Review- Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football


IMG_3786Outsiders who question how Michigan football warrants three best selling books over four short years are completely oblivious to the fervent devotion of its fanbase. And readers expecting a short tome cashing in on Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in Ann Arbor will be surprised by the scholarly work in Endzone.

Don’t be fooled, this book is about more than just football. Author John Bacon has chronicled how David Brandon’s reckless mismanagement ran the Michigan athletic department into the ground.

Brandon made a rookie mistake easily identified by any first year marketing student— he treats the hallowed Michigan brand like a commodity.

Instead of focusing on the distinct characteristics that made the Michigan football experience unique he added things that made it just like everything else. In came the big game uniforms (even if they didn’t fit properly), the role of the band was minimized in favor of piped in music (Eminem’s Lose Yourself might be awesome when its 4th and 1 at the goal versus Ohio State but it’s embarrassing versus Delaware State) while the students were squeezed out of their seats by a combination of price hikes and byzantine seating policies.

Brandon whose goal was to make every game a “Super Bowl” like experience for fans instead emptied the Big House of paying customers. For Michigan’s final season game last season the athletic department padded attendance with nearly 17,000 tickets— more than the amount of free tickets given out for the entire 2010 season. Michigan’s vaunted waitlist for season tickets was also zeroed out by a combination of poor team performance and athletic department marketing blunders like game tickets with soda purchase.

Brandon’s megalomania is on display as he inserts himself between his coaches and their players.

A good manager hires good people and gets out the way— but not Brandon who sits in on game film study with Hoke and his staff. Brandon apparently is unfamiliar with the observer effect. We can only speculate on how his presence negatively impacted Hoke and his coaching staff but one thing is clear— his behavior was atypical for an athletic director at a major university. 

Whether cutting the nets down after a critical basketball victory or sending scathing email replies to fans Brandon chose a path that caused his underlings and professional peers to question his methods.

Bacon repeats a story told previously how Brandon’s failure to be an impact player for Michigan during his playing career may have fueled his drive for business success. His return to Michigan and chest bumping with the team on the sideline gave him the acclaim he always yearned for. One wonders what lesson he’ll take from this latest very public failure.

What makes Endzone so compelling is that shows how the Shane Morris concussion-gate fiasco was a direct result of Brandon’s mismanagement of personnel. His atmosphere of fear resulted in experienced staff being shuttled out of critical jobs and being replaced with Brandon loyalists who weren’t up the to task.

His remaking of the athletic department in his image is the most depressing part of this book. Brandon may be gone but his employees live on. New athletic director Mark Hackett inherits a department populated with Brandon’s minions— like Yeltsin surrounded by apparatchiks who resisted the democratization of Russia.

Michigan has a mixed track record with business-minded athletic directors. Former AD Bill Martin filled coiffures beofr and hired basketball coach John Beilein before whiffing on Rich Rodriguez. Brandon’s failure is well documented in this book and now Michigan turns to another athletic director with no significant athletic experience.

Hackett has his work cut out for him.

Bacon also expertly details the orchestrations that brought Jim Harbaugh back to Ann Arbor.

Hopefully, the next book will detail Harbaugh’s march to the Big Ten title and National Championship.

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But until then this book gives fans a lot to chew on.

Michigan fans will agonize reliving the Brandon-Hoke era while opposing fans will enjoy an insider’s take on Brandon’s self immolation all the while hoping their programs don’t follow a similar path.