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

Before the 2015 college football season began, talking about the “return” of Michigan football might have seemed a tad premature.  After all, the Wolverine’s biggest rivals, Ohio State and Michigan State, still appeared significantly better than UM and poised to accomplish much more this season.

But after three consecutive shutouts, and some rather mediocre play by both OSU and MSU, it very much feels like “Meechigan” football has returned.  Saturday’s game will either confirm or deflate this building perspective.

Despite the title, however, Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football by John U. Bacon is really about the rise and fall of Dave Brandon in the context of Michigan athletics.

Landing Jim Harbaugh as football coach is really the result of the University of Michigan realizing how far it has drifted and how unhappy die-hard fans and alumni had become. Significant leadership changes were necessary before landing Harbaugh was even a possibility.

In fact, the MGoBlog (the preeminent University of Michigan sports blog) review offered a bit of a back and forth on this issue before coming down on the side of “it really was all about Dave Brandon.”

Had Brandon been the only real agent in this story, Bacon’s book would be one more cautionary tale about empty suits. He’s not, and it’s not.

This is Michigan’s story, not Dave’s. Bacon got some extraordinary people to go on the record about what the hell was going on in there. But the book also carefully autopsies every safeguard torn down that could have prevented one bad scion from setting the estate on fire. More importantly, it details the actions and motivations of student leaders, university leaders, thought leaders, and football captains in rescuing the enterprise from the flames.

I agree that there is something bigger than Dave Brandon involved.  If not it could have just been a leadership book about how Brandon screwed up one of the most powerful “brands” in college athletics and one that he by all accounts loved dearly.

But it is the culture and history of Michigan that is the foundation of the rise and return.  Bacon has the access and understanding necessary to tell the story of how football inexplicably became disconnected from this culture and history and how events aligned to allow for a return.

MGoBlog again:

So all jokes aside, Endzone really is Brandon’s Lasting Lessons. Among the core Bacon books, Bo’s Lasting Lessons is the heart, Three & Out is a spin-off, Fourth & Long a companion piece, and Endzone is the sequel. It shows the difference between trying to stage Bo’s lasting lessons (e.g. getting a commitment from Hoke before talking money) and embodying them (e.g. Hackett’s handshake agreement and its 8-hour ordeal).

It teaches that loyalty out of love is greater than loyalty out of fear and that either is a weak substitute for morality. It teaches that candor is virtue, that authenticity is recognizable, and that a person or a program’s aspirations are every bit as important as their accomplishments.

[bctt tweet=”If you have a connection to U of M, Endzone is a must, and a times brutal, read. “]

If you have a connection to the University of Michigan, Endzone is a must, and a times brutal, read. Bacon’s contacts, sources, and understanding of the university allows him to tell the inside story and it is a compelling one.  Watching Brandon drive the car in the ditch is horrifying and page turning in a can’t look away fashion.  The incredible dedication of Michigan leaders, students, alumni, and fans which leads to the eventual hiring of Harbaugh is also compelling. I am not a graduate of the school but simply a lifelong fan of the football team and I found it educational and fascinating.

If you are not an alumni or far, however, it is still a interesting look at how leadership and culture work; and how they impact results in big time college athletics.  Leadership, marketing, communications, organizational culture, etc. all play a role in how Michigan football wandered away from its values and culture.

As Seth notes, albeit in brackets, the book did feel rushed and disjointed at times. Copy editing errors, repetition and choppiness undercut the story. Endzone could have been shorter and more powerful, IMO.  Your emotional connection to the university will play a big role in how forgiving you are about the rushed nature of the book.  For me it knocked it from a 5 star to a 4, but I could see those with less of a rooting interest being more critical.

But if the book isn’t rushed to press, the publisher misses the powerful tie-in of this season of football where Harbaugh is riding high and discipline, integrity, and loyalty are once again making Michigan, Michigan.

My Goodreads rating: 4 of 5 stars

(View all my Goodreads reviews)

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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