Welcome to the third and final installment of our Q&A with Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon. In this edition Brandon talks about the winged helmet, John Beilein, the Director’s Cup, and what it means to be a Michigan Man. 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.
In Part 2 Brandon discussed 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.
isportsweb: The Michigan helmet is often cited as a reason a kid considered coming to Michigan in the first place, how important has that piece of plastic and metal been to this program over the years?
David Brandon: We used to hear that a lot when I played here. Teams used to talk about that helmet, it’s so distinctly unique and the helmet almost creates movement by its design. Out there on the field it is a part of what defines us as a brand and a program. What’s interesting about this place is if you think of iconic connections that people have made with Michigan. You have the winged helmet, the block M, the Big House, the Maize and Blue. There is a lot of differentiation that has taken place over the years. You’ve got the Ohio State rivalry, you’ve got the Michigan State rivalry, you’ve got the Notre Dame rivalry, you’ve got the trips to the Rose Bowl, you’ve got Bo vs. Woody. There are just so many iconic, time tested things that make this place different. That is a lot to build on. That is a great history.
isportsweb: What is your overall impression of John Beilein?
David Brandon: John Beilein is a masterful coach in terms of the system that he has, the respect he has in the profession, the success that he’s achieved. I’ve had more people, whether they be NBA related or College Basketball related, tell me about how closely they watch what John Beilein does in terms of Xs and Os, because the guy has got a system and approach to the game that is truly special. He is a terrific guy. He is thoughtful in terms of the quality and the character of the people that he recruits and he cares a lot about the program. He brings discipline to the program. He is not going to put winning ahead of all else as many people in his profession do. That is a list of terrific qualities that John has that makes me feel very proud to have him at Michigan.
Two years ago the program was moving in the direction we wanted it to go. We got into the NCAA Tournament and felt really good coming into last year and last year was a huge disappointment. We just got out of sync and we didn’t come together and we didn’t get better and the teams around us did get better. We lost some close games and lost some momentum and unfortunately we really underachieved versus any of our expectations last year. This year we are coming into the season with a very young team, but I think John realizes that we’ve got to recruit better athletes that put us in a better position to be able to go out and knock heads in the Big Ten. This is a conference where size and strength is really important. We come up against huge, tough, physical athletes. In the Big Ten that’s the way the game is played and you’ve got to be able to in addition to everything else, you’ve got to have the bodies out there that possess the talent that afford you the ability to compete at that level. We’re still working in that direction, but we’re not there yet so for John it’s all about recruiting the right athletes and getting them to Michigan and putting us in a position where we can ultimately compete for championships in the conference and we can be a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament. That’s what he wants, that’s what I want, that’s what our fans expect, and that’s the direction we need to keep moving.
isportsweb: Do you think that is something he knew coming in? Or do you think he thought he could coach around some of those deficiencies?
David Brandon: I wasn’t here when he was coming in. I was observing as a fan. I don’t think anybody needed to tell John Beilein you got to have the players. John knows that, but I’m sure to a certain extent that John had to play in the conference and size up how these teams play. The style of play in the Big Ten is different than in the Big East. I’m sure there was a learning process for him as there is for any coach who comes into the Big Ten from outside the conference. Listen, he is a smart, experienced guy who came here to win and I have every confidence that he will.
isportsweb: How important is it that Michigan does well in the Director’s Cup standings?
David Brandon: I think it is one relevant measure. I’m a guy that believes what gets measured gets done. I don’t think there is any one measure. We look at our win-loss record. We look at how we fare against our key competitors. We look at our in conference play and our out of conference play and I’m not talking about football, I’m talking about all sports. We look at how many of our individual athletes go on to achieve national recognition. We look at national and conference recognition not only athletically, but we look at it academically. The Director’s Cup is just another one of those measures. It’s kind of interesting, it pools together the top 10 sports on both the men’s and the women’s side and it creates values to them. There are people who argue about the methodology; is it fair, is it rigged for Stanford and all that? Frankly I don’t care about all that. It is one measure that is out there and if we are being measured against a bunch of other schools, I want to beat them. I think it is one of those thing if you finish in the top 3 you have a party and celebrate and if you finish 25th you start bitching about why the methodology is bad. I don’t do that. It’s out there, it’s been out there for a long time and it’s one way of measuring success and it’s something that I keep my eye on while I’m keeping my eye on a whole bunch of other stuff.
isportsweb: Do you have any words of wisdom for the fan base that have been taking pretty steady abuse for the last couple of years from Buckeyes and Spartans?
David Brandon: [laughs] Nobody takes more abuse than people like me. Those of us that are former players we wear our M rings around, we were part of championships, we are used to being at the top of the pile. Those people who got tired of that are having a heyday now because they are having some success against us and they’re finishing higher than us. They know that we’ve been struggling. We are all getting our little needles from those people out there who are enjoying watching us struggle a bit, but that’s sports, that’s athletics, that is the way life works. None of that prevents me from being passionately committed to who we are and what we are about and I’m excited about the future and anxious to continue to work hard to build back all the things we want to see at Michigan Athletics. I don’t read a lot of the blogs and I don’t listen to the talk radio because so often the negativism is what creates ratings and draws a lot of people. Sadly, we learn in political elections that negative ads are so prevalent because they work and there is a large segment that gets entertained by dealing with controversy and negative. There is part of the sports culture that if there isn’t a negative they’ll create one. That’s fine, that is part of the business, part of the industry, I get it, go do it, but I don’t have to let that drag me down and I don’t have to believe all of it just because it is out there flying around the internet or if it is out there on the airwaves.
isportsweb: What does it mean to be a Michigan Man?
David Brandon: Probably the real answer is it’s a little bit like the Supreme Court said about pornography, you know it when you see it. I think everybody has a little bit different definition. My definition of a Michigan Man or Woman is somebody who is completely dedicated and devoted to this program and this department because of their connection whether it be because they went to school here, because they played here, or because they coached here. What I mean by complete dedication is that includes both in good times and in bad. It’s easy for everybody to be high fiving and having parties when you are winning championships every year and you’re beating everybody. It’s pretty easy to be classy and dedicated and loyal when everything is going right. You find out how tough you are when things aren’t always going right.
The one thing a lot of our former players and coaches and fans have experienced the last couple of years is new territory. It’s been a while since we really had our down cycle. It’s been painful, but to me the real Michigan Man, the real Michigan Woman, sees the big picture and understands this place. It doesn’t shake their loyalty, it doesn’t shake their passion, it doesn’t shake their dedication, it doesn’t cause them to question fellow team members and coaches and athletes. You’re all in. You believe that supporting our coaches, supporting our players is more important than taking potshots at people when they’re down. That’s my measure and I really applaud and appreciate those individuals who during these difficult times have continued to stay positive and be supportive and keep moving forward. That’s what I’m doing.