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Michigan interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett describes his tenure at the University as a love story — one that begins with a phone call.
This love story, however, is coming to an end. Wednesday, Hackett and University President Mark Schlissel outlined the ongoing search for someone to fill the position on a permanent basis in a teleconference with reporters.
Hackett inherited the position from Dave Brandon, who resigned on Oct. 31, 2014 amid a storm of controversy surrounding Michigan quarterback Shane Morris’ mishandled concussion, increasing student ticket prices and reports of e-mails to disgruntled fans deemed by many to be inappropriate, among other factors.
“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.”
Hackett and Schlissel had discussed taking steps toward finding an athletic director earlier in the year, but decided it was best to wait until the end of the Michigan football team’s regular season.
With the regular season over, the search is ongoing, and will be facilitated by a committee chaired by Schlissel. The six members of the committee are Liz Barry, Schlissel’s special counsel; Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins; women’s soccer player Corinne Harris; Kevin Hegarty, the University’s chief financial officer; faculty athletic representative Anne Curzan; and Dr. Stefan G. Humphries, a former Michigan football player and the current medical director at Renown Rehabilitation Center in Reno, Nevada.
Schlissel, whose experience as provost at Brown University gave him little prior experience in dealing with big-time college athletics, acknowledged the stakes are high.
“I have to believe this is the best athletic director position in the county,” Schlissel said.
Hackett and Schlissel both stressed the importance of the former’s willingness to continue on an interim basis indefinitely. They said this will prevent the job process from becoming rushed and allow the University to be confident in its decision when one is eventually reached.
Schlissel said community outreach has already begun, and that input from coaches won’t be limited to Hutchins.
The University’s last three athletic directors — Hackett, Brandon and Bill Martin, who served from 2001 to 2010 — boasted impressive corporate résumés prior to running the Athletic Department. Schlissel, however, said candidates will not necessarily be limited to those who come directly from the business world.
“I’m looking for the best person for the job,” Schlissel said. “It is a $151-million enterprise. It’s a complex enterprise that requires somebody with business accounting and leadership skills and experience.”
Experience in athletics and an understanding of how college athletic departments function is another obvious criterion, Schlissel said.
“The bottom line is we’re going to hire a spectacular person,” he said.
Hiring a “Michigan Man” — a term Hackett said he wanted to do away with at his introductory press conference — is also not a necessity, according to Schlissel.
“I wouldn’t limit us to only looking at people who have had Michigan stories or connections,” Schlissel said. He acknowledged, however, that those with University ties will have an advantage in the selection process.
Hackett’s 13 months at the helm have proved favorable for Michigan fans. His most noteworthy accomplishments include signing Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh to a seven-year contract in Dec. 2014, agreeing to terms on a $169 million apparel contract with Nike in July 2015 and penning an open letter to Michigan football fans in the wake of the Wolverines’ last-second loss to Michigan State on Oct. 17.
Harbaugh, of course, has been a smash hit with Michigan fans. After a 5-7 finish in 2014, the Wolverines finished the 2015 regular season with a 9-3 record and are currently awaiting an invitation to a bowl game.
“There was clearly a hue and cry for our candidate that we got,” Hackett said of Harbaugh’s hiring and the football program’s subsequent turnaround. “After I look back at all that after a year, what I’m kind of mesmerized by is the amount of work Jim got done in a short amount of time, from hiring a staff to transitioning a fifth-year quarterback to putting together a very competitive team.”