Pushing the P.A.C.E.

martin jarmond


osted up on a couch in his third-floor Conte Forum office, Boston College Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond swayed one shoeless foot across the ground, as the other stabilized his casual posture on the black-leathered sofa. With up-beat jazz music playing in the background, the 38-year-old AD—the youngest in the Power Five—positioned himself in line with a framed picture located at the very back of the spacious room, a photo that served as a reminder of just how far BC Athletics had come in one year.

Jarmond—who previously worked as the assistant athletic director for development and director of regional giving at Michigan State (2006-09) and, most recently, The Ohio State University’s deputy athletics director and chief of staff (2009-17)—took the job at BC having witnessed more than a decade of excellence, including, but certainly not limited to, a Final Four appearance and a college football national championship. His new staff, on the other hand, had been starved of a home upset in the NCAA’s two biggest revenue sports for practically three years. During that span, BC football and men’s basketball posted a meager 12-68 ACC record. Plain and simple, winning was rare, and doing so on the national stage was foreign—something that Jarmond discovered rather unexpectedly.

On Oct. 27, BC football hosted a reeling Florida State team, honoring Welles Crowther in the annual Red Bandanna Game. Predictably, the Friday night, ESPN-televised matchup drew viewers from across the nation. The Eagles—winners of two straight—jumped out to a 21-3 lead at the half, and Jarmond decided to capitalize on the department-defining opportunity.

“I was tired of hearing, ‘Man I was able to rush the field my freshman year against USC, but I haven’t had anything since,’” the first-year AD said. “I wanted this to be a moment.”

As soon as BC stopped the Seminoles on the opening drive of the second half, Jarmond knew that head coach Steve Addazio’s team was going to top FSU for the first time in eight years. When the fourth quarter came along, he made the necessary calls to guarantee a proper field storming. At least that’s what he thought.

The clock ticked zero, locking up BC’s first ACC victory in Alumni Stadium in three years, and students began to jump the fence and swarm the field, but not all of them made it through. The police held back a handful of kids, creating a divide of sorts among the crowd. Not only that, but the department’s photographers failed to capture the scene. Knowing that there must have been a serious miscommunication between him and his team, the administrator was initially frustrated, but soon came to realize his error.

“I assumed, coming from where I’m from, you’re ready—you’re ready for the moment,” Jarmond said. “We weren’t ready.”

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bit more than three months after Jarmond’s introductory press conference—one in which he announced his pillar-like platform, emphasizing passion, alignment, and competitive excellence—the Fayetteville, N.C. native hit the ground running.

Fully employing his vision, which he often refers to as P.A.C.E., Jarmond instituted the department’s inaugural Fan Council for the 2017-18 athletic season. The installment is composed of a 21-person team of donors, season-ticket holders, student-athletes, current undergrads, and local community members. Meeting four times during the fall, the council gave Jarmond a sense of what BC culture was like, all while suggesting potential improvements.

Right from the get-go, Jarmond wanted to set the tone—and others took notice.

Hailey Kobza, BC ’20, applied for a spot on the Fan Council, looking for a closer connection to the athletic department. She got way more than that in return for her service, thanks in large part to Jarmond himself. The moment she first met him, she was taken aback by his infectious personality.

“He just radiates energy, if I’m being honest,” Kobza said after recalling a praise-heavy phone conversation she had with her father following the council’s initial meeting.

Kobza noted that, due to Jarmond’s flooded schedule, he typically had to pop in and out of the Fan Council meetings. But when he was there, he gave them his undivided attention and even incorporated some of their suggestions into game-day festivities, namely a playlist for background music before, during, and after games. The Fan Council was just the start of a year’s worth of innovation.

In late August, Jarmond announced that BC would expand its beer and wine sales to Alumni Stadium as part of a City-approved pilot program designed to explore the benefits of increased alcohol distribution. Previously, beer and wine had been sold to fans in premium seating areas—60 boxes, suites, and a tent adjacent to the stadium—but the decision allowed general-admission ticket holders to finally purchase the same kinds of beverages.

Then, two weeks into the regular football season, Jarmond entered a partnership with the ridesharing company Lyft. Coupled with the in-stadium alcohol concessions, Jarmond believed that Lyft would incentivize attendance, providing off-campus students, community members, and traveling fans a discounted trip, made easier by the creation of specific pickup/drop-off zones next to Alumni Stadium and Conte Forum.

One-by-one, Jarmond continued to roll out ideas, building momentum all the way. Neither finances nor his reputation were the underlying motivators.

“I don’t think his objective is to make his mark,” said Andy Boynton, dean of the Carroll School of Management. “I think his objective was to help make BC Athletics greater and really make an impact. He has a bias toward action, and that’s important.”

Working within the school’s parameters, Jarmond attempted to pave the way for increased fan support and improved facilities without making hasty decisions. Embracing BC’s tradition, Jarmond simply addressed the pressing issues that were pushing the department behind the rest of the conference.

“When you’re in the competitive world of college athletics, it’s never enough,” Jarmond said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re going to build the Taj Mahal, but we need to put our coaches and our student-athletes in positions where they can be successful.”

For Jarmond that meant doing all the small things, like putting names on the backs of the football jerseys, creating promo videos, and offering original game day giveaways, as well overseeing the larger operations—four major construction projects (the baseball, softball, and recreational fields on the Brighton Campus, and the indoor football practice facility), the hockey locker room renovations, and the newly installed student-athlete fueling station.

“We can’t wave a magic wand and, all of a sudden, become a state school with all this land, like Clemson where you can just tailgate everywhere,” he said. “That’s not who we are—we’ll never be that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make something better.”

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lmost always smiling, Jarmond is about as friendly as it gets. Someone who describes himself as a positive person, the first-year AD is approachable and understanding, even to strangers. At first, though, he wasn’t sure everyone at BC would take him for that. In fact, his primary reservation rested with his boss, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J.

“Coming in, if you would’ve told me there was one hesitation I had, it was how is my relationship with Father Leahy going to be,” Jarmond said. “Just because I’m a kid from Fayetteville, N.C. who grew up a Southern Baptist, and I’m going to work for a Jesuit priest.”

Little did he know that the two would instantly gel and forge a friendship that ultimately transformed his greatest fear into what he says has been the best experience of his time at BC. In just a matter of months, Leahy has already given Jarmond his fair share of autonomy. This past month, Leahy allowed the rookie AD to hire Joanna Bernabei-McNamee as the new head women’s basketball coach without employing an executive search party.

It’s not just the University president either. According to men’s hockey head coach Jerry York—who has coached at BC for 25 years under four different ADs—Jarmond has galvanized all 210 people in the department.

“I think we all feel that Father Leahy and the people that organize the search hit a home run,” York said.

York’s observation comes as no surprise. From the start, Jarmond has made an effort to get to know everyone he’s met, even the reporters at his intro press conference, exchanging answers for names, free of charge. It’s logistically impossible to watch all 31 varsity teams in action on a weekly basis. So, Jarmond finds other ways to get his foot in the door, taking time out of his day to attend team meetings and workout sessions—anything he can do to back his coaches and players.  

“You can’t just do it from your office,” Boynton said. “You’ve got to be out there. You’ve got to be in touch with people. You’ve got to be building those personal relationships at all levels. The only way to mobilize talent and inspire people is by being in touch with them. Great leadership is a contact sport, and I think Martin Jarmond understands that.”

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idway through the first half of BC men’s basketball’s March 7 second-round ACC Tournament matchup against North Carolina State, Nik Popovic, who was playing some of the best basketball of his career, found himself fighting for an offensive rebound. Simultaneously colliding with Ky Bowman and diving for the ball, Popovic appeared to tweak a muscle in his shin, achilles, or ankle.

The trainers and head coach Jim Christian rushed to the 6-foot-10 center’s side, inspecting the lower half of his leg. A couple minutes passed, and Popovic got up on his own, hopping on one leg to the bench—despite the unassisted effort, the Bosnian big man needed x-rays.

Before Mike Laprey—the team’s sports information director—could even reach the locker room, Jarmond, who made the trip to the Barclays Center for the annual postseason competition, was at Popovic’s side. Keeping the sophomore company while he received his test results, Jarmond, perhaps unknowingly, was in uncharted territory.

“Nobody ever approached me that way,” Popovic said. “Nobody ever followed me to the locker room when I was hurt and talked to me, and stayed with me the whole time … It means that he cares about us—that makes me want to play more, play better.”

Popovic ended up returning to the game and finishing with 15 points and seven rebounds, as the Eagles avenged their regular season loss to the NCAA Tournament-bound Wolfpack, winning back-to-back ACC Tournament games for the first time since 2005-06.

The incident was hardly a fluke. Seven months earlier, Jon Baker shared a similar experience. After being named a captain, the now-redshirt senior suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week One at Northern Illinois. Just like that, Baker—who played 10 or more games in each of his first three collegiate campaigns—was done for the year.  

Not too long after the 300-pound center had his surgery, he heard from Jarmond, who asked him to stop by. Baker had no idea what the meeting was about, but when he got to his office, he was greeted by a warm welcome and empathetic thoughts. In a time of pain and frustration, Baker was pleasantly surprised, just like Popovic.   

“When he reached out to me after I got injured, I could tell, he’s the real deal—he really not just cares about the programs as a whole, but he also cares about us as individuals,” Baker said.

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t wasn’t until Dec. 12 that Jarmond and his team got another shot to immortalize an iconic moment in BC Athletics history.

BC men’s basketball was giving an undefeated Duke team all it could handle during the ACC opener. Conte Forum was packed, but people outside the confines of Chestnut Hill, Mass. were well aware of what was happening. The Eagles—a team that had totaled a combined two wins in conference play the past two years—were on the verge of taking down the top-ranked program in the country. Fittingly, the matchup was the lone nationally televised game in the noon time slot. All of the cards were stacked in Jarmond’s favor.

With seven minutes left to go, he gave campus police a heads up that, if BC pulled out the win, a court storming was inevitable. After that, he made sure that his photographers and IT guys were on site to perform their respective jobs—capture stills and present some sort of game-ending light show that’d grab television viewers’ attention.

In the waning minutes of regulation, Jerome Robinson drilled a pair of timely 3-pointers—one of which was the game-winner—and BC held on for the monumental victory. Then came the real test: the celebration.

This time there was no mixup. Students coated the hardwood, jumping up and down in glee as both the department and ESPN thoroughly documented the upset. Smiling, Jarmond pointed to the picture of the pandemonium in the back of his office.

“There’s no picture of us beating Florida State,” he said.

It took a few months, but BC is finally reacquainted with winning at the highest level. And now the department is no longer selling hope. Once again, the school is ready for the moment—an indication that Jarmond cleared the first hurdle of his ambitious tenure. He knows that he has a long way to go before BC stacks up with the ACC’s best, but that’s what he signed up for.

“I wanted to make an impact,” Jarmond said. “I came here to make a difference. I didn’t want to go anywhere where I was going to tread water. I wanted to come and make waves.”

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

Photos by Bradley Smart and Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor

Andy Backstrom

Andy served as the sports editor and managing editor of The Heights, wrote over 450 articles, covered hundreds of Boston College sporting events, and made lifelong friends in McElroy 113. Like what you see? Follow him on Twitter @andybackstrom.

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