All U-M Eyes Are Now on Brandon

As the name “Rodriguez” sails quickly into the sunset, another name comes barreling in, splitting the maize-and-blue waters like a battleship.

Brandon.

Until Wednesday, he was a shadow, a looming character in the play. Today, Dave Brandon IS the play. All things go through him. He is not just the Michigan athletic director, he is the gatekeeper, the oracle, the latest to wear the ring in “Lord of the Rings.”

All that came before, he inherited.

All that comes now, he creates.

“My timetable,” Brandon told the media, “is go fast, but do it the right way.”

He might want to pick up the pace. Brandon spent more than 3 hours grilling Rich Rodriguez on Tuesday, then he said he still needed an evening to think it over. This proves Rodriguez is better at explaining than winning.

But in the end, Brandon fired his coach, which is what most fans expected and even more wanted.

His next step will not be as widely popular.

“It’s not a vote,” Brandon warned, and he should say it again. Because every fan has a favorite. And according to Brandon, every coach is in play.

Well. Every coach except Jim Harbaugh.

The candidates’ résumés

The ex-Wolverine whom nearly everyone had penciled in for the job apparently has less interest in nostalgic Saturdays than high-paying Sundays.

“This will surprise you,” Brandon joked in a conversation Wednesday afternoon, “but one of the requirements for this job is that you got to want to come to Michigan….

“I believe that Jim is headed to the NFL. That’s what he wants to do.”

One down, rest of the world to go.

I’ll give Brandon props for this: He already has been more forthright than most in the history of the Michigan football program. In Ann Arbor, they don’t just play it close to the vest, they hide the buttons.

But Brandon, in addition to chuckling over Harbaugh, also admitted:

1) He wants a man with head coaching experience, not some promising assistant. 2) He’s willing to pay top dollar, something new for Michigan. 3) He doesn’t mind taking some coach away from some other school.

“No,” he said, when I posed that point-blank. “I’ve had that done to me. I have 27 other sports. … The idea of schools coming after coaches is not a new concept.”

This means people like Les Miles are on the board, despite his status at LSU. So, in theory, is Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, despite a contract to 2020, and so, in theory, is every coach in America, with or without a job.

That’s a lot of candidates.

Assessing that many candidates will take time. So will Brandon’s admitted preference for being thorough and disciplined.

But time is not his friend. The longer this goes, the more unsettled fans become, the more candidates get gobbled up or turned off, and the more cards you have to play on the table. And don’t even start on recruiting, where every minute of indecision is used by your rivals as a sign of weakness.

But Brandon knows this is a long-haul decision.

He also knows it’s his.

A case for the defense

Fans should be encouraged that Brandon, still new to the job, bravely carved into the sacred cow of U-M athletics. He admitted football is the engine of the whole program and the front door of the school’s image.

He also remarked, when asked if the next coach had to be defensive-minded, “I want the ball boys to be defensive-minded.”

That made Bo Schembechler smile, I’m sure.

No one will be happy until a coach is picked. And in the days to come, names will shoot to the top and shoot back down. Let’s learn something from those who so quickly had Harbaugh with the whistle around his neck. Nothing is done until it’s done.

And nothing is great until it is proven.

Rodriguez – hailed as great when he got here – had plenty of chances to prove his talents. It didn’t happen. Now he’s off the hook and floating away, and a new man gets his chance in the hot light. Make no mistake. This is the Wolverines’ most important hire in recent memory. And Dave Brandon is, for the moment, the face of Michigan football.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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