In the fourth quarter of the Sept. 27 football game against Minnesota, now former Wolverine football coach Brady Hoke sent sophomore quarterback Shane Morris back into the game after the player had sustained a “probable, mild” concussion.
In light of the backlash surrounding the incident, in addition to a muddled response from administrators in the Athletics Department, the University hired a public relations firm to help improve the department’s public image.
University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald confirmed Wednesday the University is working with Edelman, which, according to the group’s website, is the largest PR firm in the world.
The Detroit Free Press first reported the hire Wednesday.
The student body and University alumni became particularly incensed about the Morris situation when former Athletic Director Dave Brandon released a statement confirming that Morris had suffered from a “probable, mild concussion.”
Brandon said Hoke’s decision was the result of “a serious lack of communication that led to confusion on the sideline.” Elements of Brandon’s statement contradicted information Hoke had provided in post-game interviews.
The response resulted in widespread criticism, including a rally on the Diag and in front of University President Mark Schlissel’s house calling for Brandon’s resignation.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily following the public outcry, Brandon apologized for the mistake and announced plans to improve sideline communication by improving technology and stationing a medical professional in the press box to assess any injuries that could occur on the field.
“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 in the interview. “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.”
Brandon ultimately resigned from his post last month and Brady Hoke was fired as football coach last week.
According to the Free Press report, Edelman aided Pennsylvania State University in improving its public image after former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and eventually charged with numerous counts of sexual abuse.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also hired the firm after an internal investigation revealed that student athletes were not attending classes and counselors were helping to plagiarize class schedules and grades.
Duke University hired the firm in 2006 to improve public image after three members of the men’s lacrosse team were indicted on rape charges that were later dropped.
Fitzgerald said he is sure the University has used the firm in the past, though he could not remember when exactly. He said the University enlists the help of independent public relations firms on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s something we do from time to time,” Fitzgerald said. “We believe that there are times when getting an outside perspective is just the smart thing to do.”
He said Edelman will only advise the University on athletic issues for the time being. Fitzgerald added the cost of hiring the firm would not exceed $75,000.
Penn State paid the firm, along with La Torre Communications, a total cost of $2.5 million for a period of twelve months. UNC spent $1.65 million on the firm for the same period of time.
Spokespeople from Edelman were unavailable for comment.