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With Connecticut athletic director Warde Manuel set to take over the same role at Michigan, interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett’s tenure is winding to a close.
In possibly the most productive 15-month stretch in Athletic Department history, Hackett oversaw the transition from Brady Hoke to Jim Harbaugh as football coach, negotiated a record apparel deal with Nike and extended basketball coach John Beilein's contract, among other initiatives.
Hackett, a former Steelcase CEO and Wolverine football player, returned to his alma mater at a time of relative instability and will leave the department in better shape than he found it. The Daily looks back at some of the highlights of his tenure.
Oct. 31, 2014: Dave Brandon resigns, Hackett named interim athletic director.
Amid mounting public dissatisfaction from students as well as alumni and donors, University President Mark Schlissel accepted Brandon’s resignation and announced Hackett as the interim athletic director. At the time, Schlissel said the decision was “in the best interest of student-athletes, the Athletic Department and the University community.”
Dec. 2, 2014: Hackett fires Brady Hoke.
Following a 5-7 season that included losses to Michigan’s three biggest rivals — Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan State — as well as defeats against Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers, Hackett decided it was time to let Hoke go.
In a statement, Hackett said: “This was not an easy decision given the level of respect that I have for Brady. He has done a great job of molding these young men, making them accountable to their teammates, focusing them on success in the classroom and in the community.
“I wanted to make sure that Brady received adequate time to exhibit the results that would come from his effort and I believe that Brady and our coaching staff had enough time to produce those results and unfortunately they are not there. In the end, I feel that moving in a different direction is the right decision.”
In the same press conference came his remark about the Athletic Department’s commonly used term of pride.
“I want to get rid of the word ‘Michigan Man,’ ” Hackett said that day. He did so to avoid restricting it to men, to leave Bo Schembechler’s original remark in context and to emphasize the selflessness that goes along with the term.
And thus began a coaching search Hackett later revealed as being called “Project Unicorn.” You presumably know the result, but in case you don’t…
Dec. 30, 2014: Jim Harbaugh introduced as head football coach.
Harbaugh was the golden goose, the prized unicorn of Hackett’s search. After weeks of rumors both promoting and tempering the possibility of Harbaugh returning to Michigan, the former All-American quarterback was announced as the team’s new coach. In just two months, Hackett had already delivered the prize that will headline any description of his tenure.
At the time, then-redshirt junior center Jack Miller praised the deal, giving Hackett the bulk of the credit. “I knew it was going to be something special if we got it done,” Miller said at Harbaugh’s announcement. “Kudos to Jim Hackett for doing that. … We hit the home run everyone was looking for.”
April 1, 2015: Hackett holds fireside chat to interact with students.
When Hackett took over, the popularity of the Athletic Department was at a low point. Ticket sales to both alumni and students had plummeted, and numerous off-field incidents had plagued the department as the fall of 2014 wore on. Students were planning to wear shirts calling for Brandon's firing at the football game against Indiana the day after he resigned.
One of Hackett’s main achievements was restoring the pride in the Athletic Department and repairing relationships with the students. While he achieved a good portion of that effort just by replacing Hoke with Harbaugh, he also took the time to interact with students on their views at a fireside chat last spring.
At that point, Hackett was also in the process of evaluating the apparel deal that he signed three months later. He also expressed a desire to improve the fan experience at Michigan Stadium, making it less “corporate.”
“I don’t want to sound sarcastic,” Hackett said at the time. “What I don’t want is more entertainment that’s not football. I think that works in the pros, but we’re in college. I believe college shouldn’t be like the pros. It shouldn’t cost like the pros.”
Another aspect involved playing less piped-in music in the stadium and using more of the Michigan Marching Band. In September, band director John Pasquale said he had seen improvement in that area.
And, of course, the chat was the first interaction with students about Harbaugh’s hiring. The enthusiasm showed, and the results followed on the field last fall.
July 6, 2015: Michigan agrees to apparel deal with Nike through 2027.
In total fairness, this couldn’t have been a hard decision to make. Nike is an apparel juggernaut, and the Michigan brand is so valuable that the school had Nike, Under Armour and Adidas all competing for it. However, the deal Michigan got was quite impressive.
The financial figures of the deal were released later in July, totaling $169 million over the 15 years of the contract. Over the course of the contract, the money will be divided into $76.8 million in cash, $80.2 million worth of apparel and $12 million in up-front money last summer.
“After careful consideration, the right partner for the University of Michigan was Nike,” Hackett said at the time. “This decision, this partnership is about more than Michigan athletics; at the core, it is about our University community and it is about two great names reuniting for an opportunity that speaks to more than uniforms and apparel. … Nike is a recognized leader in its field when it comes to product innovation, and we look forward to future collaboration.”
In another part of the deal, Michigan will become the first football team to wear the “Jumpman” logo, part of the Jordan Brand, and the men’s and women’s basketball teams will also join the Jordan Brand family.
Oct. 18, 2015: Hackett writes an open letter to Michigan fans in support of the football team.
The day before was one of the low points of his tenure. Seeking its first win over Michigan State since 2012, the Michigan football team never trailed until the final second of the game. With 10 seconds to go, and with the Wolverines ahead 23-21, fifth-year senior punter Blake O’Neill dropped the snap on what could have been a game-ending punt. He took a hit when he picked up the ball, and Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson returned it for a touchdown to win the game.
Some Michigan fans took to social media to express their frustration by criticizing O’Neill after the game.
The following day, Hackett wrote an open letter on the Athletic Department’s website condemning those fans’ actions.
“Today, I awake to the shocking reality that our community who care so much about this program would send hurtful, spiteful and vicious comments to one of our students,” Hackett said. “To be clear, such comments come from a small minority, none of whom are reflective of our institution.
“The people I have been associated with my whole life around this fantastic program — some whom are living and some whom have passed on — would never, I repeat never, spread blame.”
Nov. 4, 2015: Hackett extends Beilein’s contract through the 2020-21 season.
Four weeks before the University announced it would start looking for Hackett’s replacement, the athletic director’s last significant action was signing Beilein to a two-year contract extension. The coach said after the deal that the extra security helps with recruiting players and assuring them that he will be the coach for the duration of their careers.
Beilein, who turns 63 next Friday, is in his ninth season at Michigan with a 182-115 overall record.
“John is one of the most respected coaches in the country and revered people within the university community,” Hackett said in a statement. “While he has accomplished many great things on the basketball court, it is his leadership, guidance and role as an educator that truly makes him one of our great ambassadors. We look forward to John continuing to represent the University of Michigan for many years to come.”
Dec. 2, 2015: Schlissel begins a search for a permanent athletic director.
In 13 months on the job, Hackett had accomplished more than anyone could have expected him to before he started, especially considering the circumstances he inherited. But Hackett’s status was always in the short term, and after a little more than a year, the end neared.
With the football season over, the apparel contract signed and no open coaching vacancies, Schlissel began another transition. He would head a seven-member search committee comprising Hackett; his special counsel, Liz Barry; the faculty athletic representative, Anne Curzan; women’s soccer player Corinne Harris; softball coach Carol Hutchins; Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty; and alumnus Stefan G. Humphries.
While announcing the search, Schlissel expressed his appreciation for Hackett.
“I could not have asked for more from a leader,” he said in a statement. “He stepped up at a moment of need and has served the institution with great distinction. Personally, he has been a pleasure to work with and I will always owe him a debt of gratitude.”
Meanwhile, Hackett, in one of his last public remarks as the athletic director, looked back on his time in the position as a “love story.”
“It began with President Schlissel calling and asking if I could help,” Hackett said. “I have another friend in business who said sometimes you do things for God and country. I love the University, and I felt compelled to come and help.”