Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football

Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football

by John U. Bacon

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The New York Times Bestseller

tells the story of how college football's most successful, richest and respected program almost lost all three in less than a decade - and entirely of its own doing. It is a story of hubris, greed, and betrayal - a tale more suited to Wall Street than the world's top public university.

Author John U. Bacon takes you inside the offices, the board rooms and the locker rooms of the University of Michigan to see what happened, and why - with countless eye-opening, head-shaking scenes of conflict and conquest.

But Endzone is also an inspiring story of redemption and revival. When those who loved Michigan football the most recognized it was being attacked from within, they rallied to reclaim the values that made it great for over a century -- values that went deeper than dollars. The list of heroes includes players, students, lettermen, fans and faculty - and the leaders who had the courage to listen to them.

Their unprecedented uprising produced a new athletic director, and a new coach - the hottest in the land - who vindicated the fans' faith when he turned down more money and fame to return to the place he loved most: Michigan.

If you love a good story, you'll want to dive into Endzone: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466891548
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/01/2015
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 117,755
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

John U. Bacon has written for The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, The New York Times, and ESPN Magazine, among other publications, earning national honors. He is the author of seven books on sports and business, including the New York Times bestsellers, Three and Out and Fourth and Long. Bacon is also a popular public speaker.
John U. Bacon has written for Time, The New York Times, and ESPN Magazine, among other publications, earning national honors. He is the author of several books on sports and business, including Bo’s Lasting Lessons (with Bo Schembechler), a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller. Bacon teaches at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan and is a popular public speaker.

Read an Excerpt


The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football

By John U. Bacon

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 John U. Bacon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-9154-8



If Dave Brandon had been named the athletic director of a school whose football program had recently joined the NCAA's top division, like the universities of Buffalo, Connecticut, or Central Florida, he would have had no tradition to contend with, and no loyalists to object if he did. But he was taking over the University of Michigan's athletic department, with a rich history going back to 1879 — and a faithful following that knew that history, and cared deeply about it.

It's as difficult to separate Michigan football from the university as it is to separate the university from Ann Arbor, and Ann Arbor from the Midwest.

The Midwest is so flat you can see three state capitals just by standing on a park bench. But the area comes with a set of beliefs recognizable to anyone who grew up here, moved here, or even visited the Great Lakes states. Chief among them is community, which developed not as some quaint trait, but to ensure survival. Hard work and teamwork are encouraged. Boasting is not. The stoic toughness of farmers and factory workers is the norm; the flash of the Fab Five, the exception.

The University of Michigan was founded in Detroit in 1817, 20 years before Michigan became a state. That simple fact came with a crucial consequence: Because the university's charter predates the state constitution, the University of Michigan has enjoyed more autonomy than any other state university, by design — although that autonomy has been threatened recently from an unexpected source.

In January of 1824, two men with checkered pasts, John Allen and Elisha Rumsey, bought 640 acres of land for $1.25 each and called the area "Annarbour," in honor of their wives' common names and as a means to market its bountiful trees.

"Our water is of the purest limestone," Allen wrote in a sales pitch, "the face of the country moderately uneven, our river the most beautiful I have beheld, and abounding with the most valuable fish, [and the] climate is as pleasant as 'tis possible to be."

I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, and I love it dearly, but I have to tell you that last one is a whopper. Ann Arbor is home to bitterly cold winters, surprisingly humid summers, and springs filled with so much rain, muck, and sometimes snow we occasionally skip that season altogether.

But falls in Ann Arbor are glorious — and that's what this town was made for. In 1837, Ann Arbor convinced the state legislature to relocate the state university from Detroit with a promise of forty free acres, land that today is called the "Diag." By the Civil War, the University of Michigan had attracted some 1,500 students, surpassing Harvard as the nation's largest university.

When you recruit thousands of single young men and women to a beautiful campus with little adult supervision, what could go wrong?

Just about everything, starting with drinking. As early as 1863, university president Henry Tappan urged residents to "root out the evil influences" of alcohol. Six years after the Civil War, President Erastus Otis Haven said Ann Arbor was "disgraced all over the country" as a "place of revelry and intoxication."

The second most-popular student vice that drove presidents crazy was violence, in the form of football — a game that requires a lot of land, and a lot of young men willing to crash into each other for a couple of hours. Where better to find those two ingredients than a college campus?

Given the amazing profits universities can make today from their football teams, it's worth noting that the game was invented by college students, for students. For decades, no one bothered calling it "college football," because there was no other kind.

The game spread from the Northeast, crossing the Alleghenies for the first time on May 30, 1879, when a band of Michigan students hopped on a train bound for Chicago to play the "Purple Stockings" from Wisconsin's Racine College and beat them, 1–0. Racine closed its doors eight years later, while the Wolverines soon became one of the nation's most popular attractions, worthy of the nation's largest stadium and an estimated 2.9 million fans around the world. I have traveled to forty countries on six continents, and in every single one of them I have heard someone shout, "Go Blue!"

Michigan's football team thrilled the students, the alumni, and the newly created sporting press. But it was not so enthusiastically received by James B. Angell, Michigan's longest-serving (1871–1909) and most influential president, who transformed Michigan into an internationally respected research university. He was alarmed by the popularity of the sport, and the unethical conduct of the teams, which would pull in just about any ringer they could — student or not — just about any way they could.

In December 1893, Michigan created a faculty-run "Board in Control of Athletics," which transformed the squad from a student-run renegade outfit to an officially sanctioned varsity team. This Board in Control effectively ran Michigan athletics for more than a century, until 2002. A few years later, after Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue and the University of Chicago all followed suit, they formed what we now call the Big Ten conference. It was no accident the presidents first named their new league "The Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives."

Those two bodies, the Big Ten and Michigan's Faculty Board in Control of College Athletics, were largely responsible for both institutions earning reputations for being among the cleanest in the country for more than a century.

Still, it was not enough for President Angell. The creation of the Big Ten, he noted, only raised the stakes, adding rivalries and titles on the line every weekend.

"The absorbing interest and excitement of the students," he wrote, "not to speak of the public — in the preparation for the intercollegiate games make a damaging invasion into the proper work of the university for the first ten or twelve weeks of the academic year. This is not true of the players alone, but of the main body of students, who think and talk of little else but the game."

If football distracted the students from their studies, it surely helped the university in ways President Angell would never have dreamed of — or admitted. Football may be irrelevant to the academic mission of a major university, but it can help the community connect and prosper. From Michigan's inception in 1817 to 1960, state taxpayers could be counted on to pick up — at least 70 percent of the budget. But if you were a farmer in Fennville, Michigan, or a factory worker in Flint, why would you care about the flagship university in Ann Arbor? For many Michiganders, the best reason then and now were the football, basketball and hockey teams. That's why Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon often referred to the Big House as the "front porch of the university." In fact, fully a quarter of those who visit the Big House have never taken a class at Michigan, and only a sixth of Michigan's 2.9 million fans earned a degree there.

Over the past five decades, the state has whittled down the percentage it provides of the university's budget from 70 percent to 4 percent — from most of it, to almost none of it. To avoid falling from its perch, Michigan has relied more heavily on research grants and private donations. The university now employs some 500 people in development, a hundred more than the entire College of Engineering has tenured professors.

I once told Jerry May, Michigan's director of development currently in charge of Michigan's $4 billion campaign, that he must have seen every Michigan home football game.

"No," he said, then added with a wink, "I haven't seen any of them. But I've been to them all."

By which he meant, the director of development attends every home game, but his back is turned to the field so he can talk with donors. Most major donors come to at least one game every fall to reconnect with old friends and the university itself, which makes football Saturdays some of the busiest days of the year for the development officers.

Football, even at a world-class research institution like the University of Michigan, still matters.

How it is run matters greatly, too, though the influence is often indirect. Unlike Harvard alums, who don't seem to care too much if the Crimson falls to the Elis, most Michigan alums care passionately about each and every game. Unlike fans of the football factories, where the "how" is less important than the "how many," the vast majority of Michigan's alums care just as much that the department be run the right way, too. Better to finish second with honor than first without.

When the Fab Five's Chris Webber had to admit, under oath, that he had taken some $280,000 from a booster, the Fab Five's two NCAA finalist banners came down, and few Michigan alums have argued for their return.

These two competing and often conflicting demands, you could argue, have long made Michigan's athletic department the nation's most demanding and difficult to lead.



In its 135-year history, Michigan football has produced 128 All-Americans, six Hall of Fame coaches, and three larger-than-life athletic directors. But the most important person in the history of the program might have been someone who never played a down or called a play, someone most Michigan fans have never heard of: Charles Baird, Michigan's first athletic director.

He was also the first public example of the Michigan Man — a term that requires some explaining.

Sportswriter John Kryk has discovered "Michigan Man" used in newspapers dating back to the 1890s, and it has popped up just about every decade since. But the traits now associated with the term were formed long before the term itself.

The coach Baird hired, Fielding Yost, stamped the term forever in one of his final speeches, as we'll see. But the phrase really took off in the popular press in 1989, when Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler announced he was firing basketball coach Bill Frieder on the eve of the NCAA tournament because Frieder had signed a secret deal to coach Arizona State the next season. Schembechler famously barked: "A Michigan Man will coach Michigan!"

Anyone coaching at Michigan had better be completely committed to Michigan.

After that, the phrase was used more often to beat somebody over the head than to underscore the values it's supposed to represent, and Michigan's critics often use it as a mocking insult. Since more than half the students and varsity athletes on campus are women, the term clearly needs an update.

Despite the temptation to chuck the well-worn "Michigan Man" phrase forever, there's still something to it. Everyone knows the values it's supposed to stand for: honor, sacrifice, pride in your school, and humility in yourself. A true Michigan Man is expected to be more devoted to his alma mater than to money — and proves it by turning down bigger salaries to go elsewhere, and giving back generously to ensure his alma mater remains "Leaders and Best."

But ultimately, you have to resort to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's description of pornography: "I know it when I see it."

Michigan fans know it when they see it, too. The football stars might be Big Men on Campus, but they're not supposed to act like it — in college or afterward. Despite Michigan's reputation for arrogance, I've rarely seen it among the lettermen. Almost all of them become the kind of adults you'd want to hire, to work for, to be your neighbor or your brother-in-law. The Michigan Man makes no claims to being a saint, but you want him in your corner.

A simple example: A few years after graduating, Scott Smykowski, a backup player under Schembechler, discovered he needed a bone marrow transplant, but his health insurance wouldn't cover all his expenses. That's all Schembechler needed to know to rally the Michigan Men from coast to coast. And that's all they needed to hear to raise $150,000 in just a few weeks — even though most of them had never played with Smykowski or even met him. That's what being a Michigan Man meant to them.

Despite the best efforts to kill it, the ideal of the Michigan Man is still alive, and helps explain a lot of what makes Michigan special, from the past to the present.

Baird might have been the first known specimen of the breed.

* * *

Charles Baird arrived at Michigan in 1890 to study literature, but Baird's passion was football. In 1893 and 1894, he was elected team manager, a job that entailed scheduling games, selling tickets, and keeping the books — not to mention promoting the team and raising the revenues to keep it running. Baird did just about everything that the athletic department today hires more than 300 people to do.

When Baird moved to Chicago, the students who replaced him turned the surplus he'd left them into a $3,000 deficit. In 1898, the team tried to bring Baird back by creating a position called, in various publications, "graduate manager" or "superintendent" of athletics, and promised him "complete control of all branches of athletics at Michigan." The players' pitch worked — and that is how Baird became the University of Michigan's first athletic director.

The Wolverines went undefeated that year, finishing with a thrilling 12–11 victory over archrival Chicago to earn Michigan's first Big Ten football title. That game inspired a music student named Louis Elbel to write "The Victors," and the money started pouring into the program. The university was apparently so pleased with Baird's work it created the title of "director of outdoor athletics" for him, with a salary of $2,000 — more than a full professor earned at the time.

Baird was more than a mere business manager, however. He perfected what might be the most important innovation in college sports: the fiscally independent athletic department. Without that, it's likely none of the virtues or vices we know so well today would ever have come into being.

When Michigan's peers followed Baird's lead, the Big Ten schools had the money to hire better coaches and build bigger stadiums, which shifted the locus of the game from the East to the "West." But like the great athletic directors who followed, Baird knew all the business savvy in the world can't save you if you hire a weak coach — or fail to support him.

The next year, 1899, the Wolverines finished 8–2, good for third place. When head coach Gustave Ferbert and two of his former players bolted for the Klondike gold rush, Baird hired former Princeton star Langdon "Biff" Lea to coach the 1900 squad, but his Wolverines finished 7–2–1, losing once again to the hated Chicago Maroons. It will come as no surprise to modern Michigan fans that their forefathers didn't think two-loss seasons were good enough for the Wolverines.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Some Michigan fans aren't happy unless they're not happy — and it started more than a century ago.

Throughout Michigan's history, whenever the Wolverines have hit a rough patch, the right man has almost always come along to save the day. Charles Baird hired a man who would become one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game, an eccentric, energetic, egotistical young man whose passion for self-promotion was exceeded only by his passion for the game he loved — and eventually, the university that gave him his chance.

Born in the foothills of West Virginia in 1871, Fielding Yost earned a law degree then set out to see the country by coaching football. Each year, from 1897 to 1900, Yost took a new job, beat the school's main rival, won their league championship, received glowing reviews, then packed up for his next job — from Oberlin to Nebraska to Kansas to Stanford. But by December of 1900 Yost was out of a job again.

When Baird learned Yost was available, he wrote to him immediately. "Our people are greatly roused up over the defeats of the past two years," Baird wrote, "and a great effort will be made."


Excerpted from Endzone by John U. Bacon. Copyright © 2015 John U. Bacon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface xi
Part I: 1879-2007 THE RISE
1. The Absorbing Interest 3
2. The First Michigan Men 7
3. The Canham Model 15
4. Stumbling on Stage 20
5. All the Eggs in One Basket 25
6. The Maize Halo 33
7. Rebuilding the Big House 36
8. The Prodigal Son 44
9. Searching Outside The Family 52
10. The Pizza King 59
11. The Ideal Candidate 67
12. First Impressions 71
13. Resorts and Rivalries 76
14. Rededicating the Big House 83
15. Internal Doubts 87
16. Fire 'em Fridays 93
17. A Watershed Week 96
18. Strike One 100
19. Holiday Cheer 104
20. Firing and Hiring 111
21. "This is Michigan" 118
22. The Color Wheel Blooms 123
23. "Pay up and Shut up" 126
24. Brandon's Vision Revealed 131
25. Let's Do It Their Way 137
26. Oh, What a Night 140
27. Uniformz, Buckeyes, and BCS Bowls 146
Part IV: 2012 WELCOME TO 2012
28. Coaching Exodus 155
29. Losing the Lettermen 161
30. Brandon's Master Plan 164
31. The Envelope 169
32. Plan B- and Plan C 175
33. Win Some, Lose Some 181
34. Strike Three 185
35. Full Steam Ahead 189
36. Hagerup Makes Up His Mind 197
37. Disrespect 203
38. The Students Fight Back 208
39. Hagerup Makes His Pitch 219
40. Marketing Mistakes 223
41. The Chicken Dance 229
42. Stumbling on and off the Field 233
43. The Students Win a Round 241
44. Hoke's Tipping Point 251
45. Early Morning E-mail 254
46. Wrong-Way Wolverines 258
47. CSG Showdown 263
Part VI: 2014 THE FALL
48. President Schlissel's Introduction 273
49. A Qualified Victory 277
50. O Captain! My Captain! 283
51. The Revolving Door 288
52. The Natives Get Restless 299
53. Fireworks 303
54. All Aboard the S.S. Boike 308
55. Track Tour 312
56. Getting Ready for Some Football 315
57. PostGame Drama 320
58. The Flame Gets Hot 323
59. Getting Nowhere, Slowly 330
60. From Sell outs to Hand outs 333
61. A Bad Week 337
62. The Flame Spreads 340
63. A Gallon of Gasoline 342
64. Sunday 350
65. Marathon Monday 353
66. The Brandon Rally 362
67. The "Save Dave" Committee 364
68. Seeking Redemption at Rutgers 369
69. Making a Stand 373
70. The Students Speak, and Everyone Listens 379
71. Revenge of the Old Farts 385
72. A Committee of One 388
73. I Suggest You Find a New Team 393
74. Last Words 399
75. A Call for Help 407
76. Team Harbaugh Gears Up 413
78. Plenty of Seats Still Available 426
79. The Longest Season 430
80. Moving in a Different Direction 436
81. Hagerup's Farewell 444
82. Searching for Signs 448
83. Landing Harbaugh 453
Epilogue 458
Acknowledgments 461

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