Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon resigns

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon resigned Friday, setting the stage for new leadership at the top of one of the nation’s most prominent athletic departments.

Brandon’s departure comes amid another disappointing football season and concerns over the school’s handling of everything from its concussions protocol to student attendance at games. Football coach Brady Hoke’s future has been in doubt for a while thanks to his team’s lack of progress, but Brandon also became a target of disgruntled fans and students.

”This morning I accepted the resignation of athletic director David Brandon,” school President Mark Schlissel said at a news conference. ”Dave feels that it would be in the best interest of our student-athletes, the athletic department and the university community if he moved on to other challenges and allowed the important work of the department and the university to continue without daily distractions. I agree with this decision.”

Schlissel officially took over in September and a month later said he wanted to do an in-depth review of Michigan athletics. Displeasure with Brandon and Hoke was already mounting at that point, with the football team struggling and the department under sharp criticism for its handling of quarterback Shane Morris’ head injury in a Sept. 27 game against Minnesota. Morris was allowed to play briefly after a hard hit.

Brandon’s resignation becomes official Saturday, and the university has agreed to pay him a total of $3 million through 2018.

The timing of Brandon’s departure gives Michigan a chance to find a replacement by the end of the football season, when a decision on Hoke’s status could come. But Schlissel indicated he would take as long as necessary to find a new athletic director.

Jim Hackett, who graduated from the university in 1977 and like Brandon played football for Michigan, was appointed interim AD on Friday.

”I’d like to thank Dave Brandon for his commitment to Michigan,” Hackett said. ”The athletic department is in great financial condition. We have new varsity sports that will continue to make Michigan a destination for aspiring student-athletes, and Dave worked extremely hard to modernize Michigan’s athletic facilities.”

Still, football has been the barometer of success at Michigan. The program for years was a power in both the Big Ten and nationally, but not anymore. The Wolverines are 3-5 heading into Saturday’s homecoming game against Indiana.

Schlissel indicated Hackett could potentially be empowered to make the decision on Hoke’s status at some point.

”Football, like all of our programs, are evaluated by the athletic department through the season, but particularly at the end of the season, so I would imagine that the interim athletic director will be intimately involved in charge of the evaluation of football,” Schlissel said. ”The interim AD is the athletic director until we hire a permanent AD. I feel comfortable hiring deans and provosts. I feel a little bit less comfortable – I’m not the guy to make a decision about a particular coach. We have an athletic program that I delegate that authority to.”

Brandon, a former university regent, became Michigan’s athletic director in 2010, stepping down as CEO of Domino’s Pizza Inc. and returning to his alma mater to take over the sports program. Brandon, who played football under Bo Schembechler, made a major change after less than a year on the job, firing Rich Rodriguez after three tumultuous seasons as coach.

Hoke was hired to replace Rodriguez and took Michigan to the Sugar Bowl in his first season, but the program has declined steadily since then. Hoke was sharply criticized for not immediately sitting Morris for the rest of the game after the sophomore took a hard hit in the fourth quarter of a 30-14 loss to Minnesota. Morris was later diagnosed with a probable concussion.

Brandon said communication was a problem – both during the game when Morris was hit, and over the next couple days. The school announced a change in protocol soon after.

The lackluster performance has been accompanied by a growing sense of malaise among fans. Empty seats in the area where students sit have become common.

Schlissel was asked if he was prepared to fire Brandon if the athletic director hadn’t resigned.

”I’m not at all prepared to deal in a hypothetical,” Schlissel said. ”But he and I had been working closely, as you might imagine, through the controversial events of recent weeks. We discussed iteratively the best way to set the athletic program in a stronger and positive direction, and we’ve been working closely together on that. It was Dave that mentioned and raised the prospect of his decision to resign.”

Brandon has acknowledged that the decision to replace assigned seating for students with general admission in 2013 did not go over well. That policy was quickly changed, and the school recently announced that it was cutting student ticket prices next year.

Brandon was not without his supporters. John Beilein – the school’s successful basketball coach who was hired before Brandon took over – called the AD a ”great leader” recently. Under Brandon, Michigan began playing night football games at the Big House, a move that proved fairly popular.