Fielding Yost, Michigan’s first athletic director, built Michigan Stadium at a time when the idea of seating 100,000 people in a “hole-in-the-ground” stadium was seen as unnecessary and unprecedented. In convincing fashion, he proved his dissenters wrong by attracting a sellout crowd in the 1927 home dedication game. The stadium currently remains the most prominent symbol of Yost’s influence on Michigan athletics.
Click above to watch Rich Rodriguez’s comments on Bill Martin’s retirement.
Click above to view a slideshow with more photos.
Click here to read Martin’s letter in its entirety.
Though Bill Martin — who announced his retirement as athletic director yesterday — didn’t have to build the stadium from the ground up, the $226 million Big House renovation project that broke ground in 2007 is the epitome of what will likely be his lasting legacy.
With the Michigan Stadium renovations almost complete and the re-dedication ceremony scheduled for next year’s football season opener, Martin announced his Sept. 4, 2010 retirement in a letter to University President Mary Sue Coleman and during an Athletic Department staff-wide meeting in Cliff Keen Arena.
Martin, who championed the role of a nearly autonomous athletic director in a job where he stayed much longer than he originally intended, will leave his mark on Michigan athletics in a nearly unparalleled fashion. His legacy spans from quelling internal financial concerns to spearheading the renovation and construction of numerous athletic facilities.
In his letter to Coleman, Martin made it clear that with his most treasured construction projects now either approved or nearing completion, it was time to step down.
“We’ve discussed my retirement for a couple of years now, and I agreed to stay on to make sure the (football) stadium project would be finished as planned,” Martin wrote. “In the last few months I have had the chance to make significant progress on other issues that needed to be set on a firm foundation as well, including plans for the basketball practice facility, so I think it is now time to plan for the future.”
Associate Athletic Director Bruce Madej said he was “caught by surprise” when Martin announced his retirement. Madej knew that Martin was likely planning to retire after he launched the construction of the aforementioned $23 million basketball practice facility, scheduled to be completed in 2011, but said he thought Martin would retire in January 2011 instead of next September.
The regents approved the construction of the 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 — the basketball facilities that he got off the ground,” Madej said. “Once that was set, I knew he had accomplished what he wanted to.”
Martin also oversaw the construction of the Al Glick Field House, a $26.1 million indoor football practice facility that opened in August 2009. Other Martin-led projects have included the completed Alumni Field ($5.5 million) and Fisher Stadium ($9 million) renovations and the $6 million construction of a new soccer stadium, approved by the regents in May 2009.
But even while dealing with teams that haven’t needed as much hands-on leadership or massive facility overhauls, Martin’s business sense has been apparent.
“I showed him my idea of putting a balcony in Yost (Ice Arena), and he said, ‘It’s a no-brainer, we have to do it,’” Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson said. “I’d been talking about that for five years and nobody listened. But Bill Martin could see, ‘Look, this will pay itself off in three years and it’ll make the building that much more hospitable and add so much to the building.’ He’s been very supportive of anything we’ve needed in the hockey program.”
Over the past decade, Martin has also had a hand in bringing many of Michigan’s current coaches to Ann Arbor. But his reputation for selecting coaches may rest most on the success of football coach Rich Rodriguez, who was hired by Martin in December 2007.
Rodriguez’s hiring came after Martin had been intensely scrutinized by the national media for how he handled the coaching search.
Martin had received permission to talk to current Louisiana State University coach Les Miles after his Southeastern Conference championship game, but ESPN reported on the day of the game that Miles had already accepted an offer with Michigan. Miles angrily called a press conference to refute the rumors and later signed a contract extension with LSU, which left Martin to answer a barrage of questions relating to his interactions with Miles and his coaching search etiquette.
In the end, Martin hired Rodriguez, who led Michigan to its worst record in school history (3-9) in 2008. The team is currently 5-2 in 2009.
“We’ve had probably a lifetime of stories in less than two years. I think that’s natural when you have a transition,” Rodriguez said before yesterday’s football practice. “We had a lot of laughs and we’ve had a few tough moments, but I’m hoping that we, over the next 10 to 12 months that he has left as athletic director, have a lot of good moments to share as well. We’ve been through some pain together, and we’d like to have some good moments for sure.”
Martin’s other big hires include Michigan basketball coach John Beilein, who led the Wolverines to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years last season, and Michigan baseball coach Rich Maloney, who has coached Michigan to three Big Ten titles and an NCAA Regional title in 2007.
“We were all kind of shocked,” Maloney said of Martin’s retirement. “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 as a coach, I will always be indebted to Bill for that.”
Martin’s legacy of construction and hires may be more impressive given the conditions in which he entered the post of athletic director. As soon as he took the job, he immediately found himself faced with digging Michigan out of a financial hole and repairing the school’s damaged reputation.
After former University President Lee Bollinger forced then-Athletic Director Tom Goss to resign, Martin took over the athletic director post on an interim basis on March 6, 2000. He was permanently named athletic director on Aug. 1 of the same year.
The multimillionaire businessman, who successfully founded the real estate firm First Martin Corporation in 1968 and the Bank of Ann Arbor in 1995, wasn’t accustomed to seeing a business so deep in the red. The Athletic Department suffered a $2.8 million deficit for the 1999 fiscal year, according to a Feb. 14, 2000 article in the University Record.
In the 2001 fiscal year, the introduction of varsity women’s water polo and varsity men’s soccer cost the Athletic Department an extra $600,000. The same year, the University had to pay Nike $760,000 to purchase athletic equipment after it couldn’t manage to sign a contract with the supplier, according to a 2004 article in The Michigan Daily.
After Martin took over, his business savvy started to speak for itself. He gave his first year’s salary back to the University, negotiated a seven-year contract with Nike and sealed a $1 million radio contract. At the end of the 2002 fiscal year, the Athletic Department had already reversed its deficit and was projected to have a $5.5 million surplus.
But the Michigan Athletic Department’s image issues stretched beyond balance sheet woes. In 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 late 1980’s. The Michigan basketball program was placed on probation in 2002, and Bill Martin found himself partly responsible for cleaning up the stain on the University’s 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.”
Martin fired Amaker in 2007 after he had posted a 109-83 overall record (43-53 Big Ten), saying in his press conference that “this basketball program is better today than it was before he took the job, but we both know that it is not in the position either one of us wants it to be after his sixth year.”
Beilein, Amaker’s successor, finished 10-22 in his first season but, in 2009, took the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years. The team’s surprising success finally provided the revitalization the team desperately needed when Martin took over nine years earlier.
Martin’s decision to announce his retirement early will give University President Mary Sue Coleman almost 10 months to find a suitable replacement, which will ensure the Athletic Department will not need to scramble to find a successor. He is leaving behind a budget surplus and multiple construction projects in the works, even during the current economic recession, which means the transition to a new athletic director will surely be easier than it was when Martin took the helm in 2000.
“I think his greatest strength is bricks and budgets,” University Lecturer and Michigan sports historian John U. Bacon said. “He has no doubt attracted some critics, as any AD will over that stretch, but it’s got to be said, the department is in much better shape now than when he found it.”
—Daily Sports Writer Ryan Kartje, Daily Sports Editor Andy Reid and Daily News Editor Kyle Swanson contributed to this report.
Full list of Martin’s hires:
Rich Rodriguez, football, 2008-present
John Beilein, men’s basketball, 2007-present
Tommy Amaker, men’s basketball, 2001-2007
Kevin Borseth, women’s basketball, 2007-present
Cheryl Burnett, women’s basketball, 2003-2007
Rich Maloney, baseball, 2002-present
Mike Bottom, men’s swimming, 2008-present
Bob Bowman, men’s swimming, 2004-2008
Greg Ryan, women’s soccer, 2008-present
Marcia Pankratz, field hockey, 1996-2004 and 2009-present
Nancy Cox, field hockey, 2005-2008
Fred LaPlante, men’s track and field, 2008-present
Andrew Sapp, men’s golf, 2002-present
Bruce Berque, men’s tennis, 2004-present
Cheryl Stacy, women’s golf, 2009-present
Ronni Bernstein, women’s tennis, 2007-present
Amanda Augustus, women’s tennis, 2006-2007
Matt Anderson, water polo, 2003-present
Amber Drury-Pinto, water polo, 2001-2002