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Posted on Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 6:30 a.m.

Bill Martin leaves Michigan's athletic department better than he found it

By Michael Rothstein


Bill Martin, stepping aside after a decade as athletic director at Michigan, talks with friends on Dec. 3 at the annual Michigan Football Bust in Livonia. (Photo: Lon Horwedel |

This is the second time Bill Martin is packing his office to say goodbye to the Michigan athletic department.

The first time was as a placeholder, helping out then-Michigan President Lee Bollinger on an interim basis until he found a replacement for Tom Goss. He thought he’d be done by Labor Day, 2000.

A decade later, he’s packed for good, a replacement named and starting Monday to pick up where Martin left off.

So ends the accidental athletic director reign of Martin, whose last day is today and whose final act will be attending Michigan-Michigan State basketball game in East Lansing.

He never thought he’d be in this job - the one consuming his life the past decade - for a year, let alone 10.

Ten years and three days ago, he met with the Michigan athletics staff in Cliff Keen Arena, and took the job on an interim basis two days later. Monday, he hands the job off to new athletic director Dave Brandon.

“I never designed to be involved in amateur sports,” Martin said Thursday in a conference room in Weidenbach Hall as his carpets were being cleaned and as he prepares to move his office to the administration building. There, he’ll finish overseeing the improvements to Michigan Stadium and work on other projects for Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman.

His foray into this began in 1980 when he won a dispute about an illegal boat in a qualification race for the Admiral’s Cup. From there, he served on a committee within the United States Sailing Association, was eventually named vice president and then president of the organization. That led to being on the board of the United States Olympic Committee and then for a brief time running the USOC while he was Michigan’s athletic director.

Now, 30 years after he started and a few days from leaving amateur athletics to become a very well-informed fan, the man called “Boss” by many in the Michigan athletic department has begun to think back to his time as Michigan’s sports leader.

“I look back on the last decade and it’s been really full,” Martin said. “People ask me ‘How do you like the job of being athletic director?’ I say it’s not a job. It’s a way of life because it’s 7 by 24 every single day.

“You’re never off.”

It’s a lifestyle that’s about to change.

Martin took over an athletic department in debt in 2000 and made it one of the most robust departments in college sports. He almost completely rebuilt Michigan’s athletic facilities and had the final piece of the reconstruction - Crisler Arena renovations - passed in January. Sensing the facilities project was close to completion two years ago, he met with Coleman informing her that when Michigan Stadium was done, so was he.

Those projects may determine is his legacy at Michigan. Not that he said he’s thought about it.

“I really don’t,” Martin said. “Legacy is something other people think about. I’ll miss the people, no question about it.”

It is these people - notably associate athletic directors Mike Stevenson and Joe Parker - that helped him turn around the Michigan athletic department. They helped with the fundraising for his facility endeavors. They offered counsel and advice and friendship.

They, Martin said, made his job much easier.

But the bulk of what has happened during his reign falls on him, and he’s OK with it even if most people will judge his tenure based off the success or failure of Michigan’s two current big-name coaches - football coach Rich Rodriguez and basketball coach John Beilein.

“Absolutely, it will be,” Martin said. “And I’ll live with it.”

During his half-hour conversation with a visitor, Martin described how he took over Michigan’s program. It was an unprofitable department with staffing issues, “a basketball program going south” and embroiled in the Ed Martin basketball scandal with the eventual vacating of victories.

Now, as he departs, it is a profitable program with new facilities, coaches in place, a basketball program searching for stability and a football program awaiting a meeting with the NCAA Infractions Committee in August in Seattle that could lead to major - although not as drastic as the Martin scandal - penalties.

Martin, though, believes he has left the athletic program in a better spot than when he inherited it. For the most part, he is right.

“You’re taking a snapshot of one thing in the 10-year career,” Martin said when he was asked if he’d like to leave on a better note for Michigan sports. “I look at the 10-year career. I don’t look at the last moment.

“Yeah, do I wish we were winning more? Of course. Do I wish we didn’t have the challenges we face right now with the NCAA? Of course. Of course. But it is what it is, and you deal with it and you learn from it and you move on.”

On the whole, though, he did well as Michigan’s leader in sport.

And at least one person thinks so. When Martin announced his retirement in October, he received a letter from the man who called him while he was packing in 2000 and hired him after listening to his coaches - Bollinger.

It was an actual letter, one sentence long.

“He said ‘One of the best things I did at Michigan was hire you,’” Martin said. “I thought it was cute for him to do that.”

With that, Bill Martin is off to his next adventure.

Audio from Bill Martin's interview last week on WTKA-AM (1050): 008 - Bill Martin 030510.mp3

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



Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 8:36 p.m.

You hire a real estate developer, what does he do? He develops real estate. The garish Lux Boxes, for $1/3 billion. Just like other developers, spin it, hard, with outlandish "feel good" stories which never come true: it's to help build more bathrooms (huh?), and make the seats wider (never happened.) Why develop? Cause that's what he does. Didn't even do it well. Went for the garish and the glossy, instead of building a new BB arena, which was the primary need. Lousy judge of coaches. And scooted out the backdoor, after they hid him in a closet when the NCAA prelim findings came out (because MJ Coleman was petrified that some reporter would ask him, "Hey, Bill, what did you know and when did you know it? Or, how in the world did you not know about this stuff? Let Mallet and Udoh leave town because you hire two completely one-dimensional coaches. Final legacy?: left Michigan without being the largest football stadium in the country. Figure that one out.

Regular Voter

Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 4:42 p.m.

Compared to the performance of our city government officials I think a Bill Martin could really kick some butt if he would do some public service at the city level. Abolish the DDA, reform the AATA, get big contract changes with the unions, put in a real city manager and systems, get the infrastructure rebuilt, fix stuff that doesn't work, and make people accountable. It would be refreshing to see him clean up the baloney.


Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 10:36 a.m.

Geting wasted in public, and geting beat by D AA teams sure is first class. M is the joke of the BIG TEN now and isnt changing any time soon. Those who stay... will be in violation! way to go West Arbor.


Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 12:40 a.m.

he made it better? i think not. the michigan name is tarnished since the day he hired rr. look at his track record and now martin leaves. i guess he did not want to stick around. all of our programs are suffering. bo, gary and lloyd is what made the michigan programs first class. thanks to martin we have run out of class.


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 8:36 p.m.

Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out, Bill. By the way, great vanishing act when the NCAA findings came out.


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 6:57 p.m.

What? Better? In what way? He built some nice facilities. Excellent job for a real estate guy. How many Big Ten titles has Michigan won so far this year? Our programs are all down. We are losing to our rivals MSU and OSU more now than ten years ago. Better off? Now way. This guy is an idiot who needs to take his biggest clowns RR and Johnnie B with him when he goes.


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 7:38 a.m.

I think he did a good job. All the other stuff goes with the territory. With this economy, cutbacks, etc. quite frankly I surprised more issues haven't bubbled to the surface the RR thing is minimal, could and probably will or at least should have happened to many other programs. We all admire Pete Carrol but check the records boys and girls the man fled USC for a variety of reasons and yes he did leave behind a winning program but at what cost that we shall see. I'll take working your players butts off any day compared to what USC has to face and a lot of their problems were du to win at all cost. Yea, I think Bill Martin did a good job for Michigan how bout that stadium boys and girls?