Dave Brandon speaks out on ‘mistake’ in Shane Morris controversy

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By Jen Calfas, Managing News Editor
and Greg Garno, Managing Sports Editor
and Alejandro Zuniga, Managing Sports Editor
Published October 2, 2014

Amid nationwide controversy of fans, alumni and students calling for his removal, University Athletic Director Dave Brandon has not considered resigning. Nor has he considered firing Michigan football coach Brady Hoke, he said.

Shahin and Brandon
University Athletic Director Dave Brandon sat down with an interview with Michigan Daily Editor in Chief Peter Shahin.

And he admits that the Athletic Department made a mistake on Saturday.

Two days after a student protest called for Brandon’s termination, he sat down for an interview with The Michigan Daily Thursday to answer questions that have been on the minds of members of the Michigan community.

The outcry followed the Athletic Department’s response to a concussion sophomore quarterback Shane Morris suffered in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s football game against Minnesota. Morris was left in the game for another play after taking the hit and was later reinserted for another snap, apparently not undergoing evaluation for head trauma.

According to NCAA policy, a player must be removed from the game immediately if he shows any sign of a concussion. But Hoke has maintained that he, other coaches and medical personnel did not see the incident occur in real time.

Brandon said he doesn’t know how Hoke eventually learned of the concussion. As of Monday afternoon’s press conference, the coach had claimed he was only aware of Morris’ high ankle sprain, also suffered against Minnesota.

“That was just another example of the failure of communication that took place between among of the doctors, all of the trainers — in this case, the head coach — to try to piece together what happened,” Brandon said.

Monday afternoon, Hoke said he had not met with Brandon since the game. However, Brandon said, “right after the game, whenever anyone’s injured, there’s immediate discussion, and the discussion really is centered around, ‘are they OK?’”

“The discussion I heard was that Shane was doing fine,” Brandon said.

The Athletic Director said he spent Sunday “getting further acquainted to what happened on the sidelines” without Hoke. And Brandon decided that, at least for the time being, Hoke will remain in charge of the football team.

As the person “responsible for Michigan athletics,” Brandon explained that he made the decision to release Tuesday morning’s statement, despite Hoke previously saying it would come from medical professionals. The Athletic Director said information learned throughout the day Monday led to the release being finalized close to 1 a.m.

“The appropriate person in athletics — and I judged that to be me — needed to make it very clear that a mistake was made,” Brandon said. “We own it, we recognize and we acknowledge that a mistake was made, we apologize for it — and I did — and we immediately committed that we would learn from it and make changes to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.”

New protocol

Brandon said he is moving forward to improve sideline communication to avoid a situation “where everybody isn’t on the same page.” As a first step, he said the Athletic Department will bring in technology the team has never had before, wiring in trainers and doctors to be in communication while the game progresses.

With 110 players on the sideline spread between the 30-yard lines, Brandon’s larger goal is to have his staff connected at in real-time to process everything.

“There are a lot of voices, a lot of people interpreting information, communicating information,” he said. “One of the things we worked really hard to fix, is to try to bring more protocol and more process around the whole communication side of this so that we don’t get into a situation where everybody isn’t on the same page.”

Brandon’s bigger plan is to insert a medical professional into the press box, separate from coordinators and “distractions,” where they can review each play in real-time and on a monitor broadcasting a six-second delay, all on top of a TV feed of the game and the stream it displays.

Michigan will implement the policy as soon as Saturday’s game against Rutgers.

“That provides a couple of advantages,” Brandon said. “He’ll be able to see the field and and see things occurring that are hard to see on the sideline. He’ll be wired to the sideline so that he can communicate with all those doctors and trainers in a real-time basis. He’ll have a television set that is always on a six-second delay. So what he’ll be able to do is watch the player live from their vantage point and then he can refer to the play on television.

“What I’ve learned, going through this process, is that one of the great advantages we can provide them, is to get them wired up in a way they can talk to one another without having to necessarily stand next to one another, because sometimes that’s difficult.”

But that doesn’t mean Hoke will be wearing a headset on the sideline as a result of the failure in communication. Brandon already believes Hoke’s communication is more prevalent than any other coach he has seen.

Hoke rarely wears a headset on the sideline, using an assistant behind him to relay any “information that is specific to him,” according to Brandon.

“That frees him up to better communicate better with players,” Brandon said. “And that’s just something that coach Hoke has had as a practice in the way that he coaches and the way that he communicates with his players from the very beginning.”

“We’ve taken some steps that are both innovative and are directly addressing the situation that occurred Saturday in hopes that something like that is not going to happen again.”

Student connect

As of Thursday, more than 11,000 people have signed a petition calling for Brandon’s removal from his position, and nearly 1,000 students marched through the Diag to University President’s residence Monday, demanding Schlissel to take action.

Schlissel, who has the power to terminate Brandon’s contract if he finds it necessary, and Brandon began communicating about Morris’ condition Saturday. Brandon said Schlissel was “interested and engaged” in understanding the situation, and discovering exactly what happened and why communication errors occurred.

Brandon added that the University’s executive officers — which would include Schlissel, University Provost Martha Pollack and E. Royster Harper, the vice president of student life — met this week as usual and discussed the situation in the Athletic Department and Brandon’s statement he issued early Tuesday morning.

For Brandon, though, he said he hopes to fix his relationship with students. The protest Tuesday, he said, hit him hard.

“That’s very hurtful,” Brandon said. “Anybody who thinks that they want groups to gather with the topic being criticism and sometimes very personal attacks on the work and the job. It’s hurtful. It’s hurtful to me, it’s hurtful to my family.”

“I’m not tone-deaf,” he added. “I felt very badly. My job and my personality is to the best of my ability, I have to fix that.”

Brandon also noted that he has received incessant feedback from alumni and donors. He noted that some of it was constructive, though he did not mention how much of it was negative.

This event is not the first to call for changes within the Athletic Department. Students have voiced concern over several initiatives introduced during Brandon’s tenure, including a General Admission seating policy, an uptick in student season ticket prices and an underwhelming 2014 football home game schedule. The department came under fire in January after The Michigan Daily reported former kicker Brendan Gibbons was “permanently separated” from the University for violating the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy. The incident calling for his removal occurred in 2009.

With a heavy amount of criticism, Brandon said he hopes to fix this relationship with students. Despite the outcry, Brandon characterized his relationship with students as “outstanding,” noting widely positive reviews of night games and other initiatives developed within the Athletic Department under his tenure.

“I think there are a lot of people who have decided to not like me who have never met me or have probably never met me or have never been in the same room as me, so I need to fix that,” Brandon said. “One of the things I want to do is to figure out ways I could connect more with the student body.”

One of the largest criticisms of Brandon throughout his tenure has been his attention to building the brand of the department, rather than honoring Michigan's historic athletic tradition. Brandon, who played football for the University in the 1970s, noted the differences between the gameday experience between then and now, which for the most part is due to the increase of college football on television.

“The most difficult decisions we make are balancing the commitment and respect we have for traditions while also recognizing the world is changing around us,” Brandon said. “...Everything’s different now. We compete with television sets.”

In an effort to make himself more transparent, Brandon will make a host of media appearances Thursday, and said he hopes to meet with students and media more often to build a better relationship. The most important part of athletics, he said, is the student-athletes.

“Michigan athletics cannot be successful without the community embracing this work, caring about student-athletes and caring about coaches, and supporting the work they do.” Brandon said. “We have 931 student-athletes and 31 teams, and they’re not always going to be winning championships.

“I’m just hopeful that with the controversy, personal attacks, and demonstrations aside, we stay focused on the real purpose and mission of the Athletic Department and the young people we care about.”