After firing Brady Hoke, hiring Jim Harbaugh and landing a reported record-high apparel deal with Nike, most Michigan fans would happily let Interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett drop the ‘Interim’ part of his title and simply take the job.
But just like all the decisions he has made at the position, Hackett is happy to take all the time he needs to make sure his decision on his future, whatever it is, is the right one.
“I’m not there yet,” Hackett said on Tuesday. “I know it sounds funny to you, but there’s no hidden thing. It’s working, so why mess with it?
“Right now, I’ve got more issues to tackle, so I’m focused on that.”
Hackett’s patience is a luxury afforded by a support staff that now includes former Oregon State Athletic Director Bob De Carolis. De Carolis — a former Michigan softball coach and athletics administrator from 1979-1998 — has retired to Ann Arbor after 17 years at Oregon State, and is serving as a senior advisor with no intentions of becoming the next Athletic Director at Michigan.
De Carolis is helping out with day-to-day tasks, such as ongoing construction at Michigan’s athletic campus, and is a part of a team of experienced assistants and advisors Hackett is delegating expanded leadership roles to.
“We have very clear ownership of aspects within the organization,” Hackett said. “It’s a little different than (predecessor Dave Brandon’s). I have a smaller team working for me, but they have bigger jobs.”
“They pray I don’t manage the day-to-day,” he added with a grin. “What we have is a perfect fit for my style.”
The system, as Hackett explained it to reporters on Tuesday, is what he called a ‘Point-of-View’ process. Essentially, whenever a task or problem arises, whichever employee has the most experience in handling the issue will take control, sometimes even giving orders to Hackett.
The result, according to Hackett, is an increased ownership and devotion to the tasks, along with visible acuity to the issue at hand.
“I’m not saying I’m above it all or distant, it’s just finding where is the best use of my time. Bill Gates used to use a phrase call ‘Bill Dollars,’ because where do you want to spend Bill Dollars over the course of the day in Microsoft? Where do you want to spend Jim Hackett’s time? Where can we get the most leverage from him, and what are his skills and gifts? There’s a lot of that around me that is much better handled by (fellow employees).”
But the elephant in the room remains. Eventually, Hackett will have to take ownership of the job, or pass it on to the next candidate.
Fan approval of the Athletic Department is evidenced by decade-high ticket interest and sales, but Hackett knows the circumstances behind both his arrival — when he replaced the resigning Brandon in November — and decision-making don’t indicate a successful long-term future.
“When I came here, (University President Mark Schlissel) had been on the job I think eight weeks,” Hackett said. “There was a sea of problems (at Michigan) that weren’t just athletics, but a lot of transitional pieces going around. In the midst of that, we’ve got the football program and I thought ‘With all that, the things you would need to know about somebody to make a decision of their permanence, we bypassed.’
“So it would be like a forced marriage, and what’s the probability that that’s going to live like my 39 years of marriage? So I said to the President, ‘If you’re OK, I’d like to put that off until we both think it needs more attention.’ “
Hackett has asked Schlissel to meet with him after the president returns from China, and has at least three more major projects that he isn’t ready to announce yet.
His mind isn’t made up about the future, but thanks to an enhanced support staff, it doesn’t have to be.
“You almost want the thing running better almost as if you weren’t there, because it means everyone around you is stronger,” Hackett said. “I want you to think about empowerment and growth as a virtue I get to bring to the organization. If the day I leave everyone says, ‘He asked us to do more and we were better,’ I’d be happy with a report card like that.”