Moving quickly Wednesday morning to fill its top department leadership position in an even 60 days after Mark Coyle’s stunning resignation to move on to Minnesota May 11, Syracuse University named 1980 alum, and longtime ESPN programming executive, John Wildhack as the school’s 11th full time athletic director.
Chancellor Kent Syverud made the announcement following the recommendation of the six person search committee, which included football coach Dino Babers, citing not only Wildhack’s ties and knowledge of Orange athletics, but his extensive behind-the-scenes deal making experience at ESPN where his responsibilities included overseeing some 50,000 hours of programming content annually.
“John is an entrepreneurial, outside-the-box leader who brings an unparalleled set of skills and experiences to the director of athletics position,” Syverud wrote in his hiring release.
“As a leader at ESPN, he has demonstrated a keen ability to identify and implement strategies aimed at elevating the entire organization. That record of success, combined with his extensive history of building and inspiring teams, will allow him to immediately and positively impact the lives of our student-athletes. This is a new day in the life of the Department of Athletics. I look forward to watching John, in collaboration with our talented coaches and staff, bring his bold vision for the department to life.”
An upstate New York native and a graduate of the Newhouse School, Wildhack then embarked on a long and prosperous career at ESPN, intimately involved in the network’s first college football and NFL telecasts in the 1980s, and later at the negotiating table for large broadcast rights agreements at the Power Five level.
“To say this is a dream job would be a significant understatement,” said Wildhack. “Syracuse University played a profound role in my life’s trajectory and I’m confident I wouldn’t be where I am without the education and opportunities this institution afforded me.”
“To help my alma mater, in particular Syracuse student-athletes, continue to excel and grow, especially in light of the enormous investments being made, and that have been made in its facilities, is a tremendous responsibility and one I don’t take lightly. I am honored to have been selected and I look forward to collaborating with the amazing coaches and staff as we work to develop the whole student-athlete—inside and outside the classroom.”
Ironically, another former SU AD has a connection to this story. Daryl Gross hired John’s brother Henry Wildhack as an assistant AD in 2006, and he worked for almost five years under Gross before departing to the financial planning sector.
With the ACC eventually eyeing its own TV network in partnership with rights holder ESPN, it’s good timing for Orange athletics to have someone of Wildhack’s expertise involved whenever that network finally launches. He will officially take the reigns at Manley Field House in mid-August.