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Bacon: For Michigan football's behind-the-scenes staffers, there is no off-season

two staffers in Michigan football locker room
Doug Tribou
Michigan Radio
The equipment staff tries to organize the gear as much as possible, so the players "don't have to think whatsover," says Head Football Equipment Manager Sonny Anderson.

Everyone sees the football coaches and the players when they go to a game at the Big House.

What we don’t see are the 67 full-time staffers that support them, almost around the clock. These include everyone from athletic trainers to strength coaches to nutritionists, videographers, and academic advisors, just for starters.

Credit John U. Bacon

Matt Dudek, Michigan football’s director of recruiting, told me, “There are 8,760 hours in a year. The media and fans see 60.”

So what do they do the other 8,700 hours?

The short answer: they work.

The staffers do everything from scouting 5,000 prospects to feeding 200 people three meals a day to taping three hundred ankles to tutoring Michigan’s 137 players in hundreds of subjects.

The strength and conditioning coaches arrive at Schembechler Hall at 4 o’clock in the morning. The athletic trainers are in the training room at 5:30, ready to work, and don’t leave until 9 p.m. The nutritionist works the same hours, while the video and communications teams are lucky to get a few hours of sleep on the weekends.

Because the coaches usually don’t leave until midnight, there are only a few hours a day when the lights are off in Schembechler Hall.

Ask a football coach, staffer, player, or parent what outsiders don’t understand about the football program, and invariably the first thing they say is: “No one has any idea how much work goes into this.”

Their favorite question is when people ask, “What do you do in the off-season?” The folks who ask this assume the staffers don’t have anything to do when the season is over.

Well, the staffers say, “during the off-season we cut our hours back from 100 hours a week to a mere 50” – which is still 25-percent more than the average American worker.

“This job is not for clock-watchers,” said Harbaugh’s executive assistant, DeAnna McDaniel.

If 9-to-5 is your thing, you wouldn’t be happy working at Schembechler Hall – or last very long.

Yes, the staffers are paid pretty well, often six figures – but those salaries don’t look so robust when you divide them by the hours they put in. And yes, there is a measure of glamour and prestige that comes with these positions – but that wears off even faster than the salaries.

As football communications director Dave Ablauf told me, “If you don’t like working with college athletes, you won’t like working here.”

Even the staffers are competitive – and with good reason. Losing affects everyone.

“Losing a game is such a heavy load,” McDaniel said. “But within about 24 hours, they’re working on the next game. No one is looking back. It’s not allowed!”

The reason is simple: if you spend your time griping about the last loss, you might lose the next one— which only makes everything worse.

“Winning is preferred,” McDaniel said. “Trust me.”

John U. Bacon is the author of six national bestsellers and most recently published Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football.

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
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