Dave Brandon and Bo Schembechler

The following excerpt is from John U. Bacon’s outstanding book, Bo’s Lasting Lessons

Dave was a former All-State quarterback from South Lyon, not far from Ann Arbor, a guy I recruited when I was recovering from my heart attack right after the 1970 Rose Bowl. I first met him when I was still in my bed at 870 Arlington Road, doing my best to recruit guys while still in my pajamas and a robe.

Dave’s problem was, we had Denny Franklin and Larry Cipa and Tom Slade at quarterback – all three of those guys started at one point, and all of them did a good job – so Dave moved to the defensive backfield to try to get some playing time. Well, jezz, who do we have there but Thom Darden, Randy Logan, Dave Brown, and Don Dufek – every one of them an All-American. Hell, Dave could have been the fifth-best defensive back in the country and not gotten any playing time on that team. So, after a couple years, he’s still third-string, and he’s getting frustrated.

Dave was a junior on our 1972 team, a team that went undefeated until we were upset by Ohio State, 14-11, in Columbus. That team was one of my best, but it was still a challenge keeping everyone happy and involved, even when you’re winning big every Saturday.

At a Monday practice in the middle of the season we had a lot of guys who hadn’t gotten in the game that Saturday. So we coaches decided to work with all those guys by making up a scrimmage we called the Toilet Bowl. We were just getting started when one of our assistant coaches tells Brandon where he was going to be playing in this little scrimmage. Well, Brandon apparently responded with something less than complete enthusiasm.

This happened on the opposite sideline from me, but the coach told me about this situation right away, because he knew I’d want to know. The second I hear this, I’m rushing across the field and in Brandon’s face, yelling and screaming, probably less than a minute after he mumbled his protest to the assistant. Boy, was Brandon surprised!

“I hear you’d rather not partake in our little scrimmage, “I said. He was too stunned to respond. “Well, I can solve your problem. Son, you’re going straight into that locker room, you’re cleaning your locker out, and you’re going home. You’re done playing football for Michigan. This is an honor you clearly don’t deserve.”

Whenever I did this, I’d call out for Jon Falk, our equipment manager, and I’d tell him, in front of everyone, to go clean out the guy’s locker that instant, so there wouldn’t be a lot of lapse between my decision and the consequences. Falk knows what he’s doing and that locker was always cleaned out by the time the guy got back to see it, which is just how I wanted it because when you’re the head coach, everything you do is being monitored by 124 other guys. There can’t be any wishy-washiness. I don’t want to have those guys get back to the locker room and see their buddy’s uniform still hanging there and wonder if the coach meant what he said or not. When you see a locker cleaned out, it’s pretty obvious to everyone what the consequences were. It kind of proves your point. He’s gone!

Now, I’ve gotta tell you. In my mind, Brandon was only suspended. I knew he’d be back, because there was just too much character in that guy to end his career like that. That man was not a quitter. And I knew that because I knew Brandon.

But in his mind, he’s been kicked off. He’s done. And he’s got to drag his sorry butt back into that locker room, and think about what he just did. Dave sits there in his empty stall for what he’s convinced is the last time, completely crushed. He’s got to think about what he’s going to tell his girlfriend, his dad and his kids someday, that he had the chance to play for the greatest university in the country and he blew it simply because he didn’t appreciate it. If you ask him about this today, he’ll tell you he was about to cry at that moment – and this is a tough guy! – and I guarantee you, he didn’t get a second of sleep that night.

The next day, Brandon calls to make an appointment to see me first thing in the morning, just like I knew he would. He’s scared, he’s nervous, he’s troubled – and he looks like hell. He apologizes for his conduct, and promises he’ll never be so stupid again. Of course, I take him back. I wanted him on that team. But you can bet we never heard Dave Brandon complain about any scrimmages after that!

What happened to Dave? As I’ve said, he’s now the CEO of Domino’s Pizza, as well as a regent of the University of Michigan. They say he might someday be governor, and you can bet he’s got my vote.

But even after he became a famous executive, that incident still bothered him. It was embarrassing, it was humiliating; it was something he had a hard time forgiving himself for. He’s even asked me, “How could I be so selfish, so negative, so weak?” Long after he’d become a millionaire, he still had never told anyone he’d been kicked off the team. It’s just not something you brag about.

Finally, at the first reunion we had for all the guys who’d played and coached for me, in 1989. Dave was sitting with his classmates around a table, and he figured he was a safe enough distance away from the incident to confess his sins. And you know what happened? After Dave spilled his guts, one by one, they went around the table, and everyone else had the same story. They’d all been kicked off the team at one time or another! They howled!

That same night, when it was time for introductions, Brandon goes up- and I’ve quoted this statement a hundred times- and he tells his old teammates, “I didn’t get in many games. I wasn’t an All-American like a lot of you guys, or even an All-Big Ten player. Hell, some weeks I wasn’t even on the All-Scout Team! But in the long run, I became an All-American in business.”

They all cheered. People, believe me when I tell you, that is what we were trying to teach when I was head coach.

If there’s a problem with the people in your ranks, you’d better know about it, and you’d better do something about it – fast! – or else it’s just going to get worse. And that’s what Dave Brandon does at Domino’s today. He makes sure everyone at Domino’s realizes how special it is to work for the top pizza maker in the world, that they never take it for granted.

And that’s something everyone in every organization must do if they’re going to be successful.


After learning of Schembechler’s passing Brandon made the following remarks; When I was in fourth grade, few things were more important to me than Michigan football. Although Bo Schembechler coached well before I was actively following football, the legacy he left at Michigan was undeniable.

When I was 10, his book “Michigan Memories” came out, and he went on a book-signing tour that made a stop in my hometown. I was ecstatic to find out that this coaching legend would grace my humble town with his presence. Unfortunately, his tour stopped at our Barnes & Noble on a Wednesday.

Much to my surprise, my dad let me skip school to go. After more than an hour, I timidly made my way to the table where he sat. A wave a terror hit me as I became star-struck by the man before me.

He could see I was nervous. He shook my hand and boldly said, “You look a little young to not be in school. Hopefully this is a one-time thing?”

I laughed and promised him I wouldn’t miss any more school – unless Lloyd Carr decided to come to town. Bo grabbed my shoulder and smiled, asking my dad if he wanted to get a picture of his son with the old coach. In that second, I could honestly envision myself as a grandson of Bo.

Although my time with Bo was short, I can tell you he has one of the most vivid and caring personalities I have ever encountered. Bo Schembechler, you’ll be missed.