Q&A: UCLA’s next Athletics director speaks on bringing his diverse experience to Westwood
New UCLA Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond spent time at Boston College, Ohio State and Michigan State before becoming a Bruin. Jarmond was a two-time captain for UNC Wilmington men’s basketball. (Courtesy of Julia Hopkins/Heights Senior Staff)
By Sam Connon
May 26, 2020 3:43 pm
Martin Jarmond was officially announced as UCLA’s next director of Athletics on May 19, making him the ninth person to hold that position in the university’s 101-year history. Jarmond previously held the same position at Boston College and also spent time in Ohio State and Michigan State’s athletics departments.
With the COVID-19 epidemic canceling any in-person introductions, Sports editor Sam Connon spoke to Jarmond on the phone Tuesday morning to gauge where he stands as he starts his new job in Westwood.
Daily Bruin: After you got the call from Chancellor Gene Block and UCLA offering you the job, how long did it take for you to make up your mind? How tough was it to leave Boston College?
Martin Jarmond: It was very tough to leave BC. What we’ve accomplished over the last three years, in my opinion, is significant, and anytime that you pour your heart and soul into a place, it’s hard to leave. So the people are great here at BC, I had a great relationship with my president, and so it was very tough to leave – it wasn’t an easy decision. And it’s not so much about the opportunity to UCLA, but it was just the work that we had done here at Boston College. But it was very tough, it was not easy. Again, with the opportunity that UCLA presented and the ability to lead and be a part of an elite, academic and athletic institution, you just can’t pass that opportunity up.
DB: UCLA isn’t even going to be the biggest school you’ve worked at – Ohio State’s student population is nearly 70,000 – but it is certainly bigger than Boston College. Do you think you have a unique blend of a big-school and small-school mindset that sets you up for success in Westwood?
MJ: You’re always a product of your experiences. And I think the best part of of my experience and who I am is I’ve been in different situations that require you to understand different complexities with an institution, whether it’s a private Catholic Jesuit institution in the Northeast, or whether is a land-grant institution like Michigan State University or Ohio State. You know, they’re all different, but there are some similarities when it comes to some of the things you have to do day-in and day-out to be successful. So I’d like to think that my experiences will help me as I move forward and listen and learn and try to get a grasp of where we are as a program at UCLA and where we go.
DB: Do you have any UCLA apparel already, or are you going to wait until you get to campus?
MJ: They sent me some stuff the end of last week. So, you know, it’s kind of a strange time, as you can imagine. This is my last week at BC. You’re kind of doing two jobs and trying to close things out the right way, but also trying to get acclimated somewhat to UCLA during a pandemic while I’m here in Boston, and I’ll be here for a while. So it’s been an interesting last two weeks – fast paced, exciting – and I haven’t gotten all the gear yet, but I’m certainly sure that I’ll be wearing some here shortly.
DB: UCLA just celebrated its centennial in 2019, and those first 100 years resulted in 118 NCAA championships. How do you plan on making the Bruins a power in the next 100 years, as opposed to just being a program focused on legacy and the past?
MJ: Well, I think UCLA has such a storied tradition – championships a number of student-athletes that have gone on to be leaders and legends in their own right. I mean, that’s significant success at the highest level. I think for me, I have to get there and learn and listen – listen to the coaches, the staff, the donors, the alumni – to get a better grasp of where we are and what we need to do moving forward. So it’s hard when you haven’t fully gotten too into a job before you can say, “I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.” I think the best thing you can do is really study the past, study the history, understand the legacy, understand the success, understand the challenges. As you assess those and look at that and you learn and listen to people that have been really entrenched into UCLA culture and the everyday rhythm of what we’re trying to do, then I think you can better assess, and then make a plan going forward as far as strategically, how are we going to advance our athletics program? Because you always got to be about advancement. And so it’s just about learning the way the best way to go about that.
DB: At the same time, the trailblazers and dynasties that have called UCLA home will always be important to the school’s brand. Are there any specifically that you grew up watching or admiring, or still impact you personally to this day?
MJ: Well, the success has been tremendous UCLA. Growing up, obviously, coach (John) Wooden and the basketball program is right there as the basketball program. I played college basketball so if you’re a basketball player, you know about UCLA’s storied success and tradition in basketball. But there’s so many other sports that have been great. Softball, for example, I remember seeing a documentary “Between the White Lines” when I was a young staffer at Michigan State and I saw coach Sue Enquist and that team go on to win the championship. And I remember just being in awe of coach Enquist and what the UCLA softball program was able to accomplish and, obviously, that’s continued on with Kelly (Inouye-Perez). There’s so many programs and I don’t want to list them all because I don’t want to forget anyone, I’m still fresh to the job. But growing up, you just know UCLA is success, it’s elite. And my job is to maintain our elite level and even push it further than where we are. And we got some work to do and I’m excited about that.
DB: So you’re only 40 years old, which means UCLA’s current football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and gymnastics coaches are all older than you, among others. You were in a similar situation at BC, so what impact do you think the age discrepancy has on your relationships with your coaches, if any?
MJ: I don’t really think it plays a role. I’ve been young, professionally, all my life, as far as jobs and opportunities that I’ve had. Relationships, it’s about people, it’s about respect, and as long as we have a respect level, there’s candor and trust and transparency, I don’t think your age matters. You know, what I want our coaches to know is I’m going to do everything I can to help put them in a position to be successful. And that means provide resources or advice, but it also means asking tough questions. That’s my job as an athletic director – (it) is to help them reach their potential and help our student-athletes reach their best potential. So I don’t think age comes into play when it comes to building a relationship. I think you have to meet people where they are, you have to understand, have a level of empathy, and I hope to demonstrate that with our coaches.
DB: Being so young for an AD, do you think that has helped you connect with athletes and students better than the average AD?
MJ: Yes, I think I absolutely think it helps you with the student-athletes. It’s interesting, from an age standpoint, the closer you are to it, I think the better you’re able to understand and communicate. You have to meet students where they are and I do think that gives me an advantage over someone that maybe is not as close to this generation as far as understanding how they communicate, how they operate, what’s important to them and what matters. So I do think that helps me, you’d have to ask student-athletes that I interact with if it does, but I would like to think that my age does help me in that realm for sure.
DB: At Boston College, you initiated the first-ever fan council and talked a lot about the importance of fan engagement. Attendance for UCLA men’s basketball and football has been on a downward trend, so what are the first few steps to getting fans back on board, once coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted?
MJ: I have to look at it, I haven’t been able to dive in yet, but that’s something that I’m going to lean into heavily, student engagement and fan engagement. You know, the energy starts with the students, and I’ve heard The Den is a really passionate student fan base. So I’m excited to meet with their leadership – that’s one of the first things that I’d like to do because I truly think that energy on a campus and at games starts with the students. And if you get the students going, and you understand what’s important to them and get them more engaged and bought into what you’re trying to do, then it kind of grows out exponentially to your fan base and then to the casual fan and then you’ve got something. So I’m excited about working with The Den and our students just to understand what are their challenges with coming to games and the ones that do come, why do they come? And what can we do to make it a better experience to make it easier and more entertaining for them to come to games? I think you have to listen to your fans, I think you have to listen to your students, and that’s why I believe in the fan council that we created (at Boston College). You’ve got to be in tune with your fan base and your students, you have to be engaged. And to me, that’s the only way to operate.
DB: One of the bigger changes you made at Boston College was bringing alcohol to Alumni Stadium and Conte Forum, and that was in a state with pretty strict liquor license regulations. Is selling beer and wine at Pauley Pavilion and the Rose Bowl something you would like to get done during your tenure?
MJ: I haven’t had any conversations about that. It was the right move for BC at the time and we determined that through the work we did with our fan council. I really leaned into learning and understanding what our fans wanted, but also the political dynamic with beer and wine and what all that entails in the city. So that was a separate situation, I think in situation when you when you’re talking about alcohol, you really have to look at where it is and all the dynamics that go into play and whether you want to provide that to your fans or not. So for me, that’s premature. Again, I haven’t gotten there and I haven’t learned and listened to see what are the opportunities, what are the challenges as far as alcohol sales? That’s not something I’m focused on right now, I’m really just focused on closing out here, and then learning and listening a lot once I get there.
DB: UCLA Athletics ran a $19 million deficit last year – is that something that has either intimidated or motivated you in your early days on the job?
MJ: No, I’m aware of the deficit and the carryover. But at the end of the day, every athletic department has challenges, especially now in this environment, with COVID-19, there are financial pressures on every athletic department. So that’s no different than any other (school) across the country. As far as UCLA, I’m aware of it, but I haven’t really leaned in yet to understand the true dynamics and what are the projections and different things like that, so I’m looking forward to doing that. That’s obviously a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I’m willing to face head on.
DB: Ohio State won the Rose Bowl in your first year as a Buckeye – does the stadium hold any special place in your heart, and is it going to be surreal to have it as your home football field?
MJ: Surreal, absolutely. The first time I ever was in the Rose Bowl, it was amazing, it was picturesque. The sun setting, the feel of being in the Rose Bowl, it’s just iconic. So I have to pinch myself to think that I’ll be able to go to the Rose Bowl for our home games. It is truly, really cool. I never imagined myself being in the Rose Bowl so many times, and so now it’s just amazing to think about.
DB: I know you told the Los Angeles Times that you’ve already talked to UCLA football coach Chip Kelly since you’ve been hired. I know the college football seasons is a little up in the air right now – in terms of how many games are played and where – but what would you say your expectations are for the team both this year and in the future?
MJ: First and foremost – I’ve had one conversation with Chip (Kelly) and I’m looking forward to working with him – anytime you come into a new situation, you have to assess, you have to listen and learn. And so as far as my expectations, I have to learn where we are as a program, how we stack up with the rest of the conference, I have to learn from Chip, what our strengths and opportunities for improvement are. So I can’t give you an answer as far as what my expectations are until I learn more about our football program and the Pac-12, quite frankly. So I’m excited, I’m excited about learning that and really leaning into football, because obviously, it’s very important to us for many reasons, and I’m excited about that working with Chip and working with the staff to get going.
DB: Coming from a basketball background yourself, what do you think about the state of UCLA men’s basketball under Cronin?
MJ: I wasn’t following team during the season, I am aware that Mick and the team finished strong, I think 11 out of the last 14, maybe a basket away from winning the Pac-12. So in his first season, I think that’s phenomenal progress, the way they closed. I’m excited to work with Mick, I didn’t know Mick before this, but I’ve heard good things about him. I know that his team to Cincinnati were known for toughness, playing defense and playing the right way, and he was a winner. So I’m excited to work with him. And UCLA basketball obviously has such a storied tradition and history, to be a part of that is going to be special.
DB: Have you reached out to Cronin yet?
MJ: Yes, yes, I’ve reached out to Mick and spoke with him, we had a great conversation. He seems like he’s got an easy, easy personality to get along with, I enjoyed our conversation.
DB: Did your guys’ shared Ohio connection come up at all?
MJ: Well his dad was a longtime high school coach in Cincinnati, (Ohio), so we were talking about Ohio a little bit on the phone. And I think his dad was a was a scout for the Atlanta Braves, and I grew up rooting for the Braves too, so we talked a little bit about the Braves in the ’80s and ’90s.
DB: Ohio State beat Cincinnati in the 2012 Sweet 16 when you were in Columbus, (Ohio), and Cronin was in Cincinnati – do you still remember that game, and was that something that came up during your call?
MJ: I did not know that, that did not come up. Now I’ve got something on him. I’m glad you told me that, I was not aware of that.
DB: Only a handful of UCLA’s 118 national championships have come from the two revenue sports, while teams like men’s volleyball, gymnastics, baseball and softball have been national powers for decades. Have you had any conversations with the other head coaches on campus?
MJ: I’m working through all of our coaches. Again, I’m still doing two jobs and I want to remind our Bruin faithful to hang in there as I transition, there’s no manual as far as how you transition during a pandemic. So I’ve been kind of taking my time, I have talked to a few of the coaches on those sports, but not everybody. I will reach out to everybody at some point, but I kind of want to make sure I’m measured and doing things the right way to close out here at Boston College and then kind of take my time as I begin my tenure with UCLA.
DB: Due to coronavirus, we’re not really sure where and when fall sports will be able to start. Have you had any discussions about that at UCLA and have they been different from any preparations you may have been making at Boston College?
MJ: I have not been privy to the conversations at UCLA or the Pac-12 regarding fall sports yet. I’m looking forward to obviously leaning in and jumping in, working with Dan Guerrero to get up to speed, as far as where we are. But I haven’t had any conversations about that. I’ve been obviously involved in ACC conversations about returning in the fall in sports and returning to play in competition. But I’m looking forward to learning more about the Pac-12 and UCLA specifically.
DB: What do you think about the option of no fans in the stands and do you think it would be a difficult adjustment?
MJ: You’d have to ask them student-athletes. They practice and they have scrimmages without fans, so from that perspective, I don’t think it would be totally foreign. However, there is a game-day element, a game-day aspect that fans bring energy, so you have to think about how that may impact the home team versus the visiting team. I think those are legitimate questions you have to think through, but we don’t really have the answers. But at the end of the day, I think you want everyone to be healthy and safe and do it the right way. So it’s not a decision, I don’t think, that will come from me or Chip, it’ll come from medical experts and people that are experts in this field in this area that give us guidance. So I’m hopeful, I’m an optimistic, positive person, and I’m hopeful for sports in the fall and competing again, because I know those young and young women, they want to compete, they want to play and that’s important to them.
DB: Boston College locked down a contract with Under Armour in 2009, well before you got there, but do you have any kind of existing relationship with the UA executives that you think will carry over to your job at UCLA?
MJ: Oh, I do. I was excited about that, to see some of the information that I received about Under Armour. Some of the contacts listed for UCLA, they were the same contacts I was working with here at Boston College, so those relationships will carry over. Under Armor has been great to me and great to BC, so I’m looking forward to continuing that relationship and seeing some old friends but on a different coast.
DB: You sponsored a Martin Jarmond collection of Under Armour apparel at Boston College last year – when can we expect the new, blue and gold edition to hit shelves in Westwood?
MJ: You know … I can’t give you everything … . I can’t give you everything. You’re asking for all the answers to the test, man, you’ve got to wait a little bit. I can’t give you everything the first time we talk, so I would tell you to stay tuned.
DB: I know you’ve said before that you want to have a little bit of an overlap with Dan Guerrero at UCLA before he officially retires. How has your relationship been with him over the past week or so?
MJ: Tremendous. Dan Guerrero is one of the best human beings I’ve ever known. He has been so gracious, so kind. It’s so easy, I’m trying to make sure I do things in a way that he’s comfortable and he feels the exact same way – he’s trying to make sure I’m comfortable. So it creates a nice dynamic for a smooth transition, and so I’m excited about that. Because anytime you have a transition, it could go one of two ways – it can be positive or it can be negative or challenging. And I can tell you the way Dan has been, It helps that we’ve known each other for over a decade. He’s been a legend in college athletics in our industry as someone with high integrity who everybody respects, and so I couldn’t be more pleased with his approach and how he’s been welcoming of me. It’s been so nice and gracious as I kind of worked through my transition here coming to UCLA.
DB: On a more personal note, how has the move from Boston to Los Angeles been for you, considering you’re heading out there with a family and during the COVID-19 pandemic?
MJ: Yes, it’s been a challenge because you’re doing everything virtual and I’ve never lived in LA or on the West Coast, so I’m trying to understand the nuance with (I)-405 traffic or the Valley. You hear phrases and you hear places you don’t really have a grasp for. Some people in the UCLA community have reached out and everybody’s been helpful, but it’s really just trying to slow down and understand exactly – because Los Angeles is so big in the area – what are some places that may be best suited for where I want to live and be able to get to campus quickly, but also enjoy our personal space and personal life. So it’s best been a process, it’s just going to continue to be one of those things that I’ve just got to learn and talk to people and try to get a better grasp on the LA area.
DB: How much are you looking forward to in-person introductions, whether it’s with UCLA administration, the fans or the media, once that is permitted?
MJ: I’m looking forward to that moment. I think all of us are waiting for the ability to get back, to see and connect with each other. But for me being the new guy, I’m looking forward to just learning and meeting my new teammates and coaches and staff and everybody in the UCLA community. I’m excited about that, it’s something that I wake up thinking about, and I just can’t wait to get started. And it’s going to be a process because we don’t know exactly when I’m going to even move or when we’re going to be back to work. But I do know I’m excited to work with the team and I’m excited to serve our student-athletes and get to know them and our coaches. It’s just been a blessing and a great opportunity, and I’m just gonna lean in and I can’t wait to get to work.