In a move that was not a surprise, yet also not entirely expected, Dave Brandon stepped down as Michigan's athletic director last week. Whether you believe he stepped down on his own accord or not is of little importance, what matters is that the Dave Brandon era at Michigan is over. And with its end, a new realm of possibilities opens up for Michigan.
Brandon's list of transgressions is long and well documented. Brandon didn't just burn bridges, be obliterated them. Yet the greatest irony was that the person who essentially coined the phrase "the Michigan Brand" did so much to sully that brand, and in the process, alienate virtually every living student and alumnus of the university. Michigan's revised student ticket policy, unveiled earlier in October, was much too little, and far too late.
Yet Brandon's dismissal was far from assured. Michigan's president Mark Schlissel has been on the job just over three months, and coming from the Ivy League, is new to the world of big-time college athletics. Many wondered if Schlissel would be hesitant to make such a difficult decision so early in his tenure. Credit him for being decisive, in action and words, opening Thursday's press conference with, "This morning I accepted the resignation of Athletic Director David Brandon."
Brandon's dismissal (or resignation, if you insist), is just the beginning, as Michigan still has to identify and hire a permanent athletic director, as well as decide on Brady Hoke's fate. Over the next few weeks, much will be made of potential targets for Michigan's permanent athletic director, some with Michigan ties and some without. But Michigan doesn't have to make the perfect hire, as there are many good options. It just can't make the wrong hire. At least not again.
The news delivered during last week's press conference was a good beginning, but it's just the beginning for Michigan. The writing is on the wall, and has been for some time, for Hoke. After starting the season 2-4, including embarrassing losses to Notre Dame, Utah and Minnesota, it would be a major surprise if Hoke isn't let go at the conclusion of the season, a decision that likely that would have been made with or without Brandon at the helm. But with Brandon no longer calling the shots, any potential coaching search will be quite different.
Many argued that Brandon not only didn't deserve to make the next football hire, but wouldn't make the correct hire if he had the chance. But it goes beyond that. No coach worth his salt would have considered coming to Michigan as long as the Jerry Jones of the NCAA was running the athletic department. With Brandon no longer at Michigan, and the specter of his presence at press conferences and in film studies removed, Michigan made its next job search (assuming one is forthcoming) much easier.
There's no guarantee that Michigan will make the right coaching decision. And even if it does, there's no guarantee that the right coach will return Michigan to ranks of the elite. But with Brandon at the helm, the possibility of that happening was extremely unlikely. So in that respect, Michigan is in a much better position today than it was a week ago. And while future success may not be guaranteed, there is at least reason for hope in Ann Arbor, something that wasn't the case a week ago.