to play football, not to play trumpet
Last summer, Bacon dropped "Endzone" (Amazon link), a nonfiction book that chronicles many of the things that had to go wrong to produce the Dave Brandon Era, and many more things that had to go right for Michigan to emerge from that disaster even stronger than before. By early September enough readers had pieced the bits of their blown minds back together enough to be like, "wait…what?" so we offered you the opportunity. Questions were asked in that thread or emailed to Brian.
One football season later, we have answers. Sorry it took this long—mostly the delay was due to one of the most questions that couldn't be answered without a few more months of data. Also Bacon was all over the country promoting the book this year, and had a kid in the interim. Plus there was football, so we held onto this for a little longer.
1. Why not BRANDON’S LASTING LESSONS?
In Seth Fisher’s review here in MGoBlog – which I found thoughtful, well-written, and unusually good at getting beyond the surface—Seth mentioned that, at the book launch at Rackham on Tuesday, Sept 1, he’d heard I really didn’t like the faux title, “Brandon’s Lasting Lessons.”
Actually, I find it amusing, and I get the point, too. As I’ve written before, if you were to compare Bo’s Lasting Lessons to “BLL,” the contrast would be striking. And if Michigan – and other power athletic departments – don’t learn the lessons this time, shame on them. The future will not be bright.
But it’s probably not wise for any author to refer to his book as something other than its actual title. Further, I don’t want to come off as flip or snarky toward Brandon. The entire book is not about him, of course, and I did my very best to be as fair as I could possibly be to him and his record, throughout. But if other folks find BLL funny, I will not begrudge you your fun.
[After THE JUMP: the attempt to interview Brandon, typos, and what happened with MSU moving to odd years?]
Since Brian is in the story, it (again) fell to me to write this site's official review of John U. Bacon's latest book, Endzone: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football.
We'll get the Amazonian recommendation bit out of the way first: You should read it. If you are a Michigan fan, you should read it. If you are a rival fan, you should read it. If you are part of any organization that has customers and/or employees, you should read it. If you are a fan of a college football team you should read it, then try to get your athletic director to read it. If you're a fan of Texas you should just throw copies of it at Steve Patterson. Except this hardcover is over 450 pages, so that might hurt him. Do not throw copies of this book at Steve Patterson. Read it.
Since you are reading MGoBlog right this minute, either you already own the book, are going to follow this link to buy the book (hardcover/kindle) right this second, or else you're just here because you heard we are a purveyor of Blake O'Neill photographs (here you go). If you're not done with the book yet, you are invited to leave this tab open and come back when you are, since this review is going to spoiler the hell out of it. I will give you the same bit of advice that Brian did when he handed it to me:
"This book is going to blow your mind."
[After the jump: We with the broken bits of brain matter and skull on the floor try to piece that back together long enough to find a theme. (Spoiler alert) Michigan contracts a disease, but its immune system wins]
Hello. This is an excerpt from "ENDZONE: The Rise, Fall, And Return of Michigan Football" that John Bacon allowed us to run if I would once more refer to the book by its actual name instead of "Brandon's Lasting Lessons." I have now discharged that obligation.
We pick up the story the day after the Minnesota game. Shane Morris has been hit on the head, Devin Gardner lost his helmet and Morris re-entered, and the world waits for an explanation of what's going on…
At 11 a.m. Sunday, after every football game, the medical staff completes its routine postgame interactions with the coaching staff, including Brady Hoke, to apprise them of the status of all the players—something I’ve witnessed dozens of times. In addition, head trainer Paul Schmidt talked with Hoke once on Saturday, three times on Sunday, and once on Monday, giving him the complete information Dr. Kutcher and the staff had gathered on Shane Morris’s condition at each stage.
In short, there was no lack of communication between the medical staff and the coaching staff—nor within the medical staff itself, a group I’ve seen exhibit mutual respect, personally and professionally.
The Big Ten also called Michigan Sunday morning to let the coaching staff know the referee who had told Hoke, after Devin Gardner’s helmet had popped off, that calling a time-out would not allow him to put Gardner back on the field was, in fact, incorrect, and Hoke was right. It’s not that often the Big Ten office admits it was wrong, but they told the staff, not the media, so no one outside Schembechler Hall knew about it.
Finally sensing that a national story was rising around them, the department sent out a press release from Brady Hoke Sunday evening. It said, in part, “. . . Shane Morris was removed from yesterday’s game against Minnesota after further aggravating an injury to his leg that he sustained earlier in the contest . . . The University of Michigan has a distinguished group of Certified Athletic Trainers and team physicians who are responsible for determining whether or not a player is physically able to play. Our coaches have no influence or authority to make determinations if or when an injured player returns to competition . . .”
The release addressed some important points—that Morris had been pulled for his ankle, not the hit to his helmet, and that the coaches have no authority over the medical staff—but failed to answer the most pressing question: Did Morris have a concussion or not? If he did, why did he go back in the game?
Needless to say, instead of bringing closure to the story, this half-baked attempt would only raise more questions.
To withstand these slings and arrows, Brandon needed the Michigan family to band together like never before: the students, the alumni, the fans, faculty and lettermen, not to mention his own staff. But when he looked up, he found the family had already scattered. They had resigned, they’d been fired, they’d been angered, they’d been estranged. Some had simply become fed up with the whole thing, and walked away from something they thought they would love their whole lives.
Brandon would be on his own.
When the athletic director, his leadership team, his coaches, and the players woke up Monday morning, they found a pile of bad news on their doorstep. The football team was off to a disastrous 2–3 start. The department was still getting lambasted for the Cokes-for-tickets “retail activation,” and the stadium was showing large bands of empty seats—and that was all topped by the op-ed headline in the Michigan Daily: “Brady Hoke Must Be Fired.”
[After THE JUMP: nothing good happens in a 17 hour meeting]
Hello. I badgered John Bacon for an advance copy of his new book BRANDON'S LASTING LESSONS , and John said to me "that is not the title of the book," and I said back to him "yes it is," to which he said "no it is not," and so forth and so on.
Several hours later he agreed to provide me one if I would, just once, say that the book's title is in fact "Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football." The previous sentence has discharged that obligation.
Anyway, I tore through BRANDON'S LASTING LESSONS in a couple days. Bacon asked me what he should cut, and I said nothing, and then he said seriously, and I told him to restore various things that had already been cut. I am extremely unhelpful.
I asked Bacon if we could run an excerpt. He said yes, but we had to wait for the people who pay money to have their window of exclusivity. I said well what else can we run, then, and we settled on a Gimmicky Top Five list of book revelations. This is that list. Bacon's got the text between the dashes.
1. Dave Brandon was highly controversial as an AD candidate.
Michigan had the luxury of choosing among three candidates who were experienced, successful Division I athletic directors with deep ties to Michigan. But President Coleman asked the committee to interview a fourth, less conventional candidate: Dave Brandon.
Because Coleman made it clear she wanted Brandon to be the next AD, one Regent asked why she didn’t just appoint him, but she insisted on having a search committee. The committee had trouble deciding who the most qualified candidate was, but not the least: Dave Brandon. More than one member of the search committee told more than one Regent that Brandon was the least impressive candidate on the list. Despite pushing back several times, the committee members finally acquiesced to Coleman’s wishes and picked Dave Brandon.
2. The 2011 pursuit of Jim Harbaugh was half-hearted at best.
Among insiders, it’s debated even now if Brandon really wanted Harbaugh to become Michigan’s next head coach in 2011. “I do believe Dave wanted Harbaugh,” one member of Brandon’s leadership team told me, “but he wanted Jim on his terms.”
Brandon waited six weeks after the Ohio State game to fire Rich Rodriguez, even though it would have benefitted almost everyone to make the decision sooner; he rarely contacted Harbaugh, and declined to visit Harbaugh in person—sending not Michigan’s highly paid search consultant Jed Hughes, either, but Hughes’s subordinate, a young man named Philip Murphy.
After Harbaugh signed with the 49ers, his friend Todd Anson asked Harbaugh if he really had been interested in the Michigan job. Harbaugh paused, then replied, “ I just wasn’t feelin’ the love.”
Hackett and others would take the opposite approach in 2014, to bring Michigan’s prodigal son home.
3. Will Hagerup and various other student athletes will vouch for Brandon forever.
Endzone starts following punter Will Hagerup from his official visit, when he decided minutes before driving back to Wisconsin to go back to Schembechler Hall and commit to Michigan. “I wanted to be there so badly, that I knew I was never going to leave.” He proved it by refusing to transfer even after three violations of the team’s drug test, which entailed working a brutal summer job in a steel mill to help pay for a semester of school himself. He straightened himself out, and persuaded Brandon to give him a fourth chance.
At the 2014 Bust, he told the audience, “I want to thank Dave Brandon, a guy who has my lifelong respect and allegiance. He stuck his neck out for me multiple times and believed in me.”
A majority of the football players and other student athletes supported Brandon, too, right to the end, not to mention top coaches like Red Berenson, Carol Hutchins and Bev Plocki.
4. The student government leadership drove circles around Hunter Lochmann.
One day after they won the election in 2013, student government leaders Michael Proppe and Bobby Dishell started taking on the department’s General Admission seating policy for students. They put their education in statistics and public policy to good use, while pulling endless all-nighters, to prove empirically that General Admission was not only deeply unpopular, it didn’t achieve Brandon’s stated goals of getting students to the games, and on time. In fact, their surveys and analysis were more thorough and incisive than anyone else’s – including the department’s – and they handled themselves with more professional aplomb than most of the department officials in this story.
“Look, I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a jerk,” Proppe told me, “but Hunter [Lochmann] and his group were not as sophisticated as we were about analyzing data. When I looked at this data for ten minutes on an Excel spreadsheet, I could figure out what the data really meant.”
During two dramatic public meetings, the idealistic duo convinced the faculty and Regents their conclusions had far more merit than the department’s, which cost Brandon crucial support.
5. Brandon sowed the seeds of his own destruction from day one.
Over his four-year tenure, Brandon removed the safeguards protecting Michigan from a public relations disaster, one by one—usually by letting experience staffers go, from equipment managers to sports information directors—until Michigan was finally exposed during the 2014 Minnesota game. ENDZONE explains what really happened before, during and after the hit on Shane Morris – including a marathon meeting that stretched from 8 a.m. Monday to 1 a.m. Tuesday. The outcome created a national embarrassment – one that was far more a PR problem than a medical one.
About twelve hours into the meeting, they called in former sports information director Dave Ablauf to the room. “I will not forget his answer,” one person in the meeting told me. “ ‘At this point, it doesn’t matter. You guys put a coach out there at noon, and you told him to keep telling them you were going to have a statement from Michigan officials as soon as he was done. That was seven hours ago.
“’We’re going to get roasted on this. But given all that, you might as well tell the truth. Not that it will help much.’”
Bacon says that "[BRANDON'S LASTING LESSONS] tells the story of how the University of Michigan’s fundamental values were tested during the Brandon Era, and how the students, lettermen, alumni and campus leaders started a grass-roots effort to restore them – and succeeded, against long odds." That's true. After 300 pages of facepalm the last bits of the book are actually quite inspiring, as the Michigan community comes together and vows not to screw it up this time.
BONUS: Bacon has events coming up:
August 29th, Chicago, 12 PM: Bacon talks Endzone and takes questions at the Diag Bar & Grill.
Following Bacon's appearance a panel of lettermen will do a Q&A.
September 1st, Ann Arbor, 7 PM: Bacon has as presentation and Q&A at Rackham auditorium on Michigan's campus.
He's also got a half-dozen dates set up through the fall around the midwest. Someone's let him into a cathedral for one of them.
I'll be at the Rackham one as a spectator. Say hi.
[EDIT: The lettermen panel is taking place on August 27th at Rockit Bar in Chicago. The book event at the Diag Bar & Grill is set for August 29th.]
Mark the date: September 1, 2015. Two days before the Harbaugh era officially kicks off, John U. Bacon's latest book—Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football—hits the shelves, and it's available for pre-order today on Amazon. In anticipation of the release, Brian asked Bacon a few questions about the book, and his answers should pique the interest of those reading this fine site.
BRIAN: So you have a new book coming out. What is it about? Is it about anything that may be of interest to the readership of say, this blog?
JOHN U. BACON: Funny you should ask. We think it might well be of interest to Michigan fans in general, and MGoBlog readers in particular, because they seem to care a lot about Michigan football, and this book happens to be about Michigan football. In fact, MGoBlog’s vaunted leader – you – will make more than a few appearances therein, plus Ace, and even a few of your readers.
More specifically, this is why I think the readership of MGoBlog might be interested in Endzone, from the first draft of the jacket copy:
Endzone: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football tells the story of how college football’s most successful, richest and respected program almost lost all three in less than a decade – and entirely of its own doing. It is a story of hubris, greed, and betrayal – a tale more suited to Wall Street than the world’s top public university.
Endzone takes you inside the offices, the board rooms and the locker rooms to see what happened, and why – with countless eye-opening, head-shaking scenes of conflict and conquest.
But Endzone is also an inspiring story of redemption and revival. When those who love Michigan football the most recognized it was being attacked from within, they rallied to reclaim the values that have made it great for over a century -- values that go deeper than dollars. The list of heroes includes players, students, lettermen, fans and faculty – and the leaders who had the courage to listen to them.
Their unprecedented uprising produced a new athletic director, and a new coach – the hottest in the land – who vindicated the fans’ faith when he turned down more money and fame to return to the place he loved most: Michigan.
If you love a good story, you’ll want to dive into Endzone: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football.
So, there it is. And that’s why I think your readers might be interested.
So is this a follow-up to your previous books? In what way?
Short answer: Yes, it picks up where Fourth and Long left off.
Long answer: it gives the reader a deeper understanding of how Michigan football got to where it is today – the bad and the good. Also, Endzone focuses more on the leadership of the athletic department and the university itself than on the team, though we have plenty of interesting stuff from former players, too.
Because this book focuses entirely on Michigan – unlike Fourth and Long – I have the space to write a better biography of Dave Brandon, to shed more light on how the University administration works with athletics, and to include the eye-witness accounts of the decision-making the past four years, including the hiring of Harbaugh – which is an amazing story in itself.
You were of course embedded in the locker room for the first book. For the second you were exiled to St. Helena, with nobody in the AD willing to give you any quotes. How difficult has it been to get inside the department this time around?
I love this blog – and UM fans generally – because when you reference St. Helena, you don’t have to explain it, and your readers don’t have to look it up. That, to me, is the Michigan Difference – or at least one of them.
Although I obviously wasn’t inside the department during the past four years, it hasn’t been hard getting inside the story, because so many people at all levels of the equation have been willing to speak, many even eager. I’ve sent out fewer emails for interviews than I’ve received.
My strong sense, from these many conversations, is that they’re not calling to grind their axe but to explain where Michigan went wrong, and what Michigan could easily avoid in the future. I’ve already transcribed over 90,000 words of interviews – the entire “Bo’s Lasting Lessons” was shorter, by comparison – and not one of them wants Michigan to fail. To a person, they love Michigan, they were heartbroken watching the ship start to sink – and they’re relieved to see it back on the rise.
One simple lesson I’ve already learned: You should not confuse the general with the soldiers. They didn’t always agree, but the soldiers often felt they couldn’t speak up. Now they can.
Have any stories you might be comfortable relating right now to whet appetites?
Well, my publisher would kill me if I did that. But what the heck!
By now most fans know the public narrative – and if they didn’t, your rundown last week hit the main events very efficiently – but it’s the stories behind the stories that Endzone will provide, from Brandon’s experience at Domino’s to how he got hired as Michigan’s AD, to his relationship with President Coleman, to how he fired Rodriguez and hired Hoke, to why he didn’t get Harbaugh or Miles, and how he and his staff faced the growing displeasure with his tenure last fall. (Perhaps you’ve read something about this?)
More specifically, we’ll explore how the Notre Dame rivalry crumbled (not suddenly, as we’ve been told); we’ll explain how the students got the administration’s attention to affect real change; we’ll get to the bottom of the Shane Morris situation; and we’ll spell out how many people worked to get Harbaugh back – from old friends to Regents to Hackett himself, not to mention Jim’s wife Sarah – and how they did it.
Why didn't you take the best advice I've ever given anyone and name this book "Brandon's Lasting Lessons"?
While I greatly appreciate the best advice you’ve ever given anyone – and feel fortunate to be the sole beneficiary thereof -- if I’d named this book “Brandon’s Lasting Lessons,” it would probably come off as disrespectful to Bo, and maybe just a little sarcastic toward Brandon, too. One reader suggested I title it, “I told you so,” which I thought sort of comes off as an “I told you so.”
Plus -- I hate to tell you -- I will do my best to be as fair to Brandon as I can. I’ve already talked at length to a Regent, a player and others who love him. It’s clear that Brandon was very good on academics, for example, and very popular with many student-athletes.
That said, I get your point. If you held Bo’s Lasting Lessons in one hand and Endzone in the other, you might think the previous athletic director was consciously trying to do the opposite of Bo’s advice at every turn – and Endzone will address that, too. In fact, your suggested title is the answer to your readers who wonder why we need to know more about this saga: there are lessons to be learned here, lessons that go deeper than just the list of crises, and if Michigan doesn’t learn them, more mistakes will follow.
Another reason not to title it that: while Brandon is obviously a central figure in this book, the Harbaugh story will comprise the third and final act of Endzone. For once, I’ve got a happy ending to write.
You do realize that I'm going to call it that anyway?
Yes, you’ve made the very clear.
No matter what you do?
Yes, it is understood.
You can't stop this train, Bacon?
I don’t think that’s a question, is it?
So there was a new Bacon book this year. We need to review this book. I'm going to do this with the expectation that you have either read it already or are going to. You should. It is a Bacon book. You are reading MGoBlog; either you are a person who appreciates Bacon or else a visiting Sparty looking for more trolling fodder, in which case help yourself to the board where I promise you there's plenty. Or better yet, read some Bacon—you're in the Big Ten; this concerns you too. And he says the Red Cedar is nice.
This is not a negative review, even though I have a tendency to focus on the "needs work" aspects—I'm the guy who walked out of The Return of the King after five years of unmitigated Peter Jackson man-crushing and complained that there were too many endings. So apologies to John U., who's higher in my esteem than Mr. Jackson and just about everyone whose quotes aren't emblazoned on a wall somewhere, for the plurality of minuses below.
More Bacon. Ever since Bo's Lasting Lessons, the chance to devour a new Bacon book has been somewhat of an event around these parts. As a Michigan fan it would be tough to follow the unparalleled access and insight into the Rich Rod program accomplished with Three and Out, specifically because that unvarnished snapshot was so starkly antithetical to Dave Brandon's meticulous staging of his Michigan show: You knew at the time that no true journalist would be allowed to see behind the bunting again, so it should only come as a mild disappointment that there is little about the Michigan program in this book that you didn't already know.
Fourth and Long: the Fight for the Soul of College Football is four unequal looks at four 2012 Big Ten programs, or four and a half if you count a mini-treatment that Michigan State and Mark Hollis receive as host of an Ohio State road game. In order of detail:
- Penn State from the point of view of its players, former players, coaches, and equipment managers as they find themselves taking the brunt of the Penn State Awful Thing, and the NCAA's and PSU brass's callow responses to it.
- Michigan from Bacon's own point of view of its fans, as those fans interact with Brandon's corporate-itude.
- Ohio State from the P.O.V. of Urban Meyer as he goes from win to win trying to get Zach Boren to like him, and
- Northwestern as the paragon of virtue.
Bacon set out, as is evident from the title and made clear throughout the book, to examine these four schools from different points of view (players, AD, head coach, and president, respectively), and use the findings to determine if any of the Big Ten's current models for college football are sustainable for college football in general. In it he consistently finds players and fans who "get it" while the people in control seek new and better ways to milk it.
But he could only use what he got from each school. With Ohio State the access was mostly restricted to Urban on game days. He brushes against tatgate but doesn't get into the cars or any other "everybody knows, nobody can prove" things—you have to appreciate that Bacon will never accuse somebody without proof (especially considering he's an avowed Michigan fan talking about Ohio State) but it's really hard to talk about college sports and the competitive problems therein without admitting there are relative bad guys. The Gee quote—"I hope he doesn't fire me!"—is in there in reference to the bloated role of college football head coach in America. The closest he comes to pointing out OSU's exceptionalism in this regard is when addressing the carrying off of Tressel after last year's Game:
"The Buckeyes do not run a renegade program, but they once again demonstrated they don't seem to care if their actions make others think they do."
This isn't a complaint; Bacon handled a sticky situation about as well as he could. With Northwestern he got some key interviews, particularly with Pat Fitzgerald, but no warts (this could be because they don't have any).
With Michigan Bacon was outside looking in, so he used some of the Bacon-usual suspects—Carty, the dueling barbershops, the public comments of James Duderstadt and Don Canham, Brian Cook of MGoBlog, etc. There's also an inside look at the Mud Bowl, and most interestingly, a candid interview with Michigan's band director about Send-the-Band-to-Dallas-gate. I was more intrigued by the comments made by Bill Martin on the corporatization of NCAA football, which I'll come back to. The whole Notre Dame saga is covered. Except for the band's comments most of this is old news to you.
The result is a book that's 52% about Penn State trying to survive 2012, with a bunch of stuff thrown in about some other schools and corporations to underscore a point made clear without leaving Happy Valley.
[After the jump: it's just, like, my opinion man.]