In today's college football world, media savvy and perception are as important as reality. At Michigan that has meant athletic director Dave Brandon taking an active role as the front man of the program, but recent events suggest it may be backfiring on Brandon.
Think of all the times the cameras have captured Brandon down on the field, hovering around the locker room at halftime or taking over press conferences. It's happened a lot in the most-high-profile sports, but especially so in football.
Call it micro managing or just wanting to be a part of the program, but it smacks of someone who wants to be in total control all the time.
Remind you of anyone? Like, say, Jerry Jones and his constant meddling in the day-to-day operations of his Dallas Cowboys?
Just like the NFL team, Michigan has found a way to break the bank while failing to produce acceptable results on the field for the vast majority of the past decade.
It all adds up to why some are suggesting Brandon may be more involved than just as a figurehead.
The latest example of this came after Brady Hoke announced the firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges, and hiring of Doug Nussmeier in mere hours of each other, earlier this month.
It wasn't Hoke out there in front of the media taking the media's questions. Instead, it was Brandon out there talking and answering the who, what, where, when and why of how the whole situation went down.
Hoke was relegated to a few quotes in a press release sent out to the media, rather than being the one shaking hands and answering the questions. Instead, it was Dave Brandon running the show once again.
Maybe it's about keeping Hoke and his gravely voice off the mic, or maybe it's more about Brandon's style of leadership?
Whatever it is, it's gotten some wondering out loud just who actually runs the Michigan football program—and that's a problem all of Brandon's doing.
Was it Hoke making the decision on his own, or was Brandon slightly suggestive as to what needed to occur for him to stick around in Ann Arbor, Mich.?
To his credit, Brandon attempted to quell those rumors on Monday, telling WDIV-TV in Detroit, via MLive.com:
I have no idea where that comes from. Not angered by it, just confused how you could draw that conclusion. I’m not a football coach, I don’t have experience as a football coach, I’ve never run a football program and so how that conclusion was reached by anybody was beyond me.
Well, call me crazy, but the idea may have come from something you said following the press conference to announce the hiring of Nussmeier.
According to Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press, Brandon said this after the cameras went away:
My concerns are defined in the following words: 7-6. That’s not Michigan. You feel good that we have a bunch of young players and we were close and we were almost there in a lot of games, but that’s not where we need to be. That’s not where we want to be. That’s not where our fans want to be. More importantly, it’s not where our coaches and kids want to be.
We need to get Michigan back to where we all want Michigan to be. And that’s competing for championships and playing in big national games that have big national implications. That’s what we’re about.
Comments like that don't smack of a guy who doesn't want to be involved in decision making. Brandon added additional fuel to the fire with further comments on Michigan's season to Sharp:
Being close isn’t good enough. You’ve got to win those games. You’ve got to be in a position where you have to win those games. Brady is making the changes that he thinks will allow us not to lose by two points, but figure out a better way to win those games by two points.
Notice it wasn't Brady saying those words himself, as the head coach of his football program, but Brandon speaking on behalf of the program?
Had that last comment come from Hoke and not Brandon, we aren't sitting here today wondering who's really in charge in Ann Arbor.
There's a very simple solution to this problem—Brandon can sit down at the table next to Hoke and let the head coach speak for himself on a much-more-frequent basis.
But the harsh reality is, Hoke doesn't smack of the "Michigan image" in how he handles the media.
Don't confuse that with him being a jerk, it's just that Hoke is the epitome of a football coach. He's got a rough voice, is not long winded and he won't ever be accused of being artful with the English language.
Hoke would rather talk X's and O's than dollars and cents, and that's fine. The problem is, Brandon has publicly stepped over his coach in both realms.
There's no doubt he is also a bit awkward in big group settings from time-to-time, but awkward beats showing up your coach any day of the week.
If Brandon were looking for a way to stay in the spotlight, but not give off the Jerry Jones-vibe, he would do well to look at how guys like Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez and former Nebraska AD Tom Osborne handle themselves in public.
Both of them speak often to the media, but it's how they do it that matters. They are masters of deflecting attention to the coaches of the programs, and they also don't draw attention to themselves when it isn't needed.
More often than not, they stick to the big-picture issues and leave the day-to-day talking to the coaches themselves.
One could call it humility, and if Brandon wants to avoid people thinking he is Geppetto to Hoke's Pinocchio, simply allowing his coach to speak for himself would go a long way.
By letting go of control of every aspect of Michigan's "image," Brandon may be surprised to see just how successful that image campaign could work.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.