Exclusive: New UCLA AD Martin Jarmond's Spartan Past Helps Another Racial Breakthrough

Sports Illustrated's Spartan Nation exclusive interview with new UCLA athletic director reveals the journey, the mentors, and the passion of Martin Jarmond.

Accepting the position of athletic director at UCLA didn't bring tears to the eyes of Martin Jarmond. But leaving Boston College did.

After informing Boston College president Father William Leahy that he was departing for the West Coast, "I broke down and started crying literally, the hardest I've cried in twenty years," Jarmond said in an exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated's Spartan Nation.

Clearly, it was not an easy decision for Jarmond.

"I was back and forth mentally and emotionally, but when UCLA calls, you have to answer that call," Jarmond said. "The impact that I want to have in college athletics—I think I can have that and do that at UCLA."

Just a short time ago, no matter how qualified, candidates such as Jarmond may never have had this opportunity. They likely would have been disqualified because of the color of their skin.

Ohio State’s Gene Smith, arguably the best athletic director in the country, and Dr. Clarence Underwood, the former athletic director at Michigan State, are two men who impacted Jarmond’s road. Both are Black and became trailblazers for men of color growing up with the dream of leading a Power-5 athletic program.

"Gene is the best in the business," Jarmond said. "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 rubs off so you can soak it in like a sponge."

Smith expressed pride at Jarmond’s ascension.

"It means a lot to me to have watched Martin Jarmond ascend to be the athletic director at Boston College and now at a place like UCLA," he says, "It makes me emotional. In 1986 when I was the athletic director at Eastern Michigan University, I was 29. I would walk into athletic director meetings, and I would be the only one who looked like me.

“Now, there is Allen Greene at Auburn, Carla Williams at Virginia, Candice Lee at Vanderbilt, Warde Manuel at Michigan, Derrick Gregg at Tulsa, and Martin at UCLA. I get emotional seeing and feeling that."

Underwood wasn't Jarmond's boss at Michigan State. He was his role model.

"As a 22-year-old guy working at Michigan State Athletics, I met Dr. Underwood," Jarmond says. "That was transforming enough to me because that was someone that looked like me that had been the athletic director at Michigan State. It was awe-inspiring for me when you meet him, talk with him and see how kind and gentle he was. That was the first time I saw someone that looked like me doing something that I never thought I would be able to do."

Underwood feels pride for Jarmond's achievement.

"It brings tears to my eyes to see him get such a distinguished job as UCLA," Underwood said. "I do not believe anyone should get any job they are not qualified to get but to see now Black administrators who are highly skilled to get those opportunities, brings tears, and deep emotion.

"If he weren't qualified, I wouldn't want him to get the job. He is and will do amazing work. It shows you how far we've come where now if a person is qualified, they can earn the job. Color is not the reason to get or not get a job. Real tears of joy."

Smith said the hire by UCLA goes beyond race.

"What I am most proud of is not that he is a Black athletic director," Smith said. "I am most proud that he deserves to be in that seat. He is an outstanding athletic director. I am proud that he is an outstanding athletic director, who is Black and earned that seat and had the opportunity to get it, and did."

Jarmond, 40, spent a lifetime watching, listening, and learning.

"I am proud of Martin," Underwood said. "When he first arrived, he was so full of questions. I don't mean just talking; he had deep questions. He was always taking notes and learning. He is a tremendous fundraiser. I was always willing to work with anyone of any color that wanted to learn this business, and he did. His work ethic set him apart. I am in tears, even talking to you."

Smith, of the Buckeyes, said, "It moves me to see this. We established an unbreakable bond. As he grew, he became my eyes and my ears. People are the heart and soul of what we do. This job is about people. People are the heart and soul of what athletics is about."

For Jarmond, the move to Westwood was about impacting lives.

"You want to be a part of something bigger than yourself and try to contribute to it," he said. "I want to be able to serve and add what little bit that I can to move it forward to the future."

For more of Sports Illustrated's Spartan Nation exclusive interview with Jarmond, please CLICK RIGHT HERE.