ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Brady Hoke was thrown under the bus.
That was the prevailing sentiment within the sports world when Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon released his statement late Monday night detailing the litany of errors that Michigan committed while dealing with the concussion suffered by sophomore quarterback Shane Morris Saturday.
Twelve hours prior to the issuance of that statement, Hoke stood before the media at his weekly press conference and acknowledged the communication gaffes on his sideline that led to Morris’ reinsertion into the game after taking a blow to the head. He then followed that up by saying Morris had NOT sustained a concussion and would have practiced Sunday evening had it not been for his injured ankle.
At the time Hoke didn’t know that information was faulty. Conversely, Brandon’s statement revealed that he’d had an understanding of the facts long before that.
“Following the game, a comprehensive concussion evaluation was completed and Shane has been evaluated twice since the game,' Brandon wrote. “As of Sunday, Shane was diagnosed with a probable, mild concussion, and a high ankle sprain. That probable concussion diagnosis was not at all clear on the field on Saturday or in the examination that was conducted post-game. Unfortunately, there was inadequate communication between our physicians and medical staff and Coach Hoke was not provided the updated diagnosis before making a public statement on Monday.”
How was such a disconnect possible unless Hoke was deliberately left dangling… unless he was purposefully hung out to dry? When faced with that question in a one-on-one interview with GoBlueWolverine Thursday afternoon, Brandon offered an explanation devoid of the self-preservation motive that many assumed drove him.
“My focus was to meet with the people who are accountable to the situation that unfolded on the sideline, and that was the medical team,” said Brandon. “Coaches are not responsible for diagnosing problems or determining an individual’s fitness to play. The only role that coaches play in that are when the appropriate person comes over and says, ‘We’ve just taken a helmet from player XYZ, and they are no longer able to participate.’ Then the coaches have to make plans accordingly. The team that was responsible for communicating and managing the health and wellness of Shane Morris on the sideline Saturday, that’s who I was spending time with.”
“Brady would not have added a lot of value to any investigation because it’s not the coach’s role or responsibility to manage health issues pertaining to student athletes,” Brandon added later in our interview. “That’s not just football. That’s all of our sports. In fact, we created a very different organizational structure a couple of years ago to make sure that trainers never felt like they were reporting to coaches and the doctors felt completely free from any pressure that could come from a coach as to whether somebody could play or not, compete or not, or come back into the game or not. We don’t want coaches to have anything to do with that. Coaches should coach. Medical folks should be making decisions about an individual’s fitness to compete. That was my focus. I wanted to meet with the people that had that responsibility. I didn’t hold Brady accountable at all for how that was managed.”
To whom Brandon assigns most of the blame for the dangerous missteps is now abundantly clear. There was a breakdown was in communication among the medical staff. The neurologist never made it to Morris to trigger concussion protocol. Because the need to do so wasn’t communicated to the athletic training staff, the athletic training staff evaluated Morris’ ankle injury and deemed it good enough to reenter the game. That is a reasonable assessment of why the failure occurred, but it still doesn’t explain why Hoke wasn’t informed of the concussion findings before his team practiced Sunday night, or before his press conference Monday afternoon. For that breakdown Brandon himself shouldered the blame.
“This is one of the embarrassing breaches of communication that took place. I’m typically not a person who gets at all involved in reporting of injuries to the coach. That’s usually the medical staff. There are voices that speak to Brady on these matters that are far more qualified and experienced than me. It would never be a case where I would be reporting to Brady the status of somebody’s medical condition. In fact, on Monday at the time that he was doing his weekly press conference, I was deeply involved in meetings trying to learn what had happened. It was not at all unusual that I would not be in a situation where I’m talking to Brady and preparing him for a press conference. That’s not what I do; but as we look back, the disconnect between the information that he had been provided when he had been provided that information and the things that I was learning as the day was unfolding on Monday, there was clearly a disconnect -- and that’s one of the things that we’ve apologized for because it shouldn’t have happened.”
With context comes understanding, and that explanation is plausible. While the perception of Hoke’s authority was adversely effected, that was not Brandon’s intent. He also refuted suspicion that he worked to influence doctors to temper Morris’ concussion diagnosis by insisting that mitigating terms like “mild” and “probable” be included in the statement.
“I’m not going to debate with a doctor,” Brandon said. “I would lose very quickly. I got educated by doctors. I got educated about the difference between possible concussion and probable concussion and probable mild concussion. There is a lot of language there that doctors work with every day that frankly are not my area of expertise. So I learned a lot, but I would lose every argument that you could ever have because I’m completely unqualified as a medical expert.”
An evaluation that is in Brandon’s purview is the one that must be done on Brady Hoke. The Wolverines are currently 2-3 and playing a poor brand of football as they head into their first conference road game versus Rutgers (the first game for which enhanced safety measures will be implemented). Michigan’s pronounced early-season struggles have caused many fans to clamor for immediate change, but Brandon’s approach will be more measured
“This is what we do at Michigan athletics. Again, we have 31 teams, which means we have 31 head coaches,” he said. “Actually, we have 29 head coaches because we have a couple of programs that have shared coaching leadership. The point is that the end of every competition season we have what we call postseason review, and I’m personally involved, directly involved, and we look at every aspect of that program. We look at recruiting. We look at academic performance. We look at on the field performance. We evaluate a great deal of metrics about how we measure both academics and athletes at Michigan. We look at the strengths of the team and weaknesses of the team. We benchmark against our key competitors. We evaluate the program. If changes need to be made, changes are made. If the program is on a trajectory that we have confidence in, that it is moving in the right direction, then usually what we do is pat people on the head and say, 'Keep it going'.”
So while his review of Hoke’s job performance will be greatly influenced by the won/loss record, it will be far from the only consideration.
“The job description of the coach at the University of Michigan is not do you win or do you lose. It would be a lot easier if it was. You’ve got academic responsibilities. You’ve got compliance responsibilities. You’ve got recruiting responsibilities. You are an ambassador in a high visible profile individual on this campus and you have responsibilities to the campus. There are a lot of responsibilities on those job description beside just winning or losing. Don’t think we don’t have high expectations here in terms of winning. One of our guiding principles here is, we work hard to win championships. We want to compete for championships; and every coach understands that and every young person who comes to Michigan understands that. When I have an opportunity to speak to recruits, and I do quite often, I make that really clear. But I also tell them that they are here to get an education, and I also tell them that they have to compete in the classroom, and I also tell them the way they conduct themselves in the community is equally important. There is a lot about the responsibilities of the coach of creating a culture that is consistent with what we believe in at Michigan, and winning and losing is an important part of it but it is not all of it.”
Stay tuned for part two in which Brandon shares his thoughts on why he is perceived as micromanager, on the fierce criticism he receives from fans and former players and his hopes of reconnecting with them, and more. In the meantime, to view part one of our video interview with Michigan’s Director of Athletics, press play below.
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