(A letter of advice, with a primer, for Michigan’s new President, Dr. Mark Schlissel)
Dear Dr. Schlissel:
When you arrived at Michigan two months ago, you probably thought you would spend your first few months pondering it all, taking quiet walks through the Arb down to the old Huron, or perhaps languishing in those burnt-autumn afternoon suns, watching the marching band practice down at Elbel field, while you quietly mouth the unfamiliar lyrics to ‘The Victors’ and “The Yellow and the Blue,” shown on the cribsheet done-up for you by the Glee Club conductor.
But none of that happened. Instead, in mid-October a Minnesota lineman clobbered Michigan back-up quarterback Shane Morris with a shot to the head. Morris wobbled weakly, clutching his lineman so as to stay standing, and left the field — only to inexplicably return for the next play. A wave of indignation first rose from the TV announcers, and then morphed, within 24 hours, to a viral-eruption of the national Outrage Machine, and you found Michigan — and yourself — thrust, front and center, onto a national center stage of college football safety controversy.
And then The Preening Man everyone loves to hate — AD David Brandon — flung his own coach, like a flailing skinned chicken, across that same raging national stage and, by that Friday, Michigan students staged the first student protest held anywhere this millenium, on any topic — to insist Brandon be fired. Then MGoBlog outted Brandon as a dark internet troll and, of a sudden, Brandon’s now off listing his mother’s hearing aids for sale on Ebay, and you’re left with a fill-in AD and a horrible team in that House Which Now Looks Too Big.
Welcome to Michigan. You are now riding the Mad Bull of college sports; more specifically, the Michigan Mad Bull. And you are riding within a rodeo ring with no ivy on the rails, which is to say that you were spot-on when you told the faculty last week that the Mad Bull tends to favor unqualified students who spend too much time on football, but that what you also told them — that spending your own time on athletics is a “sinkhole” – shows that you do not yet at all appreciate the rapaciousness of that savage beast you are now bucking, upon which you now teeter, and from which you are already in danger of serious injury. That Mad Bull can, and will, knock you Morris-wobbly.
So here’s a primer for you on the basic facts, characteristics and issues about that Mad Bull of Michigan college sports upon which you are now careening:
1. The Mad Bull wants wins.
2. Brady Hoke is one of the finest men you could ever want to meet.
3. Brady Hoke will — and should be – fired after the Nov. 29 Ohio State game.
4. The Mad Bull demands that a top-shelf coach must be hired.
5. No top-shelf coach will sign on without knowing who his long-term boss (athletic director) will be.
6. Therefore, a new AD must be first be appointed, to lay the groundwork for the hiring of that top-shelf coach.
7. The new coach would, ideally be in place by mid-December. He MUST be in place by January 1.
8. You have, therefore, five weeks to appoint a new AD and get a new coach in place.
9. If you don’t meet this timetable, the Mad Bull of college football will, most likely, eventually destroy you, because the next recruiting class will ‘tank.’ (If it hasn’t already — have you seen the list of four-and-five-stars who have “decommitted”?) And when a recruiting class tanks, the damage might not immediately fully surface, but it will within six to twenty-four months, at which time your entire tenure at Michigan will be in jeopardy. The Mad Bull of Michigan football can knock you Morris-wobbly.
YOUR LONG TERM ISSUES
10. The Mad Bull Wants Wins.
11. Michigan College Football is very popular entertainment.
12. College Football has been a very powerful promoter for schools for more than 130 years. Duke AD Kevin White calls it an “Institutional Advancement Tool.”
13. Michigan has used — and benefited from — this sports ‘Institutional Advancement’ Tool perhaps more (and for a longer period of time) than any school in the country.
14. College Football has also been a powerful “for-hire” promoter for the Institutional Advancement of third-party corporations since the 1920’s.
15. Michigan now performs as much “for-hire” Institutional Advancement for third-party corporations as any school in the country.
16. These school and for-profit third-party corporation Institutional Advancement functions might jar some Ivy sensibilities, but they describe, in combination with the #1 issue above (The Mad Bull wants wins), the major factors driving that Mad Bull you are now riding.
17. The Mad Bull wants wins and uninterrupted flow of money to schools and third-party corporations.
DO NOT MIX SHORT-TERM AND LONG-TERM ISSUES
Changing the presence, character or influence of that Mad Bull, who has been romping across Ann Arbor for more than 120 years, going back at least to when Michigan and Chicago paid $500 to an advertising agency to promote attendance at their 1894 game in Chicago, is a Long-Term project. If, perhaps, you want to mimic Robert Hutchins at Chicago in 1939, and move toward de-emphasizing football, then attempt that as a long-term endeavor. Appointing an AD, and hiring a top-shelf coach, are Short-Term projects. Do not mix the Long-Term issues with the Short Term issues. If you do, the Mad Bull will buck and dump you, and you will ride out of town on the same rail Brandon traveled. Fast.
This is not the time (as you say) “to take a bit of time” in searching for a new AD. Any effort to solve that knotted hairball issue of academic integrity, and the “real” role of football, cannot get in the way of the one-month mandate for hiring an AD and coach. Get the Short-Term task done, then work on the Long-Term one. The Mad Bull of Michigan football can knock you Morris-wobbly.
Copyright William S Wilson 2014