By Heiko "4 AD" Yang
Today will be the last time Michigan’s seniors will be playing a football game in the Big House.
Just like the team’s record, the excitement and emotion surrounding senior day has waned over the past few years. We all remember senior day 2011: Molk, Martin, Koger, Van Bergen, et al. were regaled as heroes for pulling Michigan out of the most tumultuous stretch in program history (or so we thought), and then they cemented their legacy by beating Ohio State. Senior day 2012 was a sad farewell to Denard and Kovacs, but happily it was also the debut of Denard Robinson, Offensive Weapon. Last year’s senior day was an inevitable disappointment. Still, there were moments of – I don’t know how to describe the feeling, but when Jeremy Gallon took the first play 70-some yards to the goal line, you just felt like he deserved better, and you knew you were going to miss him.
This year, struggling for bowl eligibility against a crappy Maryland team on a cold and crappy November afternoon is a crappy but fitting way to go out. At the end of a disappointing season you should at least be able use senior day as a way to recognize the guys that did something significant to mitigate the disaster – guys who held the team together maybe made enough of a difference that the rest of the team can build on, if not for the current season, maybe the next one. Did anyone do that this year? I don’t know, man. Maybe it was Hoke’s fault for not naming captains, or it was the previous year’s captains’ fault for making it seem like leadership was a dangerously overrated thing. Either way, screaming at your teammates on the sidelines that you really want to beat Penn State isn’t that impressive.
There’s not much of a legacy to be left here. Sure, we’ll remember individual guys like Jake Ryan as being great players, but #Team135 will never be toasted at reunions or enshrined in a display case in Schembechler Hall, which is crazy when you consider that some of these guys own school records (remember Gardner’s 2013 Indiana game?). It’s hard to even credit these guys as a critical transition class, which is ironic because a lot of them were recruited during the transition between Rich Rod and Hoke. But just as they weren’t really critical to the brief renaissance in 2011, they haven’t been setting up for the future success of Michigan football either.
I’m sorry for being such a downer (just wait until you read Counterpunt), but that’s how I feel about the fact that it’s senior day and how aware but not fully aware I was about it until now. I still think this team has a pretty good shot at beating Maryland and becoming bowl eligible, especially with Maryland’s top receivers out. Not having Frank Clark is going to hurt the defense, but with the second bye week, I’m optimistic that the offense has addressed some of the brain farting to pick up some of the slack.
Yes, it’s cold and rainy, but you know what? I have a feeling this turns out to be a fun, albeit ridiculous, game. That, if anything, would be a fitting end to this senior class’s career at Michigan Stadium.
Michigan 23, Maryland 22
By Nick RoUMel
You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on, and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself in Jäger and skip out for beer during commercials.
Because the devolution will not be televised.
The devolution will not be brought to you by Coke, or Kraft macaroni and cheese. It will not feature Jim Harbaugh blowing a bugle and leading a charge, cutting down Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio from their high horses.
The devolution will not be led by the triumvirate of Jeff Long, Brad Bates, and Warde Manuel followed by an army of Michigan Men. Because the devolution will not be televised.
There will be no instant replay of Desmond Howard making the Catch or striking the Pose. There will be no slow-motion montage of Tom Brady or Charles Woodson highlights. Because the devolution will not be televised.
You will no longer hear the speech about The Team, The Team, The Team. You will no longer hear '70's rock songs about South Detroit, or other places that don't exist. You will not drink! drink! drink! with Neil Diamond or Sweet Caroline.
You will hear pundits speak In low, funereal voices about Michigan football. Jim Brandstatter will say "tough game, Coach." Fans will murmur, helplessly, leaving the stadium.
Because the devolution will not be televised. The devolution will be live.
MARYLAND 20, MICHIGAN 16
* with apologies to the late, great Gil Scott Heron.
the editor can only post the wallpapers people put in the diaries
By Heiko "4 AD" Yang
There’s football today. Michigan visits Northwestern for part II of Who Can Score Less During Regulation. That game will be followed by Ohio State and Michigan State in another installment of My Enemy’s Enemy Is Enemy When Other Enemy Is Not Good.
Michigan doesn’t have a new athletic director yet. I haven’t heard back from the department about my application, if you were wondering. Meanwhile we still have all of our 27 varsity sports, the Big House is still standing, and Stephen Ross hasn’t reneged on any of his donations. I’d say Jim Hackett is doing just fine. I had to look up his name just now because I haven’t heard his name mentioned since the day he was hired, which is an excellent sign. No one can call for your head if people don’t know who you are.
Oh hey, it’s snowing. Of course it is. There’s a giant storm in the Pacific sending cold air our way because This Is Michigan, and this is where winter has come and won’t be going away for the foreseeable future. It’s going to be cold until May, and we’re not going to be good at football for another couple seasons at best.
The last time I like this was during Rich Rod’s tenure. That feels like forever ago, doesn’t it? Before Denard, before Tate, before the new luxury boxes in the stadium even existed, we all said, “Just wait till he gets a quarterback who knows how to run his system.” Didn’t realize that we would also have to wait for a running back who knew how to run north and south, a secondary that wasn’t either injured, slow, or running the wrong direction, and a defensive coordinator who didn’t think his middle linebacker was a standup defensive tackle.
This feels different in an important way, though. Whereas I deeply wanted Rich Rod and his players to succeed until the moment he was fired, I’m pretty disinterested in what happens the rest of this season. I’ll watch today, sure. Will it break my heart if Michigan doesn’t win another game? The answer is not yes.
I ran into Vincent Smith last night, said hi and took a picture because I couldn’t help myself. And then I realized exactly what’s different: I freakin’ loved Rich Rod’s players. For whatever reason, Rich Rod’s players made you want to root for them. It didn’t matter how disappointing their performance was, you always felt terrible for them when they lost. Even after Hoke started bringing in stellar recruiting classes, my favorite players from the last few years are primarily Rich Rod’s guys – Denard (obvi), Gallon, Kovacs, Smith, Lewan, Roh, Roundtree … Probably the only guy that comes close now is Dennis Norfleet, and we all know Norfleet might as well have been a Rich Rod recruit.
There’s probably no fundamental difference between the players that these coaches recruited. Yeah, the Pattern™ and whatnot, but I think it has a lot more to do with the Message™, and that all comes back to Hoke. Under Hoke there was a radical change in the way players talked to the media and in public. Their PR training under Hoke and Brandon taught them to downplay their individual personalities and focus on the Team (x3). That’s great and all, but as a result there’s none of the same energy or swagger that four years ago inspired me to blindly apply for a press correspondent job at this blog because I wanted to meet them.
At this point all I see is a bunch of anonymous winged helmets. I couldn’t care less about the guys under the winged helmets, which is a terrible sign and something worth noting for the next head coach -- we can’t root for your players if we don’t know who they really are.
Northwestern 9, Michigan 6
by Nick RoUMel
Picking this one is a struggle.
No, not Michigan-Northwestern. Who cares? The season has become irrelevant, and pales in comparison to the administrative intrigue. Who will become the Athletic Director? Will David Brandon continue to foment conspiracy theories involving hostile fans and a cabal of scheming Democrats? Will Brady Hoke ever grow a pair?
the editor thinks this is slightly unsubtle
"Gosh I'm so sorry, Coach Dantonio. I prostrate myself before you and grovel! I kiss your steel-toed jackboots in supplication, because my reckless players damaged a square inch of your precious and consecrated holy turf. I do this even though you have yet to apologize for Chris Frey's ejection for targeting of Amarah Darboh, or Chris Frey's helmet hit on Devin Gardner, or when William Gholston tried to screw off Denard Robinson's head like a bottle cap and then punched Taylor Lewan:
“I do apologize, because I recognize that an injury that caused about as much damage to your grass as Dennis Norfleet making a fair catch (or dancing to Atomic Dog), is a far more serious transgression than anything your championship-caliber team may have ever done to ours.
“Plus I don't want you to beat me up and take my lunch money again."
So - back to today’s big game. I mean the one at the bully's house, in East Lansing. The Buckeyes visit the perpetually slighted Spartans, a team that can be favored and still manage to convey being disrespected. This is a team that wears not pads, but the chips of a thousand casinos on their shoulders, led by their fire-breathing coach, who would strangle a kitten for hissing at him wrong.
This is a game where I pray with all my might for both teams to lose, for the Spartans to be embarrassed, for Urban Meyer to remember that he retired three years ago to spend more time with his family, for the "Little Penguin," Jim Tressel, to cast a shadow over the game as long as Maurice Clarett's prison sentence.
But these are pipe dreams. The best I can hope for is for Sparty to be silenced at home, to come to work on Monday with excuses already rehearsed, for the playoff nonsense to stop, and for Dantonio to apologize for his general dickishness.
And if Michigan can manage another game winning field goal in the last micro-second, with the referees’ speedy ball-setting assistance, so much the better:
Michigan 12, Northwestern 10
[ed: the editor does think someone will score a touchdown]
1975 Indiana was the last <100 k crowd
by Heiko “4AD” Yang
Dear President Schlissel and Interim Director Hackett, please consider as this my formal application to the position of Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Michigan.
First I would like to recognize and thank Dave Brandon for the tremendous work that he did during his tenure. Revolutionizing the Michigan Stadium experience was no small feat. If hired, I will appoint Special K to be Brandon’s personal DJ for life so that he may continue to enjoy the sounds of Saturday, everyday.
I believe I am strongly qualified for this position because like Bo Schembechler, I am from Ohio. I was the “manager” of an intramural flag football team once, but I would like to highlight that I have never been the CEO of anything. I would relate well to students because I am currently a student. I would relate well to fans and alumni because I am not a dick.
My vision for the athletics department is comprehensive, but due to the lack of issues regarding any other sport, I will highlight only my plan for the football program:
To improve the game-day experience, I will fix the annoying half-second delay between the marching band’s live sound and the amplified sound. With Special K gone, the onus of playing Seven Nation Army will fall on the band, and it is awkward when people sitting near midfield don’t know which half-beat to wave their pompoms to. Also, I will make food available at the end of games. Postgame hotdogs improve morale and fan satisfaction by making wins feel better and losses hurt less.
To generate revenue in a way that doesn’t involve raising ticket prices, I will sell tickets after halftime to account for the people who either never showed up or decided to leave early. Those vacant seats will be available at a heavily discounted price, and this plan would have the additional benefit of increasing attendance and making the stadium look less empty during blowouts. I will also continue to sell food at the end of games (see above).
I have other qualifications that would be an asset to the athletic department given the current public relations climate. The University of Michigan has faced significant criticism recently regarding the health of student athletes. You will be comforted to know that I am well versed in the signs and symptoms of common medical conditions such as ebola and concussions. For everything else I have access to Wikipedia. With improved stadium Wi-Fi, no diagnoses will be missed, and I assure you that I will not hesitate to release medical statements on Twitter during waking hours.
I am aware that the football team may need a new head coach at the end of the season. While I cannot promise that I would be able to get Jim Harbaugh if such a change were to occur, I would like to suggest a coaching candidate that has been thus far overlooked: former offensive coordinator Al Borges. Coach Borges piloted some of the most exciting offenses at Michigan and put up record performances against Ohio State. Devin Gardner was briefly a Heisman candidate under his tutelage, and his regression after coach Borges’s dismissal is a testament to his coaching value. I strongly believe that I can use my established relationship with him to talk him out of retirement and then use my clout as athletic director to convince him to call more bubble screens.
Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing your response.
Michigan 24, Indiana 13
By Nick RoUMel
That was a full-size Snickers bar, plus a kiss on the cheek from the slightly tipsy mom dressed as sexy Dennis Norfleet. It was biting that bobbing apple on the first try, winning the scratch-off, or getting that job. It was jubilation in the streets, celebrating the despot’s overthrow.
It was the Maizey-est, Blue-est, sweetest gift to kick off the Hallowe’en weekend ever. Sure, it cost $3,000,000. But … wow … thanks Uncle Mark. It was worth it.
What will Dave Brandon do now? Rumor has it he’ll lie low for a while, first to collect his golden parachute, then buy a football franchise to run with Matt Millen. Matt will cover personnel; Dave public relations (and toppings). Their team’s coach, of course, will be Brady Hoke - whom I hear is a great motivational speaker.
In the meantime, joyously sick from too many Hallowe’en treats, we battle with the hapless Hoosiers on Homecoming. Woe be the Hoosiers, whose offense is as dangerous as the extras in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. They should score about oh-say zero points, if not fewer.
When Michigan is on offense, expect most plays to be without turnovers, including some positive gains. Fans will be on the edge of their seats, tense from multiple 2nd and 8s, followed by 3rd and 7s, watching plays that look like a Family Circus cartoon:
But we fans won’t care. We’ll lustily cheer like it was Anthony Carter vs. Indiana in 1979. (This was not only the greatest play ever, but it was preceded by the greatest play to ever spark an NCAA rule change. As an added bonus, it caused then-Hoosier coach Lee Corso to ever hate Michigan):
We have no worries because we’re HAPPY (Brian - do NOT insert Pharrell’s “Happy” video here. I would lose so much faith in you. It would be like accidentally seeing Mark Dantonio pet a kitten, or something).
But we are happy. Like a Big House without an AD, or a pillowcase fat with candy. And it won’t even matter that this will be the most boring game in NCAA history.
MICHIGAN 7, INDIANA 0
[ED: Ken Walker will be playing the role of Nick Roumel this week.]
By Ken "Sky" Walker
October 25, 2014
I’m sure none of this column’s readers expected to see that by line again – I certainly didn’t. When Nick proposed that I might be a guest columnist at some point in the future, I believe my response was ‘I suppose that could be a possibility.’ Funny how a lukewarm response to a question posed this summer can lead to Nick telling me “I’m going on vacation, you’re writing ‘Punt’ next week.” And that this guest appearance should come for the Michigan/Michigan State game, during one of the worst periods in UM’s football history, well that’s just a bonus.
I’ve got to admit, I haven’t read a single PUNT/COUNTER PUNT since I stopped writing for it. Believe me, it’s been a blessing. The mess that Michigan football has become is heartbreaking. Even the initial Rich Rod season wasn’t this bad. There are so many empty seats in my section I’ve had plenty of room to stretch out nearly every game. My buddy Jim has been to one game this year.
This is a Michigan alumnus, who has on game day, driven from the Ohio–Pennsylvania border to almost every game for the last 25 years! You can hardly give away tickets these days. No long waiting lists now. Television and radio spots advertising game packages are just an embarrassment. And don’t get me started on the ‘Coke’ promotion. This is “Michigan Football”?!
Fact of the matter is, the athletic department has sold its soul to the devil, that devil being the almighty dollar. We’ve got a bunch of marketing guys running this program and all they seem to be concerned with is how much profit they can wring out of the fans. They’ve gotten totally focused on promoting the game day experience. I‘ve got news for you fellas, the game day experience starts on the field. The “Michigan brand” is winning football games. That is what matters above all else.
Alright, I’m done venting. There’s a game to be played in East Lansing (again) and the Wolverines have to find a way to win it. How we feel about the A.D., the coach or the quarterback doesn’t matter Saturday. As Michigan fans, we have to back our team no matter what.
While I doubt that even with two weeks prep, this coaching staff can scheme a winning game plan, here’s hoping they do. Because these repeated loses to the Spartans just suck. But as I have no interest in traveling up I-96 to see the game, maybe I’ll just play a round of golf and catch the second half. It’s supposed to be a great fall day – might as well enjoy some of it.
MICHIGAN - 17 MICHIGAN STATE - 31
By Heiko "My Name Does Not Lend Itself To Nicknames" Yang
Hello, old Punt. Hope retirement has been treating you well. Don’t worry, I’m not completely devastated or anything to know that you haven’t been reading my work. Yeah man, it’s great to see you. I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING.
I HAD A DREAM -- excuse me. Sniff. Ahem. I had a dream last night that Michigan ran power to the left on its first play against MSU. Fitz Toussaint bounced outside and outran the defense 75 yards for a score. It was wonderful. And never mind the surrealism here -- do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had a happy dream about Michigan football? 2011. I started having nightmares in 2012, when I had a dream a few days before the Alabama game that Stephen Hopkins got tackled and exploded into a million bloody bits. It was gross, and I woke up feeling pretty strongly that football is too violent and we should stop playing it. All of my subsequent dreams have been similarly horrific.
Until last night, which is why I think today may be a good day. I’m not saying Michigan is going to win … but I’m saying there’s a chance.
Having a bye week was important. You know your team isn’t doing well when the bye week is the highlight of the season, but I think it was particularly positive for Michigan for several reasons: the wounded got a chance to heal, the shamed got a chance to hide, and there’s still no sign of ebola in Ann Arbor, which helps everything.
Most importantly the bye week was a chance for the team to reflect and reset. Michigan’s problem over the past couple of years has never been a lack of talent or toughness or whatever silly buzzword (“hunger”) people are throwing around these days. It’s a fundamental flaw in philosophy, which isn’t something you fix with more practice. You fix it by taking a break and realizing that you’ve been doing things that are fundamentally idiotic.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not expecting Brady Hoke to suddenly have an epiphany about offensive tempo or spread punting, which is why I don’t expect that he’ll be coaching here much longer. But I do hope that someone like Doug Nussmeier, who has experience with a variety of offensive styles, would take a little more ownership of his position and assert his expertise a little more. And I also hope that the players would be able to identify things they can do within the framework of the game plan to minimize the disadvantages inherent in the game plan. I don’t know if this kind of thinking has happened before, but a bye week before a rivalry game seems like a good time to start.
For the past few seasons Hoke has been captaining a ship that’s drifting towards imminent disaster. Short of outright mutiny, it’s going to take a lot of creativity from the crew to right the course. If the hurricane looming in the horizon doesn’t inspire some sort of change, then nothing will.
So should we all batten down the hatches to be safe? Absolutely.
But I’m saying there’s a chance.
Michigan 21, Michigan State 17
remember when pepper spray felt bad?
By Heiko Yang
Both teams are in their locker rooms discussing how they can win this game in the second half. James Franklin is apologizing for not having watched film this week even though he acted like he had. Brady Hoke is clapping his hands.
It’s halftime for Dave Brandon, too. There are empty seats in the stadium and he’s hurting. People can only believe that attendance is above 100,000 for so long before they notice that half the students are missing. He’s wondering whether he should force his entire staff to wear maize and sit in the empty seats in the student section. And they’re all scared, because young people are frightening and they sing “Temptation” all wrong. What is the meaning of “you suck” and to whom does it refer?
The people of Ann Arbor know a little something about sucking. We got used to losing to Ohio State during the late Lloyd Carr years, and then we got used to losing in general under Rich Rod. We thought we hired the right guy to pull the program out of mediocrity, but now we’re sucking again.
We’ve seen too many tough games, disappointing play calls, and times when we didn’t know WTF was going on. At times it seems like the coaches have lost their minds, like when they don’t know how to defend the spread, when they play Cam Gordon at free safety, or when there are only 10 men on the field to cover punts.
But after those trials, we all rallied around what went wrong, got on the internet, and complained all at once. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times by posting on the message board. If we get negged, we neg back. If we get banned, we head over to Scout.
All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we fix the offense? How do we fix the defense? How do we cover punts? How does Devin Gardner survive going back to East Lansing?
The basketball program is showing us it can be done. What’s true about them is true about the football program: the University of Michigan can’t be knocked out with one punch. It takes crippling NCAA sanctions, terrible recruiting, and a decade of mediocrity, but even then we get right back up again and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of Trey Burke after he hits a game-tying three against Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen.
Yeah, it’s halftime, Ann Arbor. Basketball season is about to begin.
(... In a month.)
Michigan 13, Penn state 14
By Nick RoUMel
For every sports fan, there comes an iconic moment when you realize: Oh, How The Mighty Have Fallen.
For my dad, it was a baseball game, many years ago. The Pirates were hosting the Dodgers. A man who would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame, for his storied career, was due to bat. But the PA announcer intoned, “Now pinch-hitting for Duke Snider …. Gordon Windhorn!”
How could my father ever forget that name? How could I? Gordon Windhorn, who batted 108 times in the Bigs and managed to hit .176, was sent to bat for the Silver Fox, the Duke of Flatbush, the future Hall of Famer. Oh how the mighty had fallen, and my father never felt the same way about baseball again.
The Duke. Gordy.
My own Gordon Windhorn moment was about Michigan football. Lloyd Carr had retired, and Bill Martin was doing his level best to bungle the search for a successor. He offered the job to Greg Schiano, the coach of Rutgers.
Michigan was, and is, the winningest program in college football history. It should be a dream destination job for any coach. But Schiano - the coach of Rutgers fergodsakes! – turned us down.
Since then, the list of coaches who have rejected Michigan has grown like hair on Nick Jonas’ back. Depending on what source you want to believe, the following have all told our AD’s, “Sorry, I have to go to a quilting bee with my mother” (actual Counterpunt date turndown quote): Les Miles, Jim Harbaugh, John Harbaugh, Pat Fitzgerald, Gerry Faust … OK not Faust. He sold his soul to check out the quilting bee:
For Penn State fans, their Gordon Windhorn moment had to be the firing of Joe Paterno. His stunning fall, after half a century of gridiron success, is something many fans are still struggling to comprehend. The Jerry Sandusky scandal captured the nation’s headlines for many months, and as NCAA sanctions loomed, there were questions whether their football program would ever recover.
Although for very different reasons, and by no means morally equivalent, Michigan and Penn State are two programs that have endured crises. It was once taken for granted that certain football powers were forever secure, but schools as iconic as Notre Dame, USC, and Florida State, among others, have weathered storms.
Michigan too will be back. It is now a dark time, but just as the lights will illuminate the chilly October evening sky for our first ever Big Ten night game, they will once again shine over The Team.
It starts tonight, as two old fighters square off for a return to glory. I believe the one with 110,000 fans in his corner will survive a split decision. Gordon Windhorn, you can return to the dugout. We’re not done yet.
MICHIGAN 16, PENN STATE 13
darling, I'm sure you misinterpreted my jest
By Heiko Yang
I’m too tired to form an opinion about all the wonderful things that have been happening in Michigan football this past week. However, since we are on the subject of concussions, I do have a fabulous story about the time I got a concussion. Want to hear it? It’s a good one!
It was July of 2011. I was in a summer tackle football league. (Ahem. Just kidding it was softball. Tackle softball.) … I was in a summer tackle softball league, and I was playing center field. I think. Actually I can’t remember, because this story ends in a concussion, and it’s hard to tell a story in the first person about a concussion. Most of this is reconstructed from hearsay and/or imagination.
So let’s just say I was somewhere in the outfield. Dude stepped up to the plate and hit this bomb that sort of split the difference between me and one of my teammates whose name is Owen, as I would find out afterwards, not that it’s important. Owen and I both ran to the ball without taking our eyes off the ball and then boom! We collided. I did some sort of kickass ninja flip and landed on my head. I am told that I got up pretty quickly, was “out of it” for a few seconds, but then acted pretty normally. I didn’t feel injured or hurt. In fact I played the rest of the game.
The only thing anyone noticed was that I kept asking how I hit my head. I guess its because my head hurt, but I couldn’t remember why it hurt, and my brain couldn’t hold onto anything for more than 30 seconds. Clinical pearl: this is called perseveration! And anterograde amnesia! Most of my friends -- all med students, by the way -- thought I was just trying to be funny, because apparently confusion is hilarious, but none of them recognized that I was showing signs of a whopping concussion. Genuine concern arose only when I started asking how I had driven myself and where my car was, at which point I was brought to the emergency department.
Yes, some of this was caught on camera:
I was admitted to the hospital overnight to monitor for intracranial bleeding (which I did not have, thank goodness), and I began to recover the next day. Slowly I started remembering what people were telling me, and I developed a dull headache that subsided by evening. I’m fortunate that I never experienced any neurologic or psychiatric sequelae such as recurrent headaches, irritability, or sleep disturbances despite the severity of the concussion, although I did join mgoblog about a month afterwards, so I’ll have to check if “impulsive blogging” is an official symptom of post-concussion syndrome.
Anyway, I do think it’s kind of interesting to think that there will always be an 18-hour segment of my life during which I was conscious and sober that I have zero recollection of. Now if only someone could find a way to accomplish that to erase only negative memories, such as the last two weeks of Michigan football, that would be great.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, am I right?
Michigan 34, Miami 10
By Nick RoUMel
In tribute to Heiko’s brilliant deployment of his specialty, medicine, allow me to analyze the program in light of mine, employment law. Our once storied athletic department has all the hallmarks of a dysfunctional workplace.
When David Brandon took over, he cleaned house. He fired an alarming number of athletic department coaches and staff, including long term employees going back to the Don Canham years. He did this with little tolerance; employees were fired for minor and subjective offenses—or, significantly, for failure to exercise appropriate supervision over subordinate employees. I know because I and our firm represented a few of them. Sure, any new boss has the right to have his own minions, but this purging seemed to be done with little regard for employees’ loyalty, nor their valuable institutional memory.
Double standards are another feature of the dysfunctional workplace. In contrast to the scrutiny afforded lower level employees, management is free to commit a multitude of boners with no consequences. Examples are easy to tick off. Botched coaching searches resulting in the inability to land candidates that wanted to come here. Assaults on the game day tradition also turned off the fan base, like the well-documented student seating fiasco. Game day blunders ranging from the advertising noodle, to bans on water and seat cushions, the Coca-Cola ticket giveaway, to overdone productions, and unnecessary, meaningless old rock songs played ad nauseum.
Our coach, who is hired to win with integrity, doesn't win. And now the integrity part is in question. Not only does Brady Hoke’s team perform worse than the sum of its parts, but the man seemingly lied to us about Brendan Gibbons. Lying, meanwhile, is the best case scenario regarding Shane Morris. Brandon fired former star and loyal athletic department staffer Jamie Morris for allegedly lying. But maybe Brandon needs to keep Hoke around, because a classic boss is always happy to let his subordinate managers twist in the wind to take the heat.
Another classic sign of a dysfunctional workplace is micromanagement. Why does the Athletic Director attend practices, and hover during locker room meetings? Why is he the one hiring the coordinators, and not his head coach?
Ignoring customers is another symptom. Good leaders solicit input before making changes, and learn from constructive feedback. This administration plugs its ears and goes “Nyah, nyah, nyah.” To its partial credit they reversed decision on smaller issues like the noodle and seat cushions – but only after fan outcry. But why aren’t they seeking feedback before making these changes?
Retaliating against critics on the inside can be done in secret. But how do you explain such actions as taking away the press pass of John U. Bacon, who bleeds Maize and Blue, in apparent reaction to Three And Out? If they’re doing this petty garbage to journalists, imagine what they might do to anybody who dares speak against them from within.
For the most part, nothing can be done about a dysfunctional workplace. But at a public university, we have a trump card - at least theoretically. The athletic department is answerable to the President of the University and the Regents. The question will be whether they will have the courage to do the right thing and clean house, or whether they will bury their heads in the sand and do nothing.
Uncertain. Our new President, Mark Schlissel had no experience with a high profile athletic department while at Rhode Island. As such, the risk is that his ears will be bent by a select few with access. Former Texas coach Mack Brown explained that at his University, a cadre of four to five influential donors had the leaders’ ears and were able to accomplish their agendas. At Michigan, I don’t believe the power structure is that linear, but do worry whether anyone can be the change agent that is so badly needed, especially with powerful and generous donors like Stephen Ross backing Brandon.
The bottom line is that the Michigan Regents are government officials. Raise your hand if you still have faith that government officials will ever do the right thing. ... Anyone?
Fans who feel helpless can only vote with their feet. An under-100,000 attendance threatens this administration. But they believe last week’s crisis has blown over, and that the Penn State night game will provide a solid attendance figure, and then all will shortly return to normal.
Do Michigan fans have the guts to boycott? I believe that the public outcry, culminating in the impromptu rally against Dave Brandon this week, shows that people who care about Michigan football still have collective power.
With all this, the result of today’s game against the Scarlet Knights is almost superfluous. While it would be nice to win, it should not divert from the legitimate criticism that lies at Brandon’s feet. It is our duty to speak out and do what we can to end this dysfunction. That does not make us fair weather fans. When one party to any relationship is treated with such disrespect, they have the right to rise up and resist. That does not make you disloyal, or a fair weather fan – it means you care.
I for one cannot take this anymore. Yes, I wrote earlier this season that I was past the point of having a Michigan loss ruin my week. But when the entire department is showing signs of being rotten to the core, it hurts - as a fan, an alumnus, and a writer who tries every week to bring a light hearted approach to this sport.
Today, my heart is not light. I ache for the players who try their damndest and those of us who support them. And I will not bear this dysfunction without dissent.
MICHIGAN ALUMNI FANS - HALF A MILLION STRONG,
ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT – 0