The waters in Ann Arbor have calmed down for the moment. Students aren’t protesting for Dave Brandon’s ouster on campus anymore. A large number of former players attended the Penn State win as a show of support for the current team. With the Penn State victory and the bye week, Michigan hasn’t lost a game in 18 days.
However, just because things appear calm doesn’t mean there isn’t something brewing below the surface. At last weeks Board of Regents meeting, new U-M president Mark Schlissel issued anything but a vote of confidence in Brandon and the state of the athletics department as a whole. “I was deeply disappointed in the department’s initial response and handling of the situation. We must be accountable for the facts, with response that is timely and takes responsibility for errors. Without this we break trust with our stakeholders,” Schlissel said in response to the Shane Morris concussion fiasco (remember that?).
As for the overall direction of the department? “I’m committed to taking the time to study the issues,” Schlissel said. “I’m being careful and deliberative.”
In Sports Illustrated’s latest edition of “The Inside Read,” Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans report that Brandon is “50-50” to survive in his current post, and that Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long could be a candidate to replace him.
Schlissel is a former Brown provost and has admitted his unfamiliarity with major college athletics. It stands to reason he won’t be a president doubling as executive athletics director, instead hiring a strong AD and giving him autonomy over that side of the house. Long certainly fits that bill. He’s the current athletics director at Arkansas, and previously served in the same position at Pitt. He got his start in athletics under Bo Schembechler, eventually working his way up the ladder to associate athletics director, thereby satisfying the requirement that there must always be a Michigan Man in Ann Arbor.
He’s also the chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee, making him the busiest man in college athletics through the next six weeks. It’s hard to see him taking that job before Dec. 7 (if he wants it at all) unless Long views it as a now-or-never, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Thamel and Evans also theorize that if Long were to go to Michigan, he could bring the new head coach in tow in the form of Bret Bielema. Bielema’s success at Wisconsin makes him one of college football’s leading experts in Big Ten football, with a 37-19 mark in conference play and three Big Ten titles. (For the record, Bielema’s buyout hovers around $2 million.) He’s also college football’s version of dark beer, an acquired taste that consumers love or spit immediately out of their mouths.
If Long were to leave, would Bielema be inclined to follow suit to avoid the risk of his new athletics director being a light beer, or even a wine man?
If, and that’s a capital if, Long took the Michigan job and brought Bielema with him, that would also set Arkansas in an incredibly deep hole. Bielema, in year two of a total roster and philosophy makeover from the Bobby Petrino era, is in the midst of slotting Arkansas into a very specific type of system. It’s not Georgia Tech-level specific, but it’s not far from it, either. Bielema is an iconoclast by design. It’s unlikely Arkansas’ hypothetical new coach would follow that blueprint, and thus the Razorbacks could be looking at their fourth coach in five years and fourth philosophy in less than a decade, all while riding a 16-game SEC losing streak while playing in the most competitive division in sports.
With all he has going on and the state it would leave Arkansas in, this doesn’t feel like the right time for Long to leave Arkansas and take Bielema with him.