One of the bigger pictures here, these last several months, and particularly since the OSU debacle, has been missed by the media and most fans. It is a brand-new, never-before-seen phenomenon, at the U of M, or any other major university: the College Athletic Director as MP: “Media Personality.”
Don Canham would cringe, but Brandon is a man for this Hi-Def, persona-as-intellectual-property age. His breasts are not enhanced, but the Hair is perfectly coiffed; the Tie always a silk-elegant, and always different, maize and blue variant, exquisitely knotted at the neck. A solid wool school-color Scarf at the game. A sort of Sally Fields “You love me!” approach to any microphone – or, now, eponymous Website, and Twitter account. (Twitter account! – for an AD! — C’mon, Mary Sue, catch up!)
Tom Goss, Bill Martin, Don Canham — all past UM AD shadow figures, mostly grumpy, “inside”, even dour characters. But not Brandon. There are some antecessors on the national stage, but none quite as carefully incandescent, or so set on building a cult of AD personality. Kevin White at Notre Dame (and UMaine, now Duke) had the same gleem in his eye when he could garner a media sycophant, and he showed a propensity for what he supposed at the time was the “bold, decisive move” — like signing Charlie Weiss to the most foolhardy – and expensive – College Coaching contract ever. And then scooting to Duke when it all falls apart.
But Brandon is breaking the mold; he’s made himself “The Story”, and he basks in the attention, now building tension which only “He” will be able to resolve in these coming weeks. It remains to be seen — depending on events and the outcome –whether the narrative has been, and will in the coming weeks be, propelled more by a legitimate swirl of substantive evaluation of merit, than Brandon’s own expanding appetite for Center Stage.
Brandon’s no solemn Jeremy Foley of Florida, or earnest, self-effacing Deloss Dodd of Texas — functionaries both who wield their power and influence behind the scenes, and who will speak only when spoken to. Brandon talks loudly and publicly with buzzwords new to the entire AD field — “Brand” and “game experience” and “consistency in approach,” and seizes odd venues to assure listeners that he is “taking responsibility” for past misdeeds which had nothing to do with him.
Rich Rod came unhinged, and drowned his chances in that Banquet bathos a few nights ago. But step back, look at what Brandon’s done, sitting on the other side of the dais there, giving to the press and fans at the banquet –and elsewhere –a cool, if not chilly picture of his relations with, and view of, his current coach. Rich Rod had better get out his “Mountain Mama” worsted-wool jockey shorts; for now this is a chilly winter of discontent. And Mary Sue might even be feeling the chill from the “whoosh” of Brandon’s surge past her on that national stage. You can smell his ambition: he’s going to be “bigger” than she ever was, in that cherished “public eye.”
Over these past few weeks, as Rich Rod’s view in his own mirror blackens, Brandon’s mirror sparkles back at him, at the expense of that ever-diminishing coach. There might have been a better way.