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AD Martin Jarmond Shone in First Year, But the Job's Not Done
Jarmond nailed things off the field, but now the focus will shift to performance on the field.
What a year it’s been.
One year ago today, Martin Jarmond officially took over as the new athletic director for UCLA, taking over after 18 years of Dan Guerrero in the position. He took over at an inauspicious time for UCLA athletics, with the department beginning the process of figuring out how to return to the field following a global pandemic while simultaneously dealing with the immediate fallout of a canceled apparel deal, all under the umbrella of mounting budget deficits.
In all seriousness, the biggest surprise is that Jarmond didn’t run screaming from the job.
Yet that is the story that has been told over the past year. Instead of lamenting the poor hand he was dealt, Jarmond rolled up his sleeves and got to work, and in the process has ingratiated himself to the larger UCLA fanbase. Jarmond’s tenure has been a breath of fresh air for a fanbase desperate for something to believe in, and this first-year review is mostly going to sing his praises.
Let’s actually start with that apparel deal, since we’re getting the ultimate resolution of that crisis today as well. To backtrack, on June 27th of last year Under Armour informed UCLA that it was terminating the record $280 million apparel contract they had signed back in 2016. It was an immediate crisis that was put on the plate of Martin Jarmond before he even stepped foot on campus, but it was one he handled with aplomb. Jarmond set about talking to other apparel makers, and in December he announced that UCLA was entering into a partnership with Jordan brand, bringing UCLA into the Nike family as part of a prestige brand.
The Jordan deal put UCLA in some exclusive company. UCLA became the first Pac-12 school to rep the brand, and only the fifth program to rep Jordan in football and both men’s and women’s basketball, joining Michigan, Florida, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. Reporting has indicated that the move has resonated with current players and recruits alike, and while the pay is less than half what the school was making from its deal with Under Armour, the hope is that a settlement with the company could cover much of the difference.
All of which to say, it does seem rather appropriate that the new Jordan deal will kick in on the anniversary of Jarmond’s arrival on campus.
It must bear repeating that UCLA did this all in the midst of a pandemic that had shut down all athletics activity for months. Here we must credit Jarmond’s predecessor Dan Guerrero for implementing a return-to-campus plan that adequately addressed concerns from various Bruin athletes. Jarmond made sure that the plan and subsequent measures did an excellent job of protecting UCLA student-athletes, and the athletic department had no cancellations due to COVID-19 complications in the program. Yes, there were a few instances of players testing positive, but they were isolated incidents and compared to a vast majority of the country (which even this last week saw an outbreak lead to the NC State baseball team withdrawing from the CWS semifinals) UCLA did an exemplary job of handling the pandemic.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Martin Jarmond has found early success in his first year at the helm, and much of it has to do with his willingness to engage with people. Jarmond has been extremely accessible this past year, having been to at least one event or practice of all but one of the varsity sports programs at UCLA, and student-athletes have noted how easy it is to have a conversation with him. Jarmond has also been out in the community, hosting Zoom sessions with alumni and consistently responding to fans on social media. Of course, any conversation of Jarmond’s connection to UCLA fans has to mention the wild ride he went on with UCLA fan Ryan Gesas during the NCAA Tournament. You have to credit Jarmond for being so willing to engage in this way no matter how good or bad things got.
With all that said, now comes the hard part. You might have noticed all of the accolades up top did not mention the performance of the various varsity programs, and for a good reason. Considering the situation, it seems Jarmond made the decision to give each athletic program a mulligan, which makes sense. Some programs were decimated by various complications of the pandemic, such as the women’s basketball team being shorthanded as their incoming freshmen were prevented from entering the country. Other programs saw unfortunate injuries at unfortunate times, like what happened with the softball team losing one of their aces right before the CSWS. Some programs, like baseball, never got out of the blocks, while others like men’s soccer are in the infant stages of their own rebuild.
But that will change this coming year, and some underperforming programs are going to need to show some serious results. At the top of the list is clearly UCLA football, where Chip Kelly has gone 10-21 in his first three years at the helm. Jarmond knows he cannot have one of UCLA’s two major revenue programs performing at this level, and all eyes will be on the Rose Bowl this fall to see if that program can finally have the breakout season UCLA fans have expected since Kelly’s arrival. If they fail to do so, Jarmond will likely have a major decision to make that could define his UCLA tenure.
And, while UCLA is now a member of the Jordan family as of today, Martin Jarmond is going to have to help student-athletes navigate the new name, image, and likeness rules that also went into effect today. UCLA is uniquely positioned to take advantage of these rules thanks to their location, and the NCAA’s new ruling means the school does not have to wait for California legislation to take effect. This could be a major boon for UCLA athletics, and Jarmond and the athletic department’s response to this will be important going forward.
In any case, it’s hard not to look at Martin Jarmond’s first year at the helm of UCLA athletics as anything less than a success. But the job is about to change drastically, and time will tell if Jarmond can handle the on-court changes as well as he handled the ones off the court.