The Michigan Stadium press box will open at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, as it always does. But it won’t ever be the same again.
Last Friday, Michigan lost one of its most beloved behind-the-scenes figures when Dean Cook, a member of Michigan’s event staff who had become a fixture at football, basketball, soccer and other games in Ann Arbor over the past decade, passed away at the age of 58.
Dean wasn’t one of the more publicized faces of the Wolverines — save for a snippet in a Players’ Tribune article last December, his work rarely landed him in the limelight. That didn’t stop him from being one of the brightest personalities in the room, though. Dean never hesitated to strike up a conversation with anyone — fellow event staff members, reporters, broadcasters, coaches and players all came to recognize and appreciate his presence.
His impact on those people was undeniable. An outpouring of appreciation flowed on Twitter following his passing, with former Michigan basketball star Caris LeVert being one of the many people who joined in.
“RIP to my guy Deano,” LeVert tweeted. “Always had the same positive energy no matter what. Michigan man that will truly be missed!”
Sunday, the men’s and women’s soccer teams took the pitch sporting black armbands in memory of Dean. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Jackson wrote “Win 4 Dean” on her arm in black marker. “He was just a huge part of our team,” she said, “and we really miss him here.”
Most of us met Dean as sophomores, just starting out our Daily careers. Now, as seniors, we are struck by the loss of the man who knew our names long before any of us knew his. We were fortunate to experience Dean’s famous pre-game fist bumps both in the Crisler Center press section and at Michigan Stadium, and we’ve seen firsthand what kind of impact Dean had on the people he came in contact with in Ann Arbor.
Over the last week, we tracked down just a few of the many people Dean has touched to give them an opportunity to share their memories.
John Beilein, Michigan men’s basketball coach: Here’s what I loved about Dean: After every win, as he walked me around to all my (media) things for several years now, he had a swag. He had the same swag that I would have after a win. It was like he loved the win as much as I did. And if we lost — emotionally, we were in the exact same place after a game. That was always fun for me, to be able to talk with him and just have fun with him in those settings, in that environment.
Alma Davila-Toro, Michigan event staff: Dean may have taken his last breath last week, but he will always be remembered. A part of him made me feel at home because it reminded me of the men who raised me in Harlem. Dean’s swag will be missed on this team! His a-Maize-ing spirit will live on. Dean, you are and forever will be true blue, through and through! The Events Team loves you, Deano!
Matt Shepard, Michigan men’s basketball play-by-play announcer: At Crisler Center, the home announcers sit down the row from the visiting announcers. It’s a close-knit fraternity in the Big Ten. Though he never wore a headset, Dean Cook was part of our broadcast team. He was part of that fraternity, and every broadcast crew in the conference knew it.
Dean took care of us all. Whatever we needed — box scores, water, Diet Coke, Internet assistance, you name it — Dean either helped provide it or found someone who could help. I made sure every time a visiting crew came to Crisler, they knew three things: the closest bathroom, the media meal room, and I made sure they were introduced to Deano. EVERY crew left that building feeling they were Dean’s best friend. EVERY crew would tell me after their broadcast how their experience at Michigan was enhanced because of Dean.
He represented our broadcast team, Michigan basketball and the University with class and enthusiasm. His passion for Michigan was unmatched. When we visited opposing arenas, broadcasters would show us the same courtesies we show them in Ann Arbor, but they always had a caveat: “But we don’t have a Dean.”
Every home game, I hugged him and thanked him for what he did for us. And every road game, I wished he traveled with us.
His death has left Terry Mills, engineer Tony Butler and I with an emptiness that will be impossible to fill. Games at Crisler won’t be the same for us. We’ll miss his winks after a great Michigan play and his scowl when things don’t go the Wolverines’ way. But, most of all, we’ll miss his infectious laugh and contagious smile.
We loved you, Dean, and we miss you.
Tom Wywrot, Michigan men’s basketball sports information director: I don’t even know how to put it into words how much I’m gonna miss him. He was THE guy. I think I come off as a very happy-go-lucky person and I like to try to have fun, but he topped me. He always made every game fun. He was a shadow that I never really asked for, but he was always there and I came to rely on him so much. I grew so fond of him that if he didn’t come to a game, I was like, “Oh man, what am I gonna do?”
He was such an energetic and caring person — not necessarily for Michigan, even though we know his love for Michigan — but just the care that he had for people. Coach, the players, the fans, anyone around him — it was infectious, and it was something that I try to and will continue to aspire to. Every day, he made me think life is fun. This is fun, what I do for a living is fun. To me, heaven got the most fun person in the world. He’s going to be sorely missed.
I’ve known him for years, and I was just starting to get to know him more off the court or away from here. He was the same — every day, every place — and that was inspiring.
Dave Ablauf and Chad Shepard, Michigan football sports information directors: Dean was not just a valued family member of the staff that puts on athletic events at the University of Michigan. He was one of the friendliest individuals you’d ever meet, in any walk of life. He was a friend to everyone he came in contact with, and his passion and enthusiasm for where he was and the people he was working with became contagious. You may not have always been glad to be at an event, but if you were there, you were glad that Dean was there with you.
He bled Maize and Blue and had a tangible, infectious energy about him that can never be replaced. Dean treated everyone with respect — from the top-level national broadcast crews to the radio teams from Division II schools that we played in exhibition contests. From interacting with student beat writers and volunteer stadium cleanup crews to entertaining Hall of Fame broadcasters and celebrity guests, Dean was someone that we always felt proud to have representing Michigan Athletics.
One great memory of Dean was when the Crisler Center event staff organized a choreographed dance and performed it on the floor during a media timeout. Dean said he was nervous beforehand, but when it came time to dance, that energy we became used to seeing every day in his words and smile was visible for 12,000 fans at Crisler to see. Dean was known for his high-fives and giving pounds, but when he made it back up to the media section of the arena, we were all giving him high-fives and pounds.
He had a smile on his face every day, and never, ever felt sorry for himself, but his smile that day was as big as ever. Dean worked hard, but he loved and laughed harder. And we will miss him every day.
Nick Baumgardner, Michigan beat writer, MLive.com: Like a lot of people, I first met Dean during basketball games at Crisler. I’ve met hundreds, maybe thousands, of people working games at Michigan over the years. But no one like Dean. No one who took the time to get to know people the way he did. Reporters, staffers, coaches, players, fans, custodians, whatever — everyone knew Dean and we all adored him. I’ll miss his laugh, his kindness and his fist bumps. RIP, buddy. No press area at Michigan will be the same.
Brendan Quinn, Michigan beat writer, MLive.com: The doldrums of the basketball season are a cold, dark time. Everyone is tired. The days are long and everyone wants to see the winter come mercifully to an end. That’s why I loved seeing Dean every few days at Crisler. He seemed to live in a forcefield of positive energy. He’d hit me with it every game: “Yo, B!” That vigor. That punch of life.
Dean had it and owned it and shared it with everyone. I fed off it. He was a human pick-me-up, a reminder to find time to laugh and smile. I always enjoyed our pregame chats and busting chops. He was the best and he will be terribly missed by those who he worked to help, never asking for thanks. Crisler will be a colder place this season, but we’ll all be sure to keep Dean in the back of our minds.
He’ll still brighten the day.
Thank you for sharing Dean with us. I hope you find peace in knowing how beloved he was.
Regards, and deepest condolences,
Mark Snyder, Michigan beat writer, Detroit Free Press: Dean was an irrepressible man, full of joy and excitement. He saw the gamut of Michigan sports from extraordinary highs to the low points in these programs’ histories. Yet he was always energized, always optimistic, always confident. My favorite Dean moment came every February when he and the other ushers would do their yearly dance during one of the final home basketball games. Every year he’d joke that he hoped to make it through, and every time he had the biggest grin out there. Whether wearing a Santa hat or trying to follow the dance steps, Dean was always happy. That’s what I’ll remember.
Simon Kaufman, former Daily men’s basketball writer: I always liked covering games at Crisler the best. Going to games on the road was fun — a lot of arenas had better atmospheres or louder fans — but none had Dean. Dean made you feel at home. He did that with everyone. He made you feel like a friend even if he had just met you. Before every game, I looked forward to walking up to the press seating area and seeing Dean. “Si-MOAN!” he’d say. He knew everyone by name, and your name sounded better when he said it. And then we’d share a pregame fist bump. I think Dean knew he was cool, but he might not have known how cool he made me and others feel.
Daniel Wasserman, former Daily men’s basketball writer: I’ll admit that as news of Dean’s tragic passing spread, I was a bit surprised at the outpouring of tweets that came from all angles of the Michigan Athletic Department and press corps. And not because he lacked personality; Dean, or Deano as I knew him, had the charisma, the energy, the smile, and yes, the dance moves, to light up not just a room, but an entire Crisler Center. But with people as gracious and genuine as him, it never dawned on me that I was only one of hundreds of people that he touched — or fist bumped — every day he came to work. He was that special type that made everyone feel uniquely special. It wasn’t part of his job description. It was just who he was.
Dean loved Michigan and loved the people who covered it. He knew our names, asked us questions, wished us luck on our exams and made us smile. The little things. A fist bump on our way up to press row. A mid-game water bottle. A fist bump on our way down after the game. “I’ll see you next week,” he’d say, and always, “Go Blue.”
In my first game back to Crisler after graduating, I made a trip up to the press area, sections 201 & 202. I went to see old colleagues and friends from the beat: the Daily guys, Nick and Quinn, Rod and Snyder, and my man Deano. He was there, waiting with a fist bump, as if I had never left. I gave him a hug. I haven’t been to Crisler since; the next time won’t be same.
We can’t all be fast and strong or return to campus to coach our football team, but every one of us can learn a thing or two from Deano about what it means to be a Michigan Man.
Max Bultman, Daily football writer: The first time Dean called me by name and offered me one of his famed fist-bumps, I remember feeling so much more important than I’ve ever had reason to feel as a journalist. Dean had that effect on people. Whether or not you know who he was, he went out of his way to welcome you. The outpouring of sorrow after he passed is a testament to how impactful that was to so many. I’ll never forget his quick flash of a smile when he saw someone coming — it really could have been anyone — and how quickly he stuck out his knuckles. Even on the most tense, stressful days, it was enough to turn your mood around. I’ll miss that presence when I walk into the press box on Saturday, but I have no doubt Dean will be looking down on us, with that stadium-light smile as bright as ever, sticking out his fist from above.
Jake Lourim, Daily football writer: With any game-day experience at Michigan, there are so many feelings that go into making it an enjoyable experience. At every event where we were lucky enough to have Dean, his enthusiasm, spirit and compassion stood out above all else. I’ll never forget the first time he called my name out down press row — he’d do it with everyone, every game.
I always looked forward to those moments. It was amazing how Dean, all by himself, could brighten up the mood of any venue, no matter how big. Michigan has lost one of its most beloved figures, and the world has lost one of its kindest souls. The press box will never be the same without him. Thanks for everything, Deano.
Jacob Gase, Daily football writer: During my sophomore and junior years at the Daily, I spent two or three days a week in the press box at Crisler Center covering the women’s and men’s basketball teams. No matter whether I was covering an exhibition game that drew just a handful of fans or a sold-out matchup with Michigan State, the one thing I could count on was that Dean would be there to give me my pre-game fist bump.
Especially for a sophomore writer who felt in over his head covering his first beat, Dean was always a calming presence. His positive attitude, his constant presence, and his ability to treat everyone with equal kindness made me feel great every time I showed up at the arena. It’s not that hard to learn someone’s name in the press box — everyone literally walks around with their name and photo on a press pass around their necks — but the fact that he made the effort to read and remember my name made me feel important somehow.
Dean made an inexperienced 19-year-old feel welcome, and he made everyone he came in contact with feel like his friend. I’ll never forget that about him. Rest easy, buddy.
Kelly Hall, Daily football writer: I first met Dean during my sophomore year as a women’s basketball beat writer. I wish I had expressed it to him, but he was undeniably a bright spot of every game I covered at Crisler Center and Michigan Stadium. He knew my name before I knew his, calling me “Kel” without missing a beat just weeks into my coverage of dub hoops. He made me feel like family with his fist-bumps and continued interest in my life, and he taught me that a single person can brighten hundreds of people’s days with a simple greeting and smile.