Failure Follow-Up

Submitted by Brian on February 19th, 2015 at 4:36 PM


a more pleasant item to lead the blog

When I write a thing of that length that I figure will stand as one of the things people think about when they think about MGoBlog, I like to talk about the aftermath.

WHY. A number of protests were lodged about why I wouldn't just leave the past in the past and move on. There are multiple reasons that post needed to happen.

  • I needed an elucidation of the argument I couldn't quite make when I was on with Dan Dakich in the aftermath of the email article. The way in which Brandon screwed up so hard with Morris was a natural result of the way he approached every petty problem he met previously, an indication that he was a terrible leader for reasons both private and public.
  • This is a space that tries to document what happens to Michigan. I got the same complaints about my Rich Rodriguez obit. We mostly look backwards here, talking about what has happened. Not having a summary of the Brandon era would have been a glaring omission. I do these for players annually, usually in the magazine. Hoke will get a (much less incendiary) recap as well.
  • Never forget. For this to not happen again we must identify the problem and remain vigilant against its recurrence. Those who forget history, etc.

Now that I've said my piece we can move on. Harbaugh excelsior.

WHY NOW. A variant on the previous bullet:

Brian's post has no new information or even new feelings or analysis of information he compiled.  It doesn't even have information or ideas new to his own previous posts on this blog.  Why did he do this?  I'm genuinely curious.  It's like a political post mortem in The New Republic or Investor's Business Daily against a vanquished foe, but an untimely one.  Has the piece been on his desktop for the last several months awaiting completion?  Was he waiting for additional DB shoes to drop that would need inclusion?  Was it an incredible stream-of-consciouness thing that just kinda poured out of him over a few very intense hours?  I don't know, but I'd like to.  Brian? 

I will say that it is very clearly grave dancing, but it's Baryshnikov or Shakira cutting the rug, or dirt or whatever (apologies to dance fans if these examples are crap, but you get the picture).

Brandon was canned during football season, when time for a 5k word piece was not available. Then we had the coaching search, which sucked up all available oxygen—I barely thought about this piece until Harbaugh was in the boat. After that was the recruiting sprint to Signing Day. All of these things took precedence; now that we're past all that it was time.

FWIW, the piece was assembled in bursts, with a slim majority of it coming together in the last couple days.

On calling someone a piece of shit human being. Some protests about that phrasing. This seems like different borders for a term. Complaints about it tended to invoke physical violence against innocents, ISIS, Boko Haram, assertions verging on Godwin and occasionally directly invoking it. I would file such things under "evil," "monstrous," etc. Being a shitty person doesn't rise to that level.

I did get a very long, well-argued email from a walk-on who had been around for a portion of the Brandon era asking me to separate out my critiques of the man from critiques of the athletic director. It cited a number of positive personal interactions with Brandon, and it's true that the one group of people universally in his corner are student-athletes. John U Bacon invited me to present a guest lecture to one of his classes this fall; as fate would have it that date landed about ten days after the Morris incident. Bacon's class was split about down the middle between athletes and regular students, and when I expressed my opinion about Brandon bluntly I got equally blunt pushback from a couple of the athletes.

I appreciate that point of view. I reject it all the same. Brandon was clearly not an asshole to all people. That does not excuse the careers he shattered for little or no reason or the condescension to people trying to talk to him politely. I still can't get over the guy taking shots at some emailer's marriage when he was being painfully polite whilst trying to explain why Brandon had caused him an issue by telling his wife to find a new team. It doesn't excuse the relentless strip-mining of Michigan's primary asset, fan goodwill, in order to make the spreadsheet numbers go in the right direction. It doesn't excuse the constant litany of untruths culminating in a five-day firestorm based on the fact that Brandon's first reaction to any crisis was to lie.

I believe his interactions with the student-athletes were genuine and positive. I don't judge people based on how they treat their most favored class of person. Nixon had a dog, after all.

On giving money to Mott. There's a parable about this.

On cancer kid. It's easy to be nice to kids with cancer, especially when you trumpet it from the mountain. It's standard practice to be open to Make-a-Wish; not doing so results in major backlash and Brandon's not a literal psychopath. When these arguments are made I always think of the Chris Rock bit about how you're not SUPPOSED to go to jail, you low-expectations-havin' mofo.

On the civility of the previous bullet point. Not very civil, I agree. I did weigh that, but I felt that pulling punches in any way here was 1) not going to be credible and 2) did a disservice to the lesson learned. I often write swears in first drafts that get edited out later, sometimes to my regret. There is something about the well-placed expletive that gets a point across in a way I cannot seem to replicate with less naughty language, and this was a full-auto post.

On the shittiness of those emails. From user Evenyoubrutus:

What convinced me of how clueless he really was was his email that said "I suggest you find a new team to support."  This was clear proof that he was still trying to sell pizzas instead of honoring the tradition of Michigan Football.  Yes, if you don't like Domino's, try Pizza Hut.  But I don't have over two decades of memories of sitting down at Domino's with my dad since I was a fucking CHILD eating the pizza, and memorobilia of Domino's items and memories in my house, and I don't dream of sharing the same experiences eating Domino's with my young boys, or memories of watching Domino's win championships and feeling some of the happiest moments of my life because Domino's! "Find a new team to support" Okay. Ass.

On things I missed. Inevitably there were going to be issues and problems with the Brandon era I missed, even in a post pushing 5k words. A selection:

  • BursleyHall82 reminds us that it was only a sustained campaign from MVictors that finally got Brandon to relent and allow Willis Ward to be honored and his story told.
  • I did not mention "The Process" via which Rodriguez was fired. That two-day dog and pony show was a quintessential example of doing something ostentatious to look impressive instead of just getting it over with quickly. Hackett fired Hoke and announced it in about 10 minutes, because he is not concerned with looking impressive. (Hackett occasionally dresses like Seinfeld's dad because he gets things done instead of picking out clothes.)
  • JeepinBen points out I didn't mention the press blitz after the Morris incident or the infamous "my personality is to the best of my ability and I have to fix that" statement. That was triply odious: Brandon hired a PR firm only after he'd burned the house down and then spent Michigan's money trying to prop himself up instead of repairing the damage he'd done. Add in the content of said blitz and you've got a triple. Oh, and he invoked his family as a shield. Home run.
  • I missed the giant Brandontron next to the stadium.
  • And of course whenever I bring it up more people add their stories to the list, including this gentleman who was dismayed because the athletic department tried to charge the hospital a licensing fee for sick babies in winged helmets.
  • There are many, many stories of people in the department being treated shabbily from Jon Falk on down. I didn't mention most of them because I hear most of them indirectly. Bacon's upcoming book on all this should shed a lot of light in this department; he reports that he has never seen people more eager to talk to him.

On revenues as a measuring stick. A common defense of Brandon is to point at the budget. I've repeatedly stated why I don't buy that argument but I've never stated it as eloquently as Blue Durham did in a comment on the post:

Increased revenues from sources like the Big Ten Channel can't be attributed to anything that he had done, and others, like Brian refers to, like the sale of water or the hoped-for rental of seat cushions(!), bring in little but have a great, negative impact in PR. So where is Brandon's biggest contribution in increasing revenues?

As far as I can tell, it was by increasing ticket prices. But all that did was to sell off an asset built up by preceding ADs, the waiting list and goodwill of fans, alumni, and students. When I was an undergraduate and graduate student at UM in the 1980's, everyone knew that the AD could have easily charged more for tickets.

But I think this was part of a policy to try to treat current students as future donors, and for the alumni, as a way to stay connected to the University in order to have more generous donors. Obviously this worked given all of the alumni events that occur every fall that revolve around a home football game.

All Brandon did was sell this asset off, to the University's detriment. This is akin to a kid selling is father's car and taking credit for all of the money he made doing it without taking into account the value of the car.

The damage he wrought in that department will be felt for years, or at least until HARBAUGH

On solutions. User Njia protests that the post was an unconstructive bombing. Guilty as charged. I'll put together something about the direction to go in an effort to rebuild ground zero.

The unedited post is available as an e-book for 50 bucks. To buy one, just go to this video of Rick Astley singing "Never Gonna Give You Up."

And now let's never talk about… that again.



February 19th, 2015 at 6:58 PM ^

Looking Forward to Similar Scrutiny for the New AD
As best as I can tell, there have been no changes to the game experience planned for next year. Concession prices are still high at hockey and basketball. DB left with lower student ticket prices, but Hackett has not addressed prices for season ticket holders. Schlissel promised a new AD search, and there has been little information on that process. The wicked witch of the west is dead, but the issues DB left are unresolved.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad


February 19th, 2015 at 7:53 PM ^

DB deserved exremely close examination because he put himself in the spotlight.

He chose to be high-profile, and frankly his behavior, his stunts/blunders, his treatment of loyal employees and supporters, and his endless flogging of the "brand" deserve vitriol.

AD at Michigan is a big job, and criticism comes with it - but DB is a special case.

From day 1, he treated one of the finest institutions of higher learning and most storied athletic programs like a cheap commodity.  

Let's hope no future AD brings such dishonor upon our beloved University!




February 19th, 2015 at 7:06 PM ^

by all accounts, Brandon was real swell to them all. Great. Terrific. Of course he is, they make him his money.

Michigan Athletics isn't just about the current student athletes. There are students, alums, fans, former players, etc who are all big pieces to the whole. Treating 0.1% of people you interact with great and being an ass to the other 99.9% like they were expendable reveals a lot about you


February 19th, 2015 at 7:34 PM ^

Since you linked my comment in your post, just wanted to say thanks for addressing it. I get what you were trying to accomplish and the timeline and other events taking precedence makes a lot of sense now.

Feat of Clay

February 19th, 2015 at 7:51 PM ^

You also didn't mention how the athletic department stopped paying for IM uniforms and offering IM sports preferential fees for renting facilities. They'd done that for years and then stopped. That wasn't widely known.


February 19th, 2015 at 8:00 PM ^

When he left Domino's, the pizza tasted so bad that the current CEO had to admit to customers that their product tasted like cardboard. It seems a person with a singular focus on short term financial bottom line isn't good for a global pizza chain or a world-class college athletic program.

Not sure if I would've gone to POS human being because I think that'd require understanding his true motivations and oddly I still believe he had good intentions, but it's safe to say he'll go down in Michigan AD history which will be known as the Dark Ages.


February 20th, 2015 at 1:22 AM ^

the "our pizza is shit" ad campaign was actually schemed by Brandon, although his hiring at UM caused him to leave Domino's before it aired. It actually looks to me like the sort of publicity gimmic he would dream up.

The oblivious management style he represents is what I see everything headed towards in the macrocosm. It's actually a pleasant thought to me that holdouts against the unbridled corporate mentality, such as UM, still exist.

Although maybe Brandon represented a worse strain than the misery that has become the norm nowadays.

I think POSHB is a normative assessment. The most damning assessments, I think, are the ones that remain cool and distant in tone, which Brian's wasn't. Brian is speaking as a fan; I think we appreciate that.

Haywood Jablomy

February 19th, 2015 at 8:10 PM ^

your best. I don't always get the inside jokes rife in the mgoblog articles and find the writing apt to be trying too hard, at times.  I have come to appreciate the work you put into this blog, enjoy much of the content and wanted to say thanks.  It was truly satisfying to watch mgoblog take the high road all the way to the JH press conference and after. 

I hope you found these "Brandings" as cathardic to write as I have to read.  Thanks, again.

CRISPed in the DIAG

February 19th, 2015 at 8:14 PM ^

I love this blog and needed to read the article, as well.  I'm just not sure I would have described Dave Brandon as "a piece of shit human being."  

I don't dispute the content of the article or its assessment of Brandon as an executive, but this final scud could have been a little less caustic and personal.  He has a family, etc.  

might and main

February 19th, 2015 at 8:23 PM ^

I appreciate the piece very much.  It needed to be written, for the record.  My only disappointment in it is that it doesn't hold Mary Sue accountable too.  She brought us the gift of Dave Brandon.


February 19th, 2015 at 8:56 PM ^

is to serve the student-athletes and put them in their best interest. That's one thing that Dave Brandon did well is to give student-athletes everything in terms of facilty upgrade, uniform, traveling, food, etc. This is why the student-athletes likes Dave Brandon. 


February 19th, 2015 at 9:17 PM ^

They're not brought down from God.  They're written by ADs, or at least their flunkies.  So, it's their choice to say we serve X and not mention Y.  I suppose that if an AD doesn't even live up to that it's in some sense worse, but otherwise, it doesn't do a whole lot for me.  Great, you did what you wanted to do.  There's no reason he couldn't have added the school, alums, community, employees, ....


February 19th, 2015 at 8:52 PM ^

Thank you Brian for the piece. The piece of beautiful art. Yeah it was a protester in front of a tank painful but I couldn't take me eyes away. Sometimes that's artwork. I'm not a musician so I have to find bands that write and sing songs that I can relate to. They help express what I'm feeling. THE FAILURE was the same in a literary sense. Everything I've felt and thought about Brandon. However, one thing I would change. Change piece of shit to Assclown. He was the most pure Assclown I've ever seen.


February 19th, 2015 at 8:56 PM ^

I find that I have some points to make.

1: This is Brian's blog and he is free to do with it as he pleases. However, rolling in the destruction of Brandon and relishing his destruction serves (in my opinion) no positive outcome. Brandon is in the past, and the argument that we need to be sure Michigan never forgets rings hollow in the face of the personal hatred that flows throughout his post. For God's sake Brian you won let it go.

2: At one point in my life I dated a woman whose mother was an unyielding destructive force in her family. Upon her mothers's death she arranged for her and her siblings to stay at the cemetery after their mother was buried so that they could pee and the dance on their mother's grave. "Failure" has that sense about it.

3: Brandon did a lot of damage. Inside the athletic department he made waves and dealt with various employees in ways that many of us view negatively. That said every executive has to make hard choices, and it's easy for us to disagree. I have a hard time believing that Brandon ever intended to harm Michigan athletics.

4: As some point in Brian's rant he besmirches Brandon's understanding of his Michigan experience. Based on various comments of his fellow athletes, they would disagree. They attest to his commitment to help younger players to adjust to the program and that he was always there for them.

Bottom line. Brandon is NOT the anti-Christ. Yeah he made many mistakes. Some so obviously stupid that they are utterly indefensible, but they hardly require his crucifixion. Brandon did some good things, some bad things and some astonishingly arrogantly stupid things, but I'm pretty sure his intentions with regard to the program and his alma mater were always good.

Brian, you won. You've ground your hated enemy beneath the treads of the internet tank that is mgoblog. You have vanquished your enemy and can hear the lamentations of his women. What more do you want? Let it go. The legacy of that victory is that it will be a long time before anyone at the athletic department takes the fan base for granted. Nothing is served by looking back. Nothing is served by conflating Brady's history at Michigan with Brandon's. Nothing. In the best interests of Michigan athletics in general and Michigan football in specific it is time to move on.


February 19th, 2015 at 9:41 PM ^

I agree with you that Brandon did many "bad things", but you'll have to demonstate for me what "good things" he did.  It wasn't a mixed bag--which is remarkable in that almost all things are.  And while I can't say Brandon intended to harm Michigan athletics, I am comfortable that helping wasn't his primary mission.  His primary mission was enhancing his own personal brand.

snarling wolverine

February 19th, 2015 at 11:38 PM ^

There were a few positives:

-He committed to spending market-level salaries for coaches, which was a new development for Michigan.  

-He introduced night games at Michigan Stadium, which wasn't the easiest sell.  

-He put the NCAA in its place regarding the stretchgate "scandal"

-Finally, given that we've had thread after thread on this site about athletes' voices need to be heard and how they shouldn't be exploited, it would be hypocritical of us to dismiss the fact that he was well-liked by the athletes.  

Now, he certainly did enough to get fired; regarding the last point, he seemed to deepen the "us vs. them" chasm between athletes and non-athletes, which an AD absolutely can't do.  It's like he was desperate to prove to the athletes he was "one of the guys."  But it is good that at least he wasn't a jerk to them, too.




February 20th, 2015 at 6:26 AM ^

Agreed. No need to further demonize the man. I honestly doubt this mistake will "repeat itself" any time soon. Now, within another generation, it will probably happen because we'll all forget about Brandon in 15-20 years and not really care. New board of regents will swap in and someone will inevitably get the idea that UM should hire a "more business minded" AD to take UM to the next level. It is inevitable to happen, regardless of a blog such as this.


February 20th, 2015 at 7:24 AM ^

Given one of the points he made in his PR tour was that he watched film with the coaches because he wanted to regain the feeling of being a college athlete, I can easily see why he was great to the student-athletes. That said, several of my friends got to the point where they would not even attend another game until a new AD was in town. How does that even happen without the guy being very bad at his job. Title and tone of the article are entirely appropriate in my opinion.

Doctor Wolverine

February 19th, 2015 at 9:27 PM ^

I guess I get that this was information that people felt needed to be out in the public, but the timing is still wrong imo. It feels like a public Facebook trashing of the girl you dumped months ago, even though you have a better girlfriend now. If it was so important that it needed to be recorded in the annals of Michigan football history, then it was probably more important than any of the actual football coverage during the season, when this would have been more relevant. Then again, I read it, and the you win.


February 19th, 2015 at 9:37 PM ^

In terms of revenue, I believe (though may be incorrect) that Brandon increased alumni donations significantly during his tenure (although I don't know how one off gestures like Ross' student center is taken into account).

However, Brian is 100% correct in his essays. When you take any Brandon mistake in a vacuum it makes sense and is easily dismissed. That's probably what happens at a place like Dominos', where nobody has any loyalty, since all chain pizzas are basically the same. 

When you look at all of Brandon's mistakes as a whole, the guy does come across as a complete idiot, maybe even an asshole. The reason he even became CEO of Dominos, speaks to the quality of leadership in the world.


February 19th, 2015 at 10:06 PM ^

The reference to the Rodriguez obit as evidence that Brian has done this sort of thing before fits to an extent.  But to borrow uncleFred's analogy, it's a bit like saying the grave you danced and pissed on isn't the only time you've ever paid tribute to the dead, there was also that time you spoke in reverent and hushed tones about how awesome your father was and that just goes to show anyone complaining about the pissing and dancing doesn't know what they're talking about.


February 19th, 2015 at 10:56 PM ^

The follow-up made me appreciate the original post even more.  It was a good call to write this as it addressed all of the concerns I had after reading the original.

Well said.


February 19th, 2015 at 11:02 PM ^

Bear with me for my first post here:

As a long time lurker, a life long Michigan fan, and a 2014 graduate:

I experienced the dark times of Michigan football as an undergrad through the Brandon regime, 2010-14. I would like to say that for what it is worth, Brian's harse critique of DB is thoroughly justified.

Watching Michigan branded like a cardboard tasting pizza, paying 6 dollars for water, general admissions seating during my senior year (ugh), and seeing something I grew up loving being bastardized deserves every bit of contempt that these past "The Failure" articles bring.

To hell with 'professionalism' when describing what this man did. These articles give voice to what being treated like a consumer, rather than a student or a fan, felt.

"Don't beat a dead horse" well Brandon deserves this kind of vitriol as a send off. I envy every Michigan student who came before me and didn't have to endure this kind of patronizing environment.

I look forward to a new era in Michigan Wolverines Football!

Keep up the great journalistic work, Go Blue.... and obligatory HARBAUGH


February 20th, 2015 at 12:13 AM ^

the vociferous defense that Brandon received from the UM athletes to be another negative.  Not towards the athletes themselves.  It isn't their fault.  It just went to show the giant "Us (athletic department) vs them (everyone else) mentality that Brandon had cultivated at Michigan.  The athletes were his chosen ones and he showered them with gifts and praise.  Everyone else could go fuck off.  So yeah, the athletes loved him.  They only saw awesome Brandon. 

The rest of us got fucking asshat Brandon.  Well as long as they were CURRENT athletes.  Because the only people he cared about were the CURRENT (unconcussed) athletes.  Anyone who was gone (and who couldn't be used to fundraise) was dog meat.

Of course the athletes need to be priority 1A, but a good AD understands that there is more to athletics than just keeping the current athletes (and the richest donors) happy. 


February 20th, 2015 at 1:27 AM ^


Thank you so much for your blog and the energy you put into it. I, for one, love the amount of content I can get during non-sporting events due to this website.

I didn't post in the failure article because I didn't think it necessary but I did take offense to your emotionally driven conclusion. Sure, you can spin it off as necessary given Brandon's poor handling of the department for four years but sometimes it pays to take the high road.

How does it make an individual look when they are so readily willing to call someone an "asshole?" The other descriptive adjectives only further cemented a negative reaction to your article despite an agreement with the conclusion of Brandon's tenure. I hope you understand why the negative response and based on your quick rebuttal, the negativity toward your article is real.

Brandon's poor decision making, inexperience, and sacrificing long term gain for a short term buck did him in, no question. However, despite mistakes I would not question his desire and motivation to succeed. I don't know the man well enough to make a judgment call on his character and I seriously doubt you do as well.

I won't judge Brandon's character on a number of missteps where quite frankly he was trying to increase revenue. The e-mail in question where he told a fan to find another team wasn't addressed to you, so there is absolutely no reason to personalize it. He may have had a bad day or he may have realized that he was failing as an AD, who knows. I have poorly handled myself on certain days and I hope I am not limited to people judging my character based on that.

Brandon did hire Hoke and everyone is quick to defend Hoke's character. You still have an audience. I don't come here to read cursing, coarse descriptions, and hit pieces. I come here to get quality content on the current events and prestigous history of this proud program. I trust more information like the coaching tidbits and less bilergant aggressiveness toward that which you disagree with. Thank you again for your efforts.

Haywood Jablomy

February 20th, 2015 at 8:30 AM ^

except your take on the emails. Firstly, there wasn't just one email; there were multiple examples of him having a "bad day". Seondlly, he is wrong about his job description. I worked as an administrator in public schools and got berated by people with less education than my nine year old. No, it was not in my job description, it was understood.

 It was understood that I was the paid professional w/a responsibility to diffuse anger, lower angst and find win/win solutions when at all possible.  Particularly, with an unhappy stakeholder. There is always the we can agree to disagree on certain things route. His tone and language were very telling. The email to the husband wasn't addressed to me either but I can tell you when I read that I was initially flummoxed then mad. Really mad. 

Lastly, I worked with someone whose wife has been a long-time employee in the ad offices and can assure you the daily anxiety of who was going to get axed for what was real. Sounds like an asshole to me.


February 20th, 2015 at 2:27 AM ^

This post will probably be buried and I'm wasting my typing but...

Right when the major criticism of Brandon started I got to hear plenty of interesting things from the Brandon camp from my friend who works with one of Brandon's best friends and was a former UM football player in the early 1970's.

Brandon blamed everything on the board of regents and said it was divided based on party lines. He was especially critical of Denise Ilitch and Mark Bernstein. Brandon said Ilitch did things to thwart the positive actions he was trying to take for the university. For example, (and forgive me that I forget the exact details now) Brandon wanted to hold some sort of fundraiser I think in the Big House and have all the profits go to something specific for the school. Instead, Ilitch changed it so that it was about selling her jewelry and took a large cut of the profits from the event.

Brandon said this was a constant problem and wished that people understood that it's not him who is doing many of the things he was criticized for.

Even better....after the famous emails were reported, President Schlissel came into Dave's office and very directly said I want your resignation letter on my desk by this afternoon.

My friend didn't want me saying anything at the time but I figured enough time has passed that it's okay now. It's at least interesting to hear how Brandon defended himself.

Year of Revenge II

February 20th, 2015 at 3:39 AM ^

I thought the piece was great as a summation, a handy tabloid of facts from which any M fan or other person could draw their own conclusions, as inevitable as those seem to have to be.

Further, the insight in human behavior, both DB's and the author's own, makes the piece valuable, at least IMO it does.  Well-written besides.

That I have a personal connection, though once-removed, to DB made it even a little more fascinating to me---both the events as they happened, and the breadth of BC's article.

A little assertive, if not agressive, with the language and the conclusions perhaps, but I personally like that type of bluntness, so I very much appreciated and enjoyed it.

I was visiting my 84-year-old father, UM grad and big fan, in Naples, FL when the piece came out, and I printed out a copy for him. I'm sure he will enjoy it, along with his copies of The Woverine, in the months leading up to Utah.

Well done.


February 20th, 2015 at 6:01 AM ^

I have zero problems with the "Failure" post. Truth hurts sometimes.

The one thing about Brandon that sent me over the edge was the revelation that he was forcing people out of the athletic department for petty reasons just so he could replace them with "His" people.    Brian Cook said in one of his podcasts that longtime equipment manager John Falk was forced out, and now we know who likely did the forcing.

Nick Roumel, aka Counterpunt, also stated on this blog that his "firm represented a few" of the people who were fired by Brandon.  So we can assume that there was at least 1 wrongful dismissal lawsuit filed against the university.

Brandon got Brandon fired, period.