NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR (AP) — When Dave Brandon resigned as Michigan’s athletic director this week, the news did not come as a huge surprise.
There was one unexpected announcement, however, and that was the appointment of accomplished alum Jim Hackett as interim athletic director.
Hackett did not speak much at Friday’s news conference, and it remains to be seen how long he’ll be in charge and what major decisions he’ll have to make, but the clock is ticking. Michigan’s foundering football program was a major reason behind Brandon’s dip in popularity, and the school will have to make a decision on coach Brady Hoke’s future before too long.
“Boy, did I sense the passion of all the fans, the alumni, the supporters of our athletic programs in general, and football in particular,” said school President Mark Schlissel, who introduced Hackett. “I am not willing to address specific questions about the future of the football program, other than to say, like everything else we do at the university, we aspire to do it at the level of excellence.”
Like Brandon, Hackett played football at Michigan and brings a strong business background to the job. He is a 1977 graduate of the school.
Hackett recently retired as CEO of Michigan-based Steelcase Inc. He’s been a member of the board of advisers for the University’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and the Life Sciences Institute.
“My time as a student at Michigan introduced me to two people who would become lifelong heroes of mine: Early on it was Bo Schembechler, and the other was President Gerald Ford, whom I met later in his life after he retired from public office,” Hackett said. “Both of them would be quite certain that the future of Michigan is not in doubt.”
Hackett left Schlissel to field the obvious questions about how the timing of Brandon’s departure affects the football program. Michigan conceivably has time to hire a permanent athletic director before the end of the football season, but Schlissel did not give any indication that the school was ready to expedite the process with that in mind.
“I think I want to take as long as necessary to make sure that we find a person that matches the set of ideals and is a great fit for what I think is actually the best opportunity for an athletic director in the country,” Schlissel said. “So I don’t have a particular time frame, I have excellence in mind.”
Hoke is in his fourth year as Michigan’s football coach, and the team has declined steadily since going to the Sugar Bowl in his first season at the helm. There were still a fair number of empty seats Saturday when the Wolverines hosted Indiana for homecoming. Attendance has slipped to the point where there’s been talk that the program’s decades-long streak of drawing at least 100,000 fans each game at Michigan Stadium might be in jeopardy.
Brandon won’t be the one determining the future of Michigan’s football program now, but that evaluation remains the most important next step for the athletic department.
“I think football is extremely important to our community,” Schlissel said. “We’re sitting here wringing our hands that maybe there will be 95,000 instead of 110,000 people watching a football game, so it’s really important to a lot of people in lots of positive ways.”
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