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Posted on Wed, Oct 21, 2009 : 6:17 p.m.

Michigan athletic director Bill Martin's announced retirement draws wide reaction

By Michael Rothstein

He raised money to renovate Michigan Stadium, secured the building of a basketball practice facility and made the University of MIchigan athletic department a profitable one.

So now, nine years after taking the Michigan athletic director’s position on an interim basis, Bill Martin announced his retirement Wednesday, effective Sept. 4, 2010.


Ann Arbor News file photo

Martin declined further comment about his decision and his tenure when reached Wednesday outside the Michigan athletic offices.

By day’s end, two of Michigan’s internal candidates - former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr and executive associate athletic director Dr. Michael Stevenson - told they would not be candidates for Martin’s position.

Martin met with his staff at 11 a.m. Wednesday morning in a gathering that lasted about “seven or eight minutes” according to Stevenson, and his message was simple.

Martin enjoyed his time here. He liked the people. And he’s now ready to move on. As he left the meeting, Michigan women’s basketball coach Kevin Borseth said the entire Wolverines’ coaching staff gave him a standing ovation.

“He’s going to be a hard guy to replace,” Borseth said.

Martin entered the job March 3, 2000, when then-Michigan president Lee Bollinger asked him to fill in after the forced resignation of former athletic director Tom Goss. Donations were on the decline, and the athletic department ran a budgetary deficit.

He officially took the job in August of that year and laid out a four-point plan. He wanted to make the athletic department stable financially, to improve facilities, to continue producing quality athletic teams and academic success of students.

“Being the Michigan AD is not just a job, it’s a way of life and one I have embraced full force,” Martin said in his resignation letter to Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman. “It’s fair to say the role also can have its challenges, but our exceptional coaches, students, support staff and administrators have made my job enjoyable every day. Most importantly, we have accomplished the goals I outlined when I first arrived.”

Athletically, Michigan has won 57 conference titles and 12 conference tournament titles up to this point in Martin’s tenure. 

He raised funds to build the Ross Academic Center for Michigan’s athletes.

For the most part, Martin hired coaches well at Michigan. He brought in former national team coach Greg Ryan for women's soccer and convinced former Michigan field hockey coach Marcia Pankratz, who led the Wolverines to a national title in 2001, to return to the program this past year. 

One misstep may have been the hiring of men's basketball coach Tommy Amaker, who he hired in 2001 and then fired in 2007 after zero NCAA tournament appearances. At the time of Amaker's firing, he called it "the toughest decision he had to make." His initial women's basketball hire, Cheryl Burnett, resigned after four seasons and a 35-83 record.

But he also hired current men’s basketball coach John Beilein and football coach Rich Rodriguez. The latter came after a prolonged coaching search that included an awkward situation with LSU coach and Michigan alum Les Miles, who ended up staying put.

"This is a tremendous loss, not only for the University of Michigan but for the Big Ten," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. "Bill had been a quintessential leader amongst the conference as well as the country.

"...Really was one of the best in our profession."

Martin’s legacy likely lies will be with the renovations he steered to Michigan Stadium along with the building of a separate basketball practice facility and the construction of the Al Glick Field House.

The stadium renovations are set to finish before the 2010 football season and in January, the Board of Regents approved the building of a $23.2 million practice facility for basketball.

“With tremendous help from President Coleman and Bill’s leadership to get the stadium project approved through the regents was one moment that stands out to me,” Stevenson said. “That was a huge success and the stadium project is going to be clearly one of his major legacies.

“I think that they’ll remember the facilities for sure and I think that both coach Beilein and coach Rodriguez are going to be very successful here so I think those two items
are going to very important.”

The Michigan athletic director’s job had been the latest of a career spent around Ann Arbor and around sports. Martin graduated from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, in 1962 and picked up a graduate degree in economics from the University of Stockholm, Sweden a year later. He came back to the United States for his masters in business administration in 1965 from Michigan.

He founded of the First Martin Corporation, a real estate company, in 1968 and also was the CEO and founder of the Bank of Ann Arbor.

He was a former president of the United States Sailing Association and the United States Olympic Committee and is still on the board of directors for the U.S. Olympic Foundation, the National Football Foundation and the College Hall of Fame according to his biography on Michigan’s Web site.

It was when he ran the USOC where Martin showed similar characteristics to what he did at Michigan. Both times, he jumped in to a situation with an organization in peril, current Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. And both times he ended up making the organization better.

"In both cases, he stepped up and responded to a need of an organization he cared about," Swarbrick said. "It was, the Olympics got themselves in a very tough spot and led the entire reorganization of the United States Olympic Committee. Similarly, I don't think given all his success in business and other things he was pining to be Michigan's athletic director.

"But they asked him to and he was prepared to step in."

Swarbrick saw Martin's USOC leadership first hand, knowing Martin for over 15 years. Both have an affinity for Olympic sports in colleges and the Olympic movement and Martin worked together on a committee to save Olympic sports in colleges.

Martin's genuine concern stood out to Swarbrick as he worked with him to try and improve the situation surrounding non-revenue college sports.

“From my vantage point, world-class leader, world class is used pretty frequently by people but this guy really led on a world stage and he did with such class and distinction he really does qualify for that syntax,” said Duke athletic director Kevin White, who dealt with Martin frequently when White was Notre Dame’s athletic director and brokered the 20-year Notre Dame-Michigan football extension with Martin. “There’s no question about it and at the same time he was absolutely brilliant managing the affairs of Michigan athletics.

“He is a pivotal player. He became a pivotal player quickly in the collegiate athletic community.”

Dave Birkett contributed to this report.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 9:30 a.m.

The truth is that Billy only knows $$$ and those that stand behind him have sold out too. Billy wanted to sell the naming rights to SBC for the UM OSU game, he juiced season ticket holders, sold out to the BTen Network and rammed through the cozy indoor seating that he and his Ocean Reef buddies can sit in for free. All for the dollar. Rich Rod called him, don't forget. We don't have Les because Billy's too busy and important to make phone calls. He doesn't know what a Michigan fan is, let alone know the first thing about being a Michigan AD. Good riddance, and the horse you come in on.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 7:27 a.m.

Mr Bill Martin, thank you so very much for your devoted service! Whomever is chosen to replace Mr Martin has some tall shoes to fill.


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 3:54 a.m.

I have a suggested replacement: Tom Jurich, current University of Louisville Athletic Director. He has done phenomenal things there with all sports and facilities. A Top Notch replacement candidate...


Thu, Oct 22, 2009 : 12:22 a.m.

I say be daring. Hire Rick Leach as AD!!! That Les Miles story is complete BS! He was not even considered for the job and used Herbstreit to get himself a nice new fat contract with LSU. It was down to two coaches and RR was the 2nd pick and Miles was not in the mix. So sailing on his sail boat did not factor into anything. I wish Mr. Martin all the best in his retirement and after all the great work at UM he deserves it!


Wed, Oct 21, 2009 : 10:41 p.m.

David, Good point.

David Briegel

Wed, Oct 21, 2009 : 8:22 p.m.

I really liked the fact that he was on his sailboat in the Caribean with no cell phone coverage when we needed a football coach! Only wish I was the "rich athletic donor" who was with him.


Wed, Oct 21, 2009 : 8:09 p.m.

Bill Martin has been class all of the way. MIchigan has been fortunate to have his services. We wish him well in his future interests. Go Blue!


Wed, Oct 21, 2009 : 8:08 p.m.

Bill Martin has been class all of the way. MIchigan has been fortunate to have his services. We wish him well in his future interests. Go Blue!


Wed, Oct 21, 2009 : 8:08 p.m.

Bill Martin has been class all of the way. MIchigan has been fortunate to have his services. We wish him well in his future interests. Go Blue!


Wed, Oct 21, 2009 : 6:58 p.m.

Don't you mean secured the building of a "football" practice facility?


Wed, Oct 21, 2009 : 6:19 p.m.

Why don't you just come out and say it. He did a wonderful job as the atheltic about that headline. Everything said was positive so why have such a misleading headline? It is okay to send someone off with praise, especially since he has done so much to turn around the department. He is responsible for multiple projects that brought Michigan Athletics into the 21st century and re-established Michigan as the class of the Big Ten. Thank you Bill Martin...HAIL


Wed, Oct 21, 2009 : 6:17 p.m.

Next up? Will it be Lloyd Carr or David Brandon?