the future of Michigan. All in all, some change is good & some bad, only time will tell. But why are there so many p


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 12:48 p.m.

Dave Brandon is not Bo Schembechler.


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 11:11 p.m.

Fans appear to be on the losing end of his changes as he continues to look for ways to squeeze more and more out of our pockets. Annual ticket price increases coupled with lousy overpriced concession food is not fan friendly. At some point this is going to backfire.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 12:41 a.m.

@JftR...Not me. In fact I hold season tickets to football, basketball and hockey. Just an ordinary guy that loves sports whose wallet is getting hammered.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 12:01 a.m.

Truth of the matter is that most of us are watching on a TV far, far away.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 10:31 p.m.

the main change we need is to beat MSU and Ohio State on the football field and win 10-11 games consistently. In other words go back to the "good old days".

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 10:32 p.m.

I'll ad beat MSU on the basketball court with some least break even .


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 10:15 p.m.

Most of the commentors are proving DB's point about people being resistant to change. Fact is, times change and we Michigan fans have to change with them. No, that does not mean scrapping all strongly embraced traditions wholesale. It does mean being reasonably flexible and willing to embrace some change that we might not be comfortable with. DB, as far as I can tell, is not talking about change simply for change sake. He's saying that we will get passed by if we do not learn to modify, and yes, even discard some things to make Michigan attractive to new generations. Sure, we will always get some top recruits simply by virtue of being Michigan, but we can't downplay the effect of things like having the Notre Dame game at night under the lights and outfitting the players in the throwback jerseys. Those did a lot to open the eyes of many prospective recruits to Michigan. Apologies to the fuddy duddys out there, but that's just the way it is.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

Sorry Southernblu, could you repeat that...I couldn't hear you over the singing...

Rob Pollard

Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

Please provide evidence we have gotten one recruit b/c of the jersey changes. I know people say it - prove it. For example, "Henry Poggi was thinking of going to Alabama, but when he realized the Tide only have two jerseys - home and away - he decided that Michigan was the place for him." You know, something like that. Not a quote that the recruits/players "liked" it - but that it was a decision point for them coming to Michigan. Until then, it's just smoke-blowing by DB & co to sell more jerseys at the M-Den.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 12:13 a.m.

@southern: It is not the point of change that any of us object to. We all have opinions of how we would do things or not, and not all of them are the same as DB nor each other. No big deal. What I am objecting to is DB's attitude of how Michigan (and its former athletic dept staff) must be out of touch because they object to HIS changes. Well, he is the guy in charge, so he has the right and the pen. But it's an attitude of holier than though and arrogance which I feel very wary of. And it is that same attitude which I have sensed since he was brought in, and even to a degree, when he was a Regent. Can you imagine this guy as governor? Not a guy I'd want to work under.

Scott Laux

Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 10:15 p.m.

This is good. Michigan athletics and the whole bureaucracy at my alma mater has becoem fat and lazy and arrogant. After he cleans out all the dead wood in the atheltic department maybe he could trim some of the billions spent on non value added administrators in the academic and medical departments.


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 10:13 p.m.

I think that most of what Brandon has done has been good. That's really all that you can ask; nobody gets everything perfectly right every single time. However, call things what they are. If the uniform design in question doesn't resemble *any* past uniform, then it is *not* a "vintage uniform". It was just an "alternate uniform" and it's as much of a gimmick as any other school's has been. (Well, maybe not *quite* as gimmick-y as the Maryland warm-up-then-peel-the-contact-paper helmets last year.)


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 11:58 p.m.

At one point Michigan carried live Wolverines on the field in a cage. That's a gimmick too.,_the_Michigan_Wolverine

Seasoned Cit

Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 9:54 p.m.

He folks, Remember that David Brandon is the guy that Bain Capital hired to fire up things at Dominos Pizza. Sort of makes you wonder If Romney can bring the sort of Hope and Change into Washington that we need and thought we were getting with BO.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 5:12 p.m.

you just found a way for me to dislike both Dave Brandon and Mitt Romney even more. I appreciate that, thanks! -smh

Eric Anderson

Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 9:21 p.m.

I thought the NCAA violation was minor, not major?


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 5:36 p.m.

3 years of probation...not a minor violation


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

David Brandon's words could also describe Ann Arbor and Michigan The State not the school)! People are so resistant to change even when the world zooms by them.


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 9:07 p.m.

Basically he's stating what outside organizations have been saying about Michigan for the last 10 years, we are outdated. I hate to say it, but kids today are caring less and less about what Michigan did 20, 30, 50 100 years ago. Its a what have you done for me yesterday culture, and he's taking the steps to make us "cool". Tradition will always be there, but minor changes and keeping up with the times helps. Little things that the kids like, numbers on helmets, BIG night games. They don't diminish years of tradition, rather they usher in a new era for UofM and make the brand "cool" again. Like Hollis with the aircraft carrier game, and the Nike Jerseys. Hate to say it but kids eat that up and love it!


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 6:49 p.m.

it's ok, like Brandon I don't expect everyone to get it

Blue Marker

Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 11:22 a.m.

Alabama is having a pretty easy time recruiting without 5 different uniforms in a single season. As a matter of fact, their uniforms have looked the same for years and years.


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 9:36 p.m.

Not true, most kids love the traditional football uniforms. If Brandon wants CHANGE, then he should go and become the AD of Oregon Ducks. Rem when lil Tommy Izzo threw his ill advised weight behind AD Hollis regarding the Nike designed Sparty helmet logo fiasco from a years ago and that only enabled the Sparty alumni to voice their objections with the help of their big brothers, like myself, to defeat that ugly logo.


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.

One thing comes to mind from this article: Arrogance. And while some may think that is a Michigan trait (read: Spartans), others like me think it is unbecoming. Change for the sake of changing is not only unnecessary, but it is foolish. Change to improve things? Of course that is welcome. Coaches have many reasons to leave, and it is hard to make a read on that turnover. But alternate uniforms or night games? Brandon makes it sound like those of us who are critical of things that HE suggests are stubborn, pigheaded, and overzealous traditionalists. I suggest he look in the mirror.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

Would you still prefer games starting at 1:30 pm with no money from TV contracts as was the case for decades? Someone certainly got overzealous there, didn't they? And thousands of athletes in non-income sports have benefitted from the change. Night game? Oh my God how could anyone even consider that? ROFL.


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 9:27 p.m.

Well said!


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 8:59 p.m.

"Every change I have proposed has been met with resistance. But you know what? I don't care." Words of a megalomaniac.


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 8:50 p.m.

Mr Brandon, Must you change everything for change's sake? Don't be that stupid!


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 8:18 p.m.

"Every change I have proposed has been met with resistance. But you know what? I don't care." God bless you, Dave Brandon. I've never been more proud of Michigan's athletic director. Mr. Brandon is doing what must be done to bring Michigan athletics back to the competitive forefront, especially in the realms of college basketball and college football. Keep pushing, and bring Michigan athletics into the 21st century, Dave. Go Blue!


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 9:04 p.m.

Basically he's stating what outside organizations have been saying about Michigan for the last 10 years, we are outdated. I hate to say it, but kids today are caring less and less about what Michigan did 20, 30, 50 100 years ago. Its a what have you done for me yesterday culture, and he's taking the steps to make us "cool". Tradition will always be there, but minor changes and keeping up with the times helps. Little things that the kids like, numbers on helmets, BIG night games. They don't diminish years of tradition, rather they usher in a new era for UofM and make the brand "cool" again. Like Hollis with the aircraft carrier game, and the Nike Jerseys. Hate to say it but kids eat that up and love it!


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 8:03 p.m.

Resistance to change is good if it is based on this thing called culture. There is a long tradition of the culture of Michigan athletics; the very thing that attracts people who are disciplined, hard-working, caring, and ambitious -- you, know, 'Michigan Men and Women'. Change can be good if it respects the culture of the place and seeks to improve and innovate without losing the soul of the organization. Michigan isn't Ohio, or Florida, or Texas, and it should not be. Rich Rod was a change for the sake of change, and he did not respect the culture of what Michigan was and is. By contrast, Coach Beilein has instituted change by embracing the culture. Whether Director Brandon will push change for good or bad remains to be seen.


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

@ThoseWho... - I don't think you understood the intent of my previous comment. Dave Brandon has, in general, demonstrated himself to be a good AD and an effective leader. He is not perfect, however. And any institution with a history develops a culture, for better or worse. Successful leaders start by learning what that culture is, and what its strengths and weaknesses are. Then they move to change the culture for the better, retaining its strengths, and eliminating its weaknesses. I read Mr. Brandon's comments to imply that he is attempting to pursue exactly that course. Radical change for the sake of change -- doing something different only because it is different -- is an entirely different thing. Hiring Rich Rod was that kind of change, and not Mr. Brandon's decision. But will Michigan athletics be in a better place in a decade or two. Time will tell. Mr. Brandon needs to be careful about either mistakes or P.R. stunts like the one surrounding the band, and the opening game in Texas. Dismissing nuanced views as 'delusions' or 'ridiculous' and implying that those who offer them are irrational is closer to 'pure arrogance'.


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 10:55 p.m.

The belief that, since you believe something is good, anybody who believes something else is better isn't a "Michigan Man" is a delusion. There is no sanctity of Michigan football. The Catholic church is less set in their ways than Michigan football. It's ridiculous and any rational human being can see that. Dave Brandon has proven himself time and again and you oppose him based on pure arrogance. Go Blue!

Billy Bob Schwartz

Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 7:47 p.m.

Dave! It's the nature of the beast! An athletic department that is turned inward and doesn't like change? Imagine that! Some changes are no big problem, but the idea that change is always good is as wrong-headed as the idea that change is always bad. There's nothing wrong with tradition, especially in a school with the history of Michigan. Numbers on the helmets? Well, maybe. Silly-looking semi-vintage uniforms? The only clear value to that seems to me to be to make money off the sale of replicas of these uniforms. The traditional uniforms are not inward-looking. They are traditional. Not the same. Oh, and Dave...the "fight song" is called the Victors, and we love it. You've done a lot of good things so far, but maybe we can make changes that really improve things, and not all of them today???

Blue Marker

Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : 11:16 a.m.

Both great points! But I'm a little more with BBS on this one. Sure, bring in some fresh energy to a stagnate program. But let's not turn it into a circus. Five different uniforms in a single season, rawk music pumped in instead of the MMB and let's not forget Jetpack Man delivering the game ball. Some change and energy was needed but I think DB gets a little carried away. If I never hear Don't Stop Believing or Seven Nation Army again in Michigan Stadium it will be to soon. And, FWIW, I hate the numbers on the helmets!


Tue, Jun 5, 2012 : 10:51 p.m.

Dave Brandon has always argued that the uniform changes and the night game were all done to enhance our ability to recruit top talent and increase player interest in the program. We all expect college athletes to devote countless hours to benefit, not themselves, but the school they represent. In return, the school SHOULD go out of their way to host exciting games and dress them in exciting uniforms that they enjoy. If this isn't the case, then you have the task of proving that the stellar night game atmosphere and the alternate jerseys corresponded with the number one recruiting class in the nation on pure coincidence. Good luck with that. The fact is, these changes have made Michigan football better. It's easy to be a naysayer with your delusions of grandeur. It's a lot more honorable to oppose the changes but then admit that, in hindsight, they worked. Go Blue!