Starting any football season at Michigan with a 2-3 record would normally cause enough chaos to make the leaders of the Michigan athletic department endure sleepless nights without question. With Michigan trailing 27-7 into the 4th quarter of their contest against Minnesota, it was clear that coach Brady Hoke and potentially even athletic director Dave Brandon would have to endure a miserable week of questioning about their job security and the state of the program. They had no idea what kind of media firestorm would proceed next.
With 11:24 minutes remaining, Shane Morris took a huge hit from Gopher defensive lineman Theiren Cockran on an incomplete pass. Morris stood up from the hit visibly limping, appearing to re-aggravate an ankle injury suffered earlier in the game. However, after taking a couple steps, he seemed to stumble, looking as if he was struggling to remain upright. Based on the footage of Morris wobbling around after the play, it appeared from the naked eye that he was experiencing the symptoms of a concussion. The controversy stems from what followed.
Backup quarterback Devin Gardner was inserted into the game on the next play to replace the injured Morris. Three plays later, Gardner scampered for 11 yards and was tackled near the Michigan sideline. His helmet came off on the play and by rule, he was required to exit the game for one play. The Michigan sideline seemed unprepared for this scenario. It’s unclear whether third-string quarterback Russell Bellomny was prepared to enter the game. Somehow, despite his wobbly looking state, Morris re-entered the game to hand the ball off to Justice Hayes on the next play. As this confusion was playing out, the crowd of 102,000 was befuddled from the fact that Morris returned to the game after appearing concussed. That’s when the boos began showering down the stadium. Gardner returned in the next play and scored a touchdown later on in the drive. Michigan would go on to lose the game 30-14. As the 4th quarter progressed, the student section was heard clearly chanting “Fire Brandon”, referring to Dave Brandon. With a struggling football team, an attendance streak in jeopardy, and an angry fan base, it was clear that both Hoke and Brandon were going in for a rough week of media attention.
As the ensuing days passed, the story of Shane Morris’s re-entry into the game after sustaining a probable concussion took on a life of its own. When asked about Morris’s injury, Hoke publicly stated that under his knowledge, Morris suffered an ankle injury. He said, “We would never, ever put a guy on the field when there was a possibility of head trauma.” Yet images, gifs, and videos of the play spread quickly across social media, making coach Hoke appear ignorant and straight up incompetent for his inability to recognize Morris’s state. Even as media coverage ballooned, with Michigan taking center stage on national news networks and reporting sites, Hoke continued to maintain his stance, saying, “I don’t make decisions about who plays, who doesn’t play, as far as when there’s injuries.” Hoke reiterated that he never knew of any concussion suffered by Morris when the decision was made to reinsert him back into the game.
On Tuesday morning at 1am however, Dave Brandon, directly contradicting the comments of his head coach, released a statement acknowledging Morris did suffer a mild concussion. However, the statement did indicate that Morris’s diagnosis took place on Sunday and this information was not relayed to Brady Hoke before his Monday morning press conference, in which his above comments were made.
Meanwhile, the increased national news attention on the Michigan football program has highlighted the team’s struggles on the field even further. Now, even national media personnel are calling for both to lose their jobs, and the intensity of the speculation of their imminent firings has increased dramatically following Morris’s controversial injury.
University of Michigan students have seized the opportunity to voice their opinions on the athletic department. Last week, students gathered on the Diag to stage a protest requesting for the firing of Brandon. The protest drew local and national media outlets, as students chanted “Fire Brandon” and waved signs demonstrating their frustration over what they perceived to be an athletic department focusing solely on making money. Student ticket prices and seating policies have been a hot topic among students, as many are not happy with the rising ticket and food prices. One student organized a formal petition to relieve Brandon of his duties as athletic director. The summary of the petition states that, “policies and decisions of the athletic department have alienated the current student body. As a result, the university risks producing a generation of alumni that are disinterested and disengaged.” The petition, accessible to all current students and alumni, has received over 11,000 signatures.
University officials have remained relatively quiet, as the media firestorm has ravaged through Ann Arbor. Although he has addressed the actual incident of Shane Morris’s re-entry into the game, President Schlissel has not commented on Dave Brandon’s status. The Board of Regents doesn’t seem to be in any rush to respond to the growing unrest among fans. It is unlikely that a major resolution to the status of either Brandon or Hoke will arrive before the season ends.