ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The University of Michigan is counting on a pizza mogul to run its multimillion-dollar athletics department.
Domino's Pizza Chairman and CEO David Brandon, a former football player for the Wolverines, was announced Tuesday as the school's new athletics director. The 57-year-old Brandon will take over in March with a five-year contract if university regents approve the move as expected on Jan. 21.
Brandon said a "very special opportunity" persuaded him to leave the venerable pizza chain.
"I can't think of very many jobs in the world that I would leave that great company and great brand for, but this is one," he said. "I'll work harder than any athletic director has ever worked."
Brandon will replace Bill Martin, who announced last year he was stepping down. Martin will serve as a special adviser to university President Mary Sue Coleman until his retirement in September.
"We won't miss a beat," Martin said in a statement. Coleman called Brandon the "ideal candidate" who will carry on the university's "tradition of excellence."
Brandon's base salary will be $525,000, with deferred compensation of $100,000 per year, the university said. He can get additional compensation by meeting financial, fundraising and other objectives. Martin makes $380,000.
Brandon will face challenges in his new job.
The school launched an investigation in August into allegations that the football program regularly violated NCAA limits on how much time players can spend on training and practice. The NCAA is also investigating and a report is expected soon.
"I don't live in fear of that," Brandon said.
The athletic department also has to find enough well-heeled fans and corporations to fill the luxury boxes at renovated Michigan Stadium. The boxes can cost as much as $85,000 per season.
Of course, all the fans are hoping to watch college football's winningest team attempt a turnaround. In the first season under coach Rich Rodriguez, the Wolverines lost a school-record nine games and then flopped to a 5-7 finish this past season after a promising start.
Brandon, who played for Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, gave Rodriguez what sounded like a vote of confidence.
"I am as concerned as everybody is, knowing we're a program that likes and needs to win," Brandon said. "We sing about being the champions, the leaders and best.
"No one wants to win more than Rich Rodriguez," he added.
Rodriguez said in a statement he was excited about Brandon leading the department.
"He has been a successful leader in business, and I'm sure all of our teams will benefit from his experience," Rodriguez said.
Michigan basketball coach John Beilein, who was part of Coleman's advisory group, called the hire a great move.
"There was no question in my mind after the interview process that David Brandon is the right fit to lead our program at this time and in the years to come," Beilein said.
Brandon has been chairman and chief executive of Ann Arbor-based Domino's Pizza Inc. since 1999. He was only its second CEO, succeeding Tom Monaghan, who founded the company in 1960 with his brother.
Domino's said Brandon will step down as CEO on March 7 and will serve as a special adviser until the end of the year. Domino's board -- of which Brandon is chairman until at least 2012 -- plans to elect J. Patrick Doyle as Brandon's successor.
Brandon previously was chairman and CEO of Valassis Communications Inc., a printing company whose advertising booklets were once inserted into nearly 58 million newspapers a week across the country. He spent 20 years at Valassis, including 10 as its CEO.
Brandon said his business background will help him manage an athletic department with a budget of more than $90 million, media and licensing agreements, and fundraising efforts under way in a sputtering economy.
"I view it as a selling organization for the entire university," he said.
A past finance chairman of the Republican Party, Brandon won a seat in 1998 on the university's board of regents and was re-elected in 2006 after considering a run for the Senate seat held by Democrat Debbie Stabenow. Brandon also headed Republican Dick DeVos' unsuccessful 2006 campaign to unseat Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Brandon said he is hoping to have a long career at Michigan, where athletics created "huge opportunities" after his graduation in 1974.
"I tell people I got two degrees from the university -- and one was from the Bo Schembechler school of leadership," Brandon said.