A Return to Fame for Michigan Football

. September 1, 2015.

Since 2008, Michigan football has stumbled on stage, drunk and incoherent, like Amy Winehouse in Belgrade: immensely talented, but lost and undisciplined. And like the “Fat Elvis,” even when they could perform, the Wolverines were a caricature of themselves—riding high before throngs of fans who adored them not for what they were, but for what they had done in the past.

Can the Wolverines rise from the ash heap—like Robert Downey Jr. or Brittney Spears? Or remain moribund—like Miley Cyrus’s singing career, after she lost the Hannah Montana gig and wig?

Blame it on bad management. Like Macaulay Culkin and his controlling stage dad, Michigan football has a right to sue everyone who led us into this mess.

Bill Martin, the former athletic director, has a mixed legacy. Certainly he possessed mad financial skills, and oversaw tremendous facilities improvement. But a bungled search for Lloyd Carr’s successor as football coach started a serious decline, culminating in assault allegations against Martin and his resignation.

However, Martin left us something to remember him by, like the jilted spouse who moves out, but hides dead fish in the crevices of the house. The football coach he left us stank to high heaven: Rich Rodriguez simply did not belong in Ann Arbor. He was construction worker Larry Fortensky marrying Liz Taylor, or Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his 13 year old cousin. He fit here like Randy Quaid’s character in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, staying in the RV in Chevy Chase’s driveway, emptying his septic tank at the curb. Rodriguez lasted three painful seasons before being mercifully relieved of duties by new Athletic Director Dave Brandon, the first and only good thing the ex-Domino’s exec did for the Wolverines.

Brandon went downhill fast, stumbling through a coaching search that resulted in the hiring of a badly overmatched Brady Hoke, and four more years of mediocrity, like the John Travolta film era that culminated in “Battlefield Earth.” Hoke wasn’t helped by Brandon’s Kardashian-like sideshow, distracting fans from what was actually happening on the field in every way possible. 

Like a true empty-suit corporate shill, Brandon failed to consult constituents and made colossal blunders. When he jacked up ticket prices and ended reserved seating for students, he ticked off so many fans he was forced to institute massive ticket giveaways, like the famous free ticket with the purchase of a bottle of Coca-Cola.  

When fans groused, he insulted them on email, cementing the destruction of his career like Michael Richards (Seinfeld’s “Kramer”) hurling insults at booing fans in his doomed comedy show.

And like that true empty suit, Brandon blamed others for his failures, yet somehow landed on his feet after running both Domino’s and Michigan Football into the ground (he is now chairman and CEO of Toys “R” Us, getting filthy rich in the process, and laughing at us all like Norma Desmond would have done if she’d actually landed a movie role instead of shooting Joe Gillis in the back).

That was Michigan football in December of 2014, lying bloody and motionless in a swimming pool, left for dead.

Enter three heroes

Left to right: University of Michigan names Mark Schlissel President last year, he hires Athletic Director, Jim Hackett who seeks out Harbough.

Two are so unassuming that I keep having to Google their names. Mark Schlissel was named as the 14th President of the University of Michigan a year ago, coming from Brown University, with no inkling as to the fanaticism that accompanies a major college football program. Nonetheless he talked to key people and made a brilliant Athletic Director hire, the equally modest Jim Hackett. 

Hackett handled the new coaching search like a brilliantly-executed Green Bay Packers “Power Sweep Right,” locking in on his choice for coach, and landing him with nary a misstep.

Everybody said Jim Harbaugh would never come to Michigan. The former Michigan quarterback star (’83-’86) starred in the pros and after retirement, embarked on a stellar coaching career that found success wherever he went: as head coach at the University of San Diego, Stanford, and the San Francisco 49’ers. Skeptics said he would never return to coaching college after doing so well in the NFL. Other doubters, recalling Harbaugh’s 2007 criticism of Michigan’s academic standards for athletes, said that even if he did return to the college game, he would never come to Michigan. They saw UM’s pursuit of Harbaugh as hopeless as Robin Thicke’s obsession with Paula Patton.

But Hackett never wavered, and when Harbaugh signed a contract it was as shocking as the reconciliation of Kobe and Vanessa Bryant. Since coming home to Michigan, Harbaugh’s been having a blast—messing with reporters at press conferences, running around shirtless in tag football games, and setting up satellite football camps in the heart of enemy territory—the backyard of the powerhouse Southeastern Conference. 

Fan’s rekindled excitement is palpable, still tinged with a bit of disbelief, like “is Led Zeppelin REALLY reuniting, with John Bonham’s son Jason on drums?” But after all the recent misfortune, it’s OK. Fans have permission drop their cynicism, and act like wide eyed kids at a One Direction concert. Let’s rock the Big House like never before and lead with our passion. 

Michigan’s back, and it’s time for the comeback tour. Get your tickets wherever you can.


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