Syracuse University Magazine

Alum Wildhack to Lead SU Athletics

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For John Wildhack ’80, it was a Syracuse homecoming like no other. Wildhack, a top executive at ESPN, returned to his alma mater on July 12 to be introduced as the University’s new director of athletics at a press conference in the Iocolano-Petty Football Wing auditorium. “Thank you, it is great to be home,” he said. “It’s truly one of the more special days in my life.”

Since January 2014, the Newhouse School graduate had served as ESPN’s executive vice president for programming and production. He spent 36 years at ESPN, joining the network as a production assistant not long after it got off ground and rising through the ranks. Along the way, he produced ESPN’s first live regular-season college football game and first live NFL game. He brokered deals with major collegiate conferences and bowl games, the NBA, WNBA, and Major League Baseball, among others. He also collected more than 30 Emmy Awards. “He’s a dedicated leader whose ability to motivate and inspire a team lifted the entire ESPN organization for decades. He has been a central figure in that network’s growth and success,” Chancellor Kent Syverud said. “John brings boundless energy, knowledge, and intuition to the most critical position in Syracuse Athletics.”

Throughout his professional career, Wildhack has maintained a strong connection to SU, citing his passion for all facets of the University. He fondly recalled attending games at Archbold Stadium as a student, being at  the opening of the Carrier Dome, and returning regularly with his family to the Dome for football and basketball games. He’s a member of the Falk College Sport Management Advisory Board and an active Newhouse alum who was recognized as a “Newhouse 40@40” gala honoree in 2005. The Buffalo native is also part of an Orange legacy that includes his late father, two siblings, two nephews, and a sister-in-law, and acknowledged how important SU and Central New York are to his family.

Wildhack noted his arrival finds Syracuse Athletics in a position of strength—both athletically and academically—and he wants to build on that. “Our objective is to have an environment where our student-athletes maximize their performance and their potential in the classroom and on the playing field,” he said. “We want to prepare them for future success...” Along with that, he said, “We want our program to be a point of pride for the entire University, our students, our alumni, the community, and Orange fans worldwide.”           —Jay Cox

Photo by Steve Sartori