Lessons to be Learned from the Brandon Era

by Herb Bowie

As Michigan football comes to yet another fork in our increasingly bumpy road, we may want to stop and reflect to see if we’ve learned anything along the way before we charge off in a new direction.

I can think of a few things.

1. It does no good to vilify these people.

Many of us felt that we were back on the road to righteousness after we had cast out the Rich Rod devil. And there are those of us who can still remember the days when there was an impassioned movement to get rid of Lloyd Carr, even though, by now, I’m sure we can all look back on the Carr era as something like the age of Camelot, compared to what followed.

Let me just say it now. Dave Brandon is not a bad guy. He’s a Michigan man. He made some mistakes, and found himself in some difficult situations. I wish him well. I’d be happy to sit down and have a beer with him should I ever have the opportunity.

2. Greatness must be earned.

The University of Michigan is one of the world’s great educational institutions. I’m proud to be associated with it. But trust me, I wouldn’t make a good football coach or athletic director. I’m not qualified to lead our athletic programs to greatness. I don’t know who is. But I do know that simply having been in a position to touch Bo’s garments in the past is not enough. It will take a special combination of strong character, smarts, an obsession with the game, a love of tradition paired with a willingness to try new things, and a true passion for helping students to find their own greatness.

A person like that could well have been associated with Michigan in the past – but there may also be someone out there with the right qualifications who is willing to become part of the Michigan tradition along with the rest of us. It’s good to remember that none of us were born as Michigan grads. We all were welcomed into the family at some point along our journeys. The Michigan story is not over, and there’s still an opportunity for someone new to become the hero of a new chapter.

3. It all starts with the student experience.

College football has become big business. I get it. The money earned from television and season ticket holders adds up to more than the program earnings from student ticket sales. But none of that works if we can’t produce another generation of Michigan alumni who remember their trips to the Big House as some of the best moments of their lives.

And when I’m talking about students, I’m talking about those on the field – the athletes and the band members – as well as those of us looking on from the stands. Fireworks in the Big House? Who would be setting them off? Whose performance would we be watching? I can’t recall meeting any Michigan students majoring in pyrotechnics.

Let’s stay focused on what draws students down to our stadium on fall Saturdays, and make sure that they leave Michigan with a storehouse of memories that they couldn’t have acquired anywhere else on the planet. Then all the other stuff – season ticket sales, television revenue, alumni tailgating and watch parties – falls into place. But without that, the rest of it all goes rotten.

4. Listen to your critics.

When you’re running an athletic program as large and as visible and as important as Michigan’s, then you are going to have critics. They are sometimes going to be annoying. They are sometimes going to be wrong. But at times some of them will have important messages, if you take the time to listen to them. But if you tune out your critics just because they’re your critics, then you’re banking on the fact that you’re going to be right all the time, and are never going to need to consider a course correction based on some of their feedback. There are few of us who are that good.

5. Nothing good comes of dividing the community.

The Michigan family is as strong as it is because all of us are part of one grand community. Whether we’re studying there now, or graduated last year, or graduated forty years ago – whether we’re a starving artist or a titan of business – as long as we can shout “Go Blue!” and sing “The Victors,” then we’re part of the Michigan community.

I understand the reasons why the University, the Athletic Department, and the Alumni Association all operate with a fair degree of independence. I understand that fund-raising is serious business, and that those with deep pockets are naturally courted more enthusiastically than those with fewer discretionary funds. But there is a thin line here, and my sense is that it’s getting crossed a little too often of late.

The University of Michigan is a great public institution, one of our greatest. But it owes a large part of its greatness to the fact that it respects no caste system, that it is a meritocracy. If we end up creating an alumni class system, divided between those who have access and those who have not, then we will all be the poorer for it in the end.


So here’s to the next chapter in the long saga of the most storied program in all of college football, and those who will write it. I’m looking forward to meeting them.

The words above represent the views of a single U-M alum, and are not intended to represent any sort of official organizational position. If anyone has any objections to this content, or feels that it is divisive or disrespectful, or wishes to post a similar sort of piece, then please contact the club and let us know your thoughts.

– Originally posted on Nov 2, 2014