Sports Illustrated's Spartan Nation has had a long relationship with new UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond. We were the first to interview him after he took this job, and here is an excerpt from that exclusive interview.
Spartan Nation: Congratulations on being the new athletic director at UCLA. I know how much you loved Boston College. I know how much you loved your president, Father James Leahy. How hard was it to leave BC?
Martin Jarmond: Wow…you know it was a 72-hour period, that was probably one of the hardest periods of my life, as far as the decision-making process.
It was extremely hard. I love Boston College. Father Leahy took a chance on me. I'd not been an AD before. It's a risk when you hire someone that hasn't done it, and I was able to come in, and they welcomed me.
If you know anything about Boston College, it's a special place; it's distinctive, it's the Jesuit values, men and women for others service. It's just different than any other place you would be. So, they embraced me, embraced my family, and I was able to learn and grow, and we did as a staff and a team, we did some great things in three years.
It was really hard because it's great people here, so much so I will tell you I called Father Leahy and then I met with him Saturday morning for a long time, but I called him late Friday night, and I said I think I'm leaning this way and I just broke down and started crying literally on the phone. The hardest I've cried in twenty years.
That was because of the relationship he and I have, and how special it is, and what Boston College means to me. That's from the heart, that's real. You know you don't fake that, so much so that I had to get off the phone with him. That was tough.
The next day, sitting with him, that was tough because I learned so much from him. I mean he's been a president here for twenty plus years, he's also a priest, so he cares about you as a person. I am going to miss those conversations, not as much as about the business, but more so about how you are as a person and what's going on. He just cares a lot. It was very hard, very, very tough.
It was a roller coaster of emotions. It was not a slam dunk for me because of how I feel about BC and them, the work that we were doing, and just the excitement that we built.
SN: You worked for two of the best athletic directors in America; Mark Hollis and Gene Smith. What did you learn from Mark Hollis?
MJ: I would also add Coach (Ron) Mason in there. When I first started at State, Coach Mason was the AD, and I can remember I thought I was a hotshot young guy. One of the first meetings I ever requested with Coach Mason, he said hey, if you want to sit in this chair one day you got to deal with pressure, you got to understand football, you got to have; he just listed these things that I'll never forget.
So, it started with Coach, and then when Mark took over, he took me under his wing, and I learned so much. I mean, Mark is such a talented administrator. Everybody sees the external side of him, and Mark is a genius, which he is, but he cares a lot about student-athletes. He's multi-faceted.
I can remember during the football search that he did just looking at how analytical he was looking at data as far as finding the next football coach who ended up being Mark Dantonio. He's so smart, and so he did the work, and I learned a lot from him. That was my first job out of college. I was at State for seven years, so I had a great run there.
Gene Smith is the best in the business, you know. He's my mentor. He inspires me, and what he's done in his career and just working alongside him every day for eight years, you hope that some of it just rubs off so you can soak it in like a sponge.
He's so humanistic in his approach. He's comfortable in his own skin. You know a lot of times for someone young like me coming up in the business, you feel like you have to be a certain way or you have to do things this way and what I learned from him is that the best thing you can do is do it this way be yourself. The best thing you can do is be authentic because it gets tired, you get tired if you try to fake it or be something that you're not.
Gene is so comfortable in his own skin. He treats people so well, very humanistic, one of the most humanistic people I've met, empathy, and he gets it. He understands the whole landscape of not only college athletics but just people in an organization, how you run a business.
Both of those guys, Mark and Gene, I'm incredibly blessed that I got to work under both of them, you know, at different stages in my career. I would not be here today without Mark Hollis. I wouldn't be here today without Gene Smith. They set the foundation for me and the growth and just gave me the opportunities to do things that otherwise, I may not have been able to do.
SN: I think one of your most exceptional talents is you are a listener. You are a terrific listener. That doesn't come naturally to people. How did you develop that gift of being a listener?
MJ: Listening is hard. It's something you got to practice at, and my mom is the best listener that I've ever met. And so, she has a way of listening and zooming in on what you are saying and telling you precisely what you want to hear.
I think from that perspective, I've got so much from my mom and dad. They're everything to me. Both of them have been incredibly supportive and have sacrificed so much for me over my life, but I would tell you that listening is my mom, not my dad. My dad's a talker. My mom is an unbelievable person.
SN: I know that you didn't go to UCLA for the weather, although the weather's great. What was it about UCLA?
MJ: You know, at the end of the day, it's just something I felt in my gut that I had to do. It was like a calling, you know, a higher purpose that I don't quite know, but I know that UCLA is the place from an academic, athletic standpoint is elite.
It's an opportunity usually at a school like UCLA that doesn't come often, and so when I had the opportunity, they wanted to talk with me, in those quiet moments. It was tough; it was a 72-hour process that was back-and-forth mentally and emotionally, but at the end of the day, when UCLA calls, you have to answer that call.
The impact that I want to have in college athletics, I think I can have that and do that at UCLA because it's about young people.
In our business right now, there's a lot of challenges; this is before the pandemic occurred. So for me, I want to impact young people's lives, that's why I got into this, that's why I was a former student-athlete.
I want to give what I got. I believe in my heart, UCLA would allow me to serve young people in a way, in a significant way, and also be a leader in college athletics as we move forward in these challenging times.
I wanted the challenge. I wanted the opportunity. I've always gravitated towards challenges. It's not many times when you get an opportunity to be at an elite place like UCLA and lead and serve.
SN: You need to leave a footprint. Is being able to look back when your career is over and say I made a difference in people's lives, and a great institution like UCLA is just the more prominent platform to impact more people?
MJ: Yea, I think that's fair. I think that's it, but also do you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself and try to contribute to it.
Think about UCLA, you think about Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Coach Wooden. I mean, these are not normal people, these are legends, and these are barrier breakers. To be a part of that history and that tradition, and be given the ability to be the caretaker to move it forward into the future, who wouldn't want that opportunity?
That's the greatness, that's elite, and I want to be a part of that. I think that for me, that storied history, tradition, academic success, and athletic excellence, UCLA has 118 National Championships, 2nd most in the country. That's winning, and that's a success, and I want to be a part of it.
I want to be able to serve and add what little bit that I can to move it forward to the future so we can be talking about the next Kenny Washington and the next Sue Enquist and Rafer Johnson. That's what I want to do, that's what I'm about.
Jarmond's hiring came with a significant societal impact. You can read about that when you click the link below: