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Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin announced this morning that he will retire from the University on Sept. 4, 2010. He officially informed University President Mary Sue Coleman of his retirement in a letter this morning and announced his intentions at an Athletic Department staff-wide meeting this morning at Cliff Keen Arena.
In his letter to Coleman, Martin said he will stay at the University until the fall of 2010 to see the completion of the $226 million Michigan Stadium renovation and expansion project. The project, which Martin spearheaded, began in December 2007.
“We’ve discussed my retirement for a couple of years, and I agreed to stay on to make sure the stadium project would be finished as planned," Martin wrote.
The Michigan Stadium project is the epitome of what will likely be Martin's lasting legacy -- building renovation and construction. Martin also oversaw the construction of the new $26.1 million football practice facility, the Al Glick Field House, which opened in August 2009. In addition, the regents approved plans in May 2009 for the construction of a $6 million soccer stadium.
Associate Athletic Director Bruce Madej said he was "caught by surprise" that Martin announced his retirement today, but knew that Martin was likely planning to retire after he launched his final project: improving the Michigan basketball facilities. The regents approved construction of a $23 million basketball practice facility in January 2009 and approved schematic designs in September 2009.
"If you read between the lines, after the (Michigan) Stadium renovations, he had one more project that he wanted to do," Madej said. "The basketball facilities that he got off the ground. Once that was set, I knew he had accomplished what he wanted to. To be honest, you know when I thought he would retire? January 2011."
Martin will also be known for his numerous coaching hires, which have included Michigan basketball coach John Beilein, who led the team last season to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years, and Michigan baseball coach Rich Maloney, who has led the Wolverines to three Big Ten titles and the NCAA Regional title in 2007.
“We were all kind of shocked,” Maloney said. “I mean, we knew at some point, this would happen. He didn’t have to have this job. He’s a very successful businessman, and he really took the job because he loves Michigan. And that’s been very apparent to me in working with him over the years — his love is very, very deep.
"I’m very appreciative he gave me a chance to come to Michigan, and this was a place where I dreamt of coming to as a student athlete and didn’t get the opportunity. And to come back a as a coach, I will always be indebted to Bill for that.”
When Martin took the helm in August 2000, the Wolverines were reeling from numerous off-the-field issues, including the investigation of a basketball scandal that involved four players -- Louis Bullock, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Chris Webber -- taking money from former team booster Ed Martin in the 1990s. The Michigan basketball program was placed on probation in 2002, and Bill Martin found himself partly responsible for cleaning up the stain on the Michigan reputation.
"First of all, and some people might not agree, hiring (former Michigan basketball coach) Tommy Amaker (in 2001) was a smart move," Madej said. "He brought continuity and strength of leadership that helped create some of the respectability. And then John Beilein has moved it to the next level. I mean, his record speaks for itself."
Beilein, who Martin hired away from West Virginia, said in a statement that Martin has provided positive support during the basketball team's revitalization.
"We are saddened with his announcement today, however, we are truly happy he has reached this point in his life," Beilein said. "He has accomplished so much in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan and throughout his career, we know he will enjoy this much deserved time with his family."
But Martin's reputation for selecting coaches may rest most on the success of football coach Rich Rodriguez, hired by Martin in December 2007. Rodriguez and the Wolverines finished with a 3-9 record in 2008, the worst season in Michigan football history, but are currently 5-2 in 2009.
"When does legacy kick in? Two years? Five? Ten? Twenty? Fifty?" Madej said. "Who knows what history will say? When Rich Rodriguez starts to compete for Big Ten championships, which I think he will very soon, what will that do for Martin’s legacy?"
Martin originally signed on in 2000 to be athletic director for five years. He wrote in his letter to Coleman that he originally planned to retire much earlier, but the support from University officials helped him stay on for what will be 10 years in August.
“When President (Lee) Bollinger asked me to stay on beyond my tenure as interim athletic director, I made a commitment to remain in the role for three years,” Martin wrote. “But with your support, the support of the Regents and a remarkable team in the Athletic Department, that original commitment has stretched into more than a decade.”
University Lecturer John Bacon, a well-known Michigan sports journalist and historian, said he thought Martin’s tenure at the University has been very fruitful for the Athletic Department.
"The budget went from a million dollar deficit to, now, it’s quite flush," Bacon said. "He has no doubt attracted some critics, as any AD will over that stretch, but it’s got to be said that the department is in much better shape now than when he found it."
With the search for a new athletic director already beginning, Coleman announced she will lead a small advisory group in the search, though she did not speculate on who would replace Martin.
“I will personally oversee the search for the next Athletic Director with the help of a small advisory group,” Coleman said in a statement. “We expect this process will take a number of months. With this advance notice, we have the opportunity to make a thoughtful and deliberate choice and to manage a smooth transition.”
David Brandon, a former Michigan football player who was a University regent when Martin was hired, said picking Martin’s successor should be left to Coleman’s discretion.
“It’s not a job to campaign for. It’s not a job that gets elected. It’s a job that (Coleman) needs to choose based on her criteria,” Brandon said. “Only Mary Sue Coleman knows what she wants to do and how she wants to do it.”
Brandon, the current president and CEO of Domino’s Pizza, is among the rumored frontrunners to replace Martin. Brandon was on three Big Ten Championship teams during this years at the University, though he does not have any experience as an athletic director.
However, Brandon does run a company with annual sales of $6 billion and has stayed very active with the University. He has volunteered time and money to help spearhead the campaign to build the University’s new C.S. Mott Women’s and Children’s Hospital and renovate the University of Michigan Museum of Art.
Asked whether he would be interested in becoming the University’s athletic director, Brandon would not confirm or deny whether he had any interest in the position.
“I am not campaigning for, against, involved or uninvolved,” Brandon said. “I’m doing what I do for a living and that is, right now, running my Domino’s Pizza corporation, and that’s a job that I love very much.”
Bacon, who is teaching a History of College Athletics class this term at the University, included Brandon on his list of three to four names he feels are contenders for the job. Bacon also mentioned current Miami (Ohio) Athletic Director Brad Bates and current University at Buffalo Athletic Director Warde Manuel as potential frontrunners.
Former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr, who stepped down from coaching in November 2007, has also been rumored to be a candidate for the job. In a statement this afternoon through the Athletic Department, Carr said he has "much admiration" for Martin's accomplishments.
“As far as candidates come, you hear the same 3 or 4 names floating around, but I don’t know if anybody has got an inside track at this point,” Bacon said.
-- Daily Sports Editor Andy Reid contributed to this report.