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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said Thursday he prefers to wait until the end of the season before evaluating his coaches, suggesting Brady Hoke is safe for now at the helm of the school's storied football program.
"We feel strongly at the University of Michigan athletic department that coaches deserve every opportunity to compete through the season that they have prepared for and that their student-athletes are committed to, and then we evaluate coaches at the end of the season," Brandon said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We do that with every one of our 31 coaches. It's no different for football."
Brandon and Hoke have both received criticism for the handling of injured quarterback Shane Morris in last weekend's loss to Minnesota — and that's not the only issue facing the athletic director following a rough September. Michigan is 2-3 and showing little progress in Hoke's fourth season as coach. Attendance at Michigan Stadium has dipped and there was even a student protest this week calling for Brandon to be fired.
Hoke has been criticized for not immediately sitting Morris for the rest of the game after the sophomore took a hard hit in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 30-14 loss to Minnesota. Hoke said Monday he didn't see the hit on Morris, and that as far as he knew, that quarterback still hadn't been diagnosed with a concussion. Brandon released a statement about 12 hours later saying Morris had in fact been diagnosed with a probable concussion — as of Sunday.
On Thursday, Brandon reiterated that communication was a problem — both during the game when Morris was hit, and over the next couple days.
"When Brady went out at whatever time it was on Monday, we were still gathering facts and trying to create a clear depiction of the sequence of events that took place on that bench on Saturday," Brandon said.
Brandon has made some changes intended to have more staff watching for potential injuries, and the university president has weighed in, saying the athletic department will be transparent in figuring out what went wrong. Brandon said diagnosing injuries isn't the coach's responsibility.
"Coaches are supposed to coach, and medical staff are supposed to go over and tell the coach at any given time, 'There's a player on the field that shouldn't be out there. Get him off.' Or, 'We've just examined a player and they are not able to participate any more. We've taken away their helmet,'" Brandon said. "And that's all coaches need to hear, and that's their only responsibility in these cases."
Even if Morris hadn't been hurt, pressure on Hoke would have been substantial after an embarrassing home loss to open Big Ten play. Brandon called Hoke a "terrific football coach" on Thursday, saying he hopes fans of the program aren't about to give up on the season.
"Brady and his staff are clearly disappointed, as we all are, that after five games this season, we're not where we want to be or where we expected to be," Brandon said. "But what we need to do, those of us who care a lot about Michigan football — and we're passionate about it — is we need to support our players, support our coaches and recognize that we have seven and hopefully eight more games to play, before this season is over. And until this season is over, these coaches and these players have great opportunities ahead of them."
Michigan's mediocre record has been accompanied by a growing sense of malaise among fans. Empty seats in the area where students sit have become common. Brandon acknowledged that the decision to replace assigned seating for students with general admission in 2013 did not go over well.
"We put it in place, and it was just a complete failure," Brandon said. "And looking back, the mistake that we felt we made is, we didn't really engage with the student body and get their support and buy-in and clear understanding for what we were doing and why we were doing it."
Brandon said after that debacle, the athletic department made a point of engaging with student organizations, and the school switched to a modified program for student seating this year.
"We launched this program with great anticipation and excitement, because we now had the endorsement and the participation of the students, and we quickly learned that our season ticket sales for students went from 20,000 to 12,000," Brandon said. "So I look at that, and I go, 'Well, that's strike two.' That's another effort that we made that was well intended and we thought was going to help us advance our purpose, that sadly hasn't worked."
"My message to our students — and I met with our student newspaper this morning — my message is, we've got to get this fixed," Brandon added. "And everything's on the table."
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