Welcome to Part 2 of our Q&A with Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon. In this segment Brandon discusses Michigan’s global brand, his favorite moments with non football or basketball teams, plans to install permanent lights at the Big House, and his thoughts on the 2010 Michigan Football team. In Part 1 Brandon talked 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: You mentioned at your introductory press conference that you wanted to build Michigan’s global brand and that it was important it be built the right way. How have you gone about this process and what can you do in the future to build Michigan’s brand?
David Brandon: Building the brand is a function of a lot of different things and primarily in athletics if you want to build a brand you have to play on the big stage. You have to be a program that is actively involved in those events and those activities that draw the most attention. For us that would be to ensure that our athletes and our teams are putting themselves in a position to compete at the highest level. So my Big Ten Championship hat there [points to hat on a shelf] for women’s gymnastics, my National Championship hat for gymnastics, winning the CCHA Tournament for Hockey, those are the kinds of things that you do to get yourself on TV, to get yourself in the national media, to get yourself out there in a way that you’re visible and perceived as being excellent at what you do. Clearly in the high revenue sports, football, basketball kinds of sports, hockey importantly, but to a bit of a lesser degree, the higher you can go in the national competition the more attention you’re going to get. The world watches and that has an impact on your merchandising, revenues, and reach and it has an impact on your licensing revenues and reach. It has an impact on the amount of impressions you can make through media coverage. It has a huge impact on the way that your events are covered by the national media and broadcast by the national media. It’s all about winning and competing at the highest level and it’s about investing in the brand.
Our basketball team is flying back today from a week in Europe. Playing around Europe and several venues, that’s taking our brand on the road. That’s giving our student athletes an opportunity to experience international travel. Several of them had to go out and find a passport because they had never had that opportunity. It’s good for the student athletes; it’s good for the coaches. Because under NCAA rules every 4 years you can take a trip like this and it gives you the opportunity to practice during the summer at a time when you wouldn’t otherwise be able to practice. It gives your team a chance to compete and prepare for the season. There is a lot of good news there, but it is an investment and costs money to take a traveling party, a basketball program, and put them on the road and go to Europe. We have to invest in our programs in such a way that we export who we are and showcase the block M.
They are a young team and the coaching staff is coming together with primarily new players. Obviously John [Beilein] is still there, but he really shook up the staff and we’re in a situation where getting those guys together and getting them a chance to play is a really positive thing.
isportsweb: Of sports other than football and men’s basketball can you describe one of your favorite moments with another Michigan team since you have taken over the Athletic Department?
David Brandon: When I got the text messages from Kurt Golder that we had won the National Championship in gymnastics and he and I were texting back and forth while he was riding back on the bus with the team. Those are the kinds of moments that you’ll long remember because that’s what it’s all about.
When I went into the locker room after we had upset and all of the conventional wisdom and prognosticators had our Hockey team dead, towards the end of the season we lost our captain, we lost our goalie, we were struggling and seemed to be a bit out of sync. Nobody gave us a prayer of even competing well in the CCHA Championship and we won that Championship game to earn the right to go to the NCAAs, going in that locker room with Red and being a part of that celebration is something that you just don’t forget.
It’s about winning, it’s about competing at the highest level, and it’s about championships. Those will be the moments that I’ll remember and cherish. Those will be the moments that the coaches remember and cherish and they’re certainly the moments that the student athletes are here to experience.
isportsweb: With the first night game being played at Michigan Stadium in 2011 are there any plans to install permanent lights?
David Brandon: I was an advocate of putting lights on the stadium when I was a Regent when we were putting the whole program together for the renovation of the Big House. I thought we should have put lights in then. I still think we are living in a world where the permanent lights make a lot of sense. The temporary lights don’t do a great job of lighting the field, they’re expensive, we wheel them in and they get in the way sometimes. We did under our new design put in platforms that makes it a little bit better than the old situation, but nevertheless we are playing games in November. We’re playing games where we need the lights; the night game, the Big Chill we’re in the situation where having the ability to light up that stadium and light it up well for high definition TV to me is a good project and its one that I’m working on.
isportsweb: Have you been able to observe any football practices?
David Brandon: Yes I’ve been over there several times. I don’t have time to watch practice much, but I’ll go over there for 20 minutes or an hour of practice if I know they’re scrimmaging or hitting then I try to get over there because then you can get a better sense for the speed and the improvement in the team.
isportsweb: How does the team look?
David Brandon: I think we have an explosive offense. We have speed on the field that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The tempo of the team, the foot speed of the team, the pressure that these guys can put on a defense is something that I think will be fun to watch. I think we are going to score some points.
Our defense is much improved based on everything that I can see, but I think it is harder to evaluate a defense when you’re in a team against team practice mode. You know the quarterbacks have red shirts on and in many cases you are kind of hitting until the point of tackle so it’s a little bit hard until you really get out there in kind of a full, all out game condition to really evaluate a defense. We’ve got a very good defensive front, we’ve got some very good linebackers with experience, great athletes. I don’t think there is any question that we will be better up front. We’ve got a real young secondary and obviously losing Troy Woolfolk was a significant loss because he was bringing not only some experience and some real athleticism back there, but he was a leader. But, that is what happens. You’ve got to understand most programs over the course of the season are going to get hit with a couple of those big disappointments in terms of injuries and problems. So who is going to step up and who is going to fill the gap. We will be young in the secondary, but there are a lot of great athletes back there.
Actually, my personal view is that we’re younger which means the coaches have to keep it more simple and I actually think that is a good thing. My view is that in many cases if you go back and look up the big plays we gave up last year it wasn’t because we were physically getting beat it is because we were thinking instead of reacting. We were out of position because we were trying to figure out where we were supposed to be as opposed to just playing football. If you’ve got great athletes and I think we do, then turn ‘em loose and let them react and just play football. As opposed to getting too hung up and hesitant as a result of trying to figure out ‘ok with this complex set of reads and issues where am I supposed to be’? That half a second that you’re delaying trying to figure out where you are supposed to be is, at this level, the difference between stopping a play and not stopping a play.
I think we are going to have to line up and be very fundamental and go after our opponents and be very physical. It will be fun to watch. It will be interesting to see how they develop as the season goes on. It is going to be a very interesting season of football.
isportsweb: Do you have any expectations regarding the football team?
David Brandon: I have high expectations. If you’re the Athletic Director at the University of Michigan and you don’t have high expectations then you are in the wrong job. If you’re a coach and you don’t have high expectations you’re coaching in the wrong place. If you are a student athlete who comes here, if you are a recruit or somebody who is here and your expectations are not high then you’re in the wrong place. Let me tell you something; fan’s expectations will always be high, the media’s expectations will always be high, we’re Michigan. So you don’t come here to hide. You come here to be on the big stage in the biggest arena and play tough games and be on TV every week and to be held accountable for your results. That is why you are here.
isportsweb: How big is next Saturday (UConn game) for this program and the school?
David Brandon: It’s big. I was taught as a student-athlete here that when you look at the schedule, Bo used to actually take the schedule and he would color the games in red, he called them red-letter games. Those were the games that as Bo described it, every game is important, but those games are more important. They became key games for us to achieve our goals as a team. What was interesting about that was Michigan State was always a red-letter game, Ohio State was always a red-letter game, there may be another opponent that was highly ranked that he would make a red-letter game and the first game was always a red-letter game. It doesn’t matter who you are playing, that first time you take the field to set the tone for the season there are a lot of unknowns, you haven’t played a game yet. Bo always felt that first game was a red-letter game, it’s exceedingly important. You either get off to a good start or a not so good start. So to that extent I would always tell you that no matter who you are playing, no matter what kind of team you’ve got, no matter what kind of momentum you bring into the game that first game of the season is always going to be a really important game.
The fact that UConn is as big and as tough as they are and people are picking them to win the Big East, you know a Top 25 kind of team. The fact that they bring all that to the game just makes it a bigger test than maybe we thought it was going to be when we scheduled them. That’s ok because our team is going to know when they take the field they are going to be knocking heads with a very high quality team and they are going to have to earn victory. UConn will not go out there and fumble the ball around and make a bunch of mistakes and hand us a victory. If we win we are going to win because we beat them. Players know that and they are practicing accordingly and they are preparing accordingly and that’s a good thing. We’ll see early on how we meet a significant test in our first game.