“Drive the Program” Q&A with Michigan AD David Brandon: Part 1

On August 27th at around 9:15am Joe White and I sat down with Michigan’s Athletic Director David Brandon in his office at Weidenbach Hall. This is the first in a three-part series of a Q&A with Brandon. In this installment Brandon talks about how things have gone during his first 6 months on the job, the influence his father has had on him, Rich Rodriguez, and what he would say to fans who are worried about the Michigan vs. Ohio State game being moved from the last week of the regular season.

isportsweb: How have your first several months of being AD met your expectations? What has been the most difficult part of the job? The most rewarding?

David Brandon, Michigan Wolverines, Athletic Director

David Brandon

David Brandon: The greatest reward is why I took the job in the first place. It’s working with the student athletes and the coaches and being a part of Michigan Athletics. This place had a profound impact on my life; it set me up to be able to do things and go places I would have otherwise never had the opportunity to experience.

So being back here and hopefully helping to open up some of those same kinds of doors to the student athletes that are here and continue to drive the brand and drive the program. Fix the things that need to be fixed and get better in the areas that we can get better. That’s why I came here and that’s what I’m committed to.

The toughest things about my first 6 months here, clearly I’ve learned that NCAA investigations are no fun. They are very time consuming and it’s hard to turn it into a positive. It’s just something you’ve got to slog through and we have. I’m proud of the fact that in my opinion we’ve conducted ourselves well and worked our way through the process. Certainly that’s a chapter that will be wonderful to close and hopefully in the near future.

isportsweb: Has that been a big percentage of what you’ve been doing?

David Brandon: No not a big percentage, but it’s time consuming. It’s a very long, laborious process that has an enormous amount of regulatory requirements and legal requirements and preparing for hearings and meetings and documents. It’s by design a process that you just don’t want to get yourself into. The NCAA does a terrific job of making that as painful as it can possibly be and if I were them I’d be doing the same thing. You don’t want to get yourself in a position where you have to deal with that and if you, do you better understand its going to occupy a lot of time and attention.

isportsweb: You have said that your father has been your most important role model. What are some of the traits he instilled in you?

David Brandon: The first thing my dad did for me and all of us in our family was to teach us how to work. We lived in a rural area and grew up kind of on a farm always had kind of second and third businesses going to try to improve our situation. My dad kind of taught me if all else fails you work harder than the next guy and that will get you where you need to go. That is how he has always conducted himself and that’s how I am so I’m translating that into this new job. I’ve never worked so hard in my life in terms of the number of hours and the amount of effort that I’m putting into this because it’s important and I want to get things right and so I’m drinking from a fire hose and trying to do a lot of things at once and hopefully get things in the right trajectory. So work ethic is a really important thing that I learned early in life that has certainly assisted me along the way and in my career.

I remember when I got my first promotion after my first year at Proctor & Gamble which is where I started out after I left Michigan. I called my dad to tell him I had gotten this promotion and I was going to be a boss and have people working for me, you know this was a big moment. I asked him for some advice. He said Dave you know I didn’t go to Business School or college. I never wrote any books and I’ve never been in the situation that you’re in, but my experience in life has taught me that if you simply find out how people want to be treated and treat them that way you are probably going to do alright. Fundamentally, that is how my whole leadership style, how my management style has developed, around what my dad told me. I observed that in the really strong and effective leaders that I had the opportunity to meet along the way and Bo being one of them. Bo had this uncanny ability to identify what the hot button was that was going to get the most out of an individual. He didn’t have one way of treating people. He would always modify the way he approached it based on the personality involved. So if he thought you were a kid that was going to react best by him getting in your face and challenging whether you were really a man or not, he wasn’t afraid to do that and that particular individual would react in a way that would make them better. Yet he would recognize in others that he could get more out of them by telling them how disappointed he was in the way that they were playing and that’s really what my dad was saying; all people want to be treated differently. They are all individuals, find out how they want to be treated and treat them that way. It was great advice.

isportsweb: Are you in a feeling out process with some of the coaches on how to do that still?

David Brandon: You bet, there are 27 sports here, which means we have 27 head coaches and God knows how many assistant coaches and so even though I’ve been here for a few months now and I’ve met everybody and had a chance to sit down with many I’m still well into the process of figuring out what those hot buttons are and how people want to be treated and furthermore of really having an opportunity to crawl inside the tent and get a sense for how these different coaches are thinking and feeling. I’ve spent a lot of time on football. I think it was Mark Twain who said if you put all of your eggs in one basket, you better watch your basket. As it relates to this business model and as it relates to Michigan athletics, I’ve said it many times, if our football program is not successful there is no way we can be successful as an athletic department. Football leads our success, so consequently I’ve been spending a lot of time my first few months preparing for the season, preparing the stadium, working through the NCAA stuff and really trying to get a connection with our coach and with our players and our program because it’s important.

isportsweb: How is that relationship with Coach Rodriguez going right now?

David Brandon: Terrific, we’ve got a great working relationship. We’ve spent a fair amount of time together. I’ve found Rich to be cooperative, supportive, and very respectful. When I tell Rich something has got to happen a certain way or we are going to move in a certain direction I’ve found him to be 100% supportive and good to work with. He is a good guy and a good coach.

isportsweb: Do you see any similarities between Bo Schembechler and Rich Rodriguez?

David Brandon: Yes, I would tell you that the intensity that Rich brings to the job and specifically to the practice field and sidelines reminds me a lot of Bo. Rich is a very intense guy, very demanding, high expectations. Very similar to what I remember in terms of how Bo approached leading the team and Bo had a system. He had a belief in here is the way you attack defenses and here is how you defeat teams and here is the formula for success and believe me Rich has a very disciplined approach to what you need to do, what those things are that you need to do to achieve success within the system of priorities that he set. The guy is a great coach. You just have to look at the record, things that he has accomplished with the teams that he has coached. He’s not a new guy. He has been a head coach for 22 years or something like that and he has been in coaching for longer than that. This is a highly experienced, successful, proven football coach.

isportsweb: What would you say to fans that are upset about the possibility of “The Game” (Michigan vs. Ohio State) being moved from the last week of the season?

David Brandon, Michigan Wolverines, Athletic Director University of Michigan

David Brandon

David Brandon: The first thing I tell them is it hasn’t been moved yet. The amount of misinformation that is floating around relative to what is going on in the Big Ten is really quite remarkable. People read something and they believe it’s fact. With all due respect to you guys there are a lot of people in the media who make a living throwing stuff out there not knowing if it’s really true or not, being provocative and trying to raise debate and they’ve effectively done that, but there are a lot of people who just accept it as fact.

The whole new model of the Big Ten is still something that is being deliberated and it’s being vetted among all the constituents that have a seat at the table and we’re trying to figure it out. What I’ve been and I’ll keep saying is get ready for change. You cannot add a team like Nebraska, go to a 12 team league, divide it up into two divisions, implement a playoff structure for those divisional champions to play for the championship of the conference and for at trip to the Rose Bowl,  you can’t implement all that and have there be no change. Every school, every program is going to experience some level of change. Nobody is going to get everything they want because if everybody did we wouldn’t change anything. Because a lot of people, what they want is no change. All I’ve been telling people is there are various scenarios if this happens here are the consequences if that happens here’s the consequences. I’ve made it really clear some of the perspectives that I bring to it. There are things that I think make a lot sense and there are other things that trouble me about various scenarios and I’ve been very public about it because I have no problem letting people know what my opinion is, but I am neither the commissioner of the Big Ten, nor do I get more than 1/12th of the vote. This is really a team exercise of trying to find consensus among a variety of strong leaders all of whom are trying to protect their own interests and we’ll see where it all lands.

isportsweb: Are we nearing any type of structure?

David Brandon: Sure, we’ve got to get a 2011 schedule. I think we took ours off the website, there are people out there with a 2011 schedule right now that is just wrong. Maybe their non conference games are set, but as it relates to the conference I don’t know who is playing who and when. That’s all got to be worked out. You know it is August of 2010 and we don’t know who we are going to play in 2011. That is pretty weird, we’re in a situation where we have to make good decisions. We can’t let the clock force us to make hasty decisions. We’re taking our time. We’re trying to get it right. We’re listening to fans and the opinions of all the experts who want to say their views on how they would do it. It’s all helpful, but at some point in time a leaders got to lead and we’re going to come up with whatever we think is the best balanced approach.

Click here for Part 2 of the Q&A with Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon

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