I Want Your Job – Episode 4, The Full Circle: From ‘Cuse Grad to ESPN Executive to ‘Cuse AD with John Wildhack

The “I Want Your Job (IWYJ)” podcast continues with Syracuse University Director of Athletics John Wildhack, who shares the story of his journey, from early days studying media, playing major roles at a fledgling ESPN, mentors that guided him along the way, and the unexpected opportunities that eventually brought him to Syracuse.

Connect with John Wildhack:
Twitter: @WildhackJ

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Highlights from the interview:

John Wildhack

2:40 – Wildhack on playing Clemson in front of a sold out crowd at the Dome

3:54 – How and when Wildhack decided to pursue sports

5:08 – Wildhack mentions mentors and teachers of his, Dick Barnhill

6:18 – Wildhack answers the question: “Did you pursue broadcasting to be on camera?”

7:13 – Wildhack talks about joining a 13-month-old ESPN, a “glorified startup” at the time, and what it took to be successful in that “entrepreneurial” culture

9:20 – How creating content around the NFL Draft, what used to be “the biggest non-event ever” played out as a great return on a calculated risk at ESPN

10:42 – “It’s finding things that are untapped and having the wherewithal to…alright, let’s try and develop something. Let’s try to turn this into a franchise. And if it works, great! If it doesn’t, admit it didn’t work, learn from it, and move on.”

13:22 – Wildhack talks about the transition from being an “operator,” a “doer,” to being a leader, who must guide others and develop strategy

16:10 – Wildhack shares stories of two people at ESPN who had big impacts on him and his career: Steve Bornstein, George Bodenheimer

17:26 – Wildhack discusses the unexpected turn that took him from a media career and brought him to the world of college sports leadership

19:27 – The Wildhack family votes on whether or not John should pursue a position at Syracuse University

23:10 – “We are at our best when we’re talking and communicating with one another. And, by the way, that includes rigorous debate. Rigorous debate is really, really good. It’s fantastic. As long as it’s respectful, and when a decision is made, everybody owns it. Doesn’t matter what side you were on. Decision is made, you know what, we all are responsible for executing that decision.”

28:38 – Wildhack discusses how “new” media is really “digital” media, and talks about the work Syracuse University Athletics has done to create content that connects with alumni, friends of the University, parents, recruits, prospective student-athletes

33:06 – “We’re in the business of developing 600 young women and men to the best of their ability, to succeed academically, and to succeed competitively. That’s what we’re here to do. It’s no more complicated than that.”

33:58 – Wildhack offers advice to his younger self: be patient, be persistent, LEARN, work as hard as you can at your current job

More episodes of the “I Want Your Job” podcast to be announced soon! Stay tuned, and subscribe to be one of the first to get updates about this new podcast.

Full Podcast Transcript

Jim Cavale: Welcome to Episode 4 of I Want Your Job. I’m Jim Cavale, the founder and CEO of INFLCR, and we have got a fun one today.

We’ve got John Wildhack, the Athletic Director at Syracuse University. And I had a chance to catch up with him this past weekend when Syracuse hosted Clemson, the number one football team in the country for what was in a primetime game on ABC, and another example of how the Syracuse athletics brand is back in all facets.

It’s really exciting what’s going on up on the SU Hill, in my hometown, Syracuse, New York. But Wildhack’s story is very unique, because this is a guy who went to Syracuse, went to the prestigious Newhouse School, where he studied communications and really gained a love for television production. He worked at ESPN during the startup years when Bill Rasmussen was really just getting the network going.

And of course, the Big East needed ESPN, ESPN needed the Big East. And John Wildhack was at the center of it as part of the original team at ESPN that took it to new heights they never could imagine and the heights that we know today is it’s a media madness.

And so, you’re going to hear John’s story of passionately chasing down these two things—sports and television—and how they converge to allow him to not only live out this passion, but allow him to do things, not just in production, but also in business, on the sports media side that were so impactful to the world we live in and know today. And then the crossover from sports media to athletic director at his alma mater, how all that happened and what the vision is now for Syracuse, what his leadership formula is, so much good stuff.

So, I want to thank my company INFLCR, my amazing team for putting this podcast together. They work so hard each and every week to make it happen. And so, here we go. Syracuse, New York, inside the athletics offices with John Wildhack.

All right, John. So we’re here on a pretty notable day in Syracuse University’s 21st Century of football.

John Wildhack: Yes.

Clemson is at the dome tonight. And obviously, the last couple years have been amazing games between Syracuse and Clemson. And is the leader of this athletics department, I’m sure you’re real excited about where things are going. Let’s just start there. What does it mean to have a sold out dome and the number one team in the country here?

Well, I just, I think it means it’s, it’s a growth, an element of step in the forward of our program. It’s, you know, and it’s sold out, most anticipated game we’ve had and, you know, probably 20 years home game. It just shows the interest in the program. I think the fact we’re on ABC Saturday Night Primetime, it helps us from, obviously, from a national perspective, recruiting perspective.

But I think it’s, it’s indicative of the growing respect for our program and what we’re trying to build here and what we’re trying to accomplish.

And I love, you know, I love playing Clemson because I have great respect for Dan Radakovich, Coach Swinney, I mean, they’re, they’re the gold standard in the sport right now. And to be the best, you need to compete against the best.

So I know you have a vision for this athletic program to take it to national heights that it’s been to before and that we know it’s got the value to get to again. But I don’t want to start there. I want to go back. I want to go back to your career before being in college athletics.

I want to go back to your career in media. And I want you to talk about just when you first realized that that is what you wanted to do and really what triggered you to chase down building a career in the media world.

Well, as a kid growing up outside of Buffalo, I was always a huge sports fan, I mean, from the time I could have remembered, as a huge sports fan. And it was probably middle school where I became infatuated and interested in television. And as I got older and through high school and did some things and a little bit of very rudimentary experience, yeah, I just, I’ve, I discovered this real passion is two things that I was… I love sports and I was interested in television.

And, oh, my gosh, if I can take two things that one I love and the other I’m really interested about and make it my career, you know, that’s pretty darn fortunate, because that doesn’t happen for a lot of people.

And then, you know, ultimately, Syracuse was, was instrumental for me in terms of making that a reality for me, and just what the Newhouse School and what I got out of Syracuse University gave me the foundation to go start my career at ESPN.

Who were some mentors, some specific people during the years at Syracuse? Because I know the department is great from an educational perspective.


I’m not going to say it’s not. I mean, I know it is. But there are some amazing alumns and people that come in and speak and that are professors here. Who were some people who took you under their wing along the way during your time in here?

I had a couple of professors who were, who were really instrumental and helpful to me. Vic Barnhill was one. And he challenged me. I mean, he challenged me like I had not been challenged before. And it was really, really good for me because I was either… I was either going to respond or I wasn’t.

And I think that helped me, just the quality of the students at Newhouse in Syracuse University, it really honed my, my competitive instinct. So it was… it was a wonderful experience in terms of preparing me to go out in the outside world and try to compete and build my career.

And, you know, a lot of kids, including me, because my dream was always to be a broadcaster growing up. That was my second dream. My first dream was pro-baseball. I’ll be honest. But, but most folks who go to broadcast school want to be on camera, and then they realize there’s this whole world of you could be in the business side, you could be in the studio.


You could do all these different things. Some are forced into that. And some choose to go into that. Were you one of those who thought you wanted to be on camera?

It’s a great question. At first, I did want to be on camera. I did. And after I did my, my first tape when I got here, and we were in class, and we’re reviewing the tapes and critiquing the tapes. And I came to the conclusion myself. It’s like, there are some kids in this class that are really, really, really talented. I have no shot at being on camera. And I went… Rick Wright was my professor. And I went in there, to Professor Wright.

And I told him, I said, “I’m switching my major,” and he tried to talk me out of it. And I said, “Listen, I said, I’m just not good enough to be on camera. You’ve got kids in this class that are… that they’re going to be superstars.” I said, “I’m switching my major. I’m going to be… I’m going to be a production, you know, a television film production major.

So as you did that, I want you to keep going through the story of now you leave Syracuse and you are able to go to where you went heights-wise, role-wise at ESPN. But did you ever think the business of media or did you always think production and the product was more of…?

Product, production, I mean, that’s, you know, my goal was I wanted to produce games. I wanted to produce live games when I get out of here, and I went to ESPN, and at that time, ESPN had been on the air for 13 months. So it was a glorified startup.

Most of us were young and fresh out of school, and we didn’t know whether it’s going to work or not. And we’re like, “Well, we’re working in sports. This is pretty cool. We get paid a little bit. And when I say a little bit, it was a little bit.” There were like, “If it works great, and if not, we’ll go get real jobs some place.” But I… my interest and my passion was really I wanted to be producer of games. So at that time, I didn’t, you know, being in the business side or the programming side was not a primary interest of mine.

And, and so, ESPN being the startup that it was, I’m sure the hours were pretty intense.

Yeah, it was, the culture was you did whatever needed to be done to get shows on the air. And if that meant work… if that meant you work seven days a week for a month and a half straight, you know what, you do it. If that means you come in really early and stay really late, you do it.

And it was just… it was… and it created a culture, I think, an entrepreneurial spirit and a collaborative and can-do culture, which I think really has been sustained, even now at ESPN’s success.

And that’s kind of why I asked that question is like, so, being an entrepreneur, and that’s all I’ve ever known since college, like Rasmussen is like a guy that I study. I mean, it’s, it’s an amazing story. My favorite story is when he’s in New York and he’s looking at that billboard, and he makes up the offer to leverage it to get a bigger advertising deal with Anheuser Busch, right?


And so, I love those stories. I love… the podcast I listen to with him and Tim Ferriss was phenomenal. But my question to you is, how much of that rubbed off on you to be a business-think-outside-of-the-box innovator in every little thing you were doing early on?

Well, I think, at ESPN, we needed to innovate daily to survive. I mean, the concept of a 24×7 sports network was deemed ludicrous, you know, by everybody and by our competitors. So, we had to be innovative. We had to have an entrepreneurial spirit.

We had to figure out how to do things with less. And it was an incredibly valuable experience because it’s, it’s great when you’ve got just a plethora of resources, but to having a plethora of resources doesn’t always equate to success. You’ve got to have… you got to be creative. You got to have an entrepreneurial spirit.

And if you have creativity, if you have an entrepreneurial spirit, if you’re willing to take calculated risks, if you’re willing to try something that everybody tells you you can’t do but you believe in it, that’s, that’s going to… that’s going to make you better. It’s going to make you more effective. As an employee, you can impact the culture of a company.

What are some… what is an example of a calculated risk that you guys tried that really paid off and you learned a lot?

I just… I think one was the NFL Draft. I mean, the, you know, the NFL Draft was the biggest non-event ever. It’s like you, you know, it was held Tuesday through Thursday, I think, and ESPN needed programming. So it’s… but there have been… why would you want to televise a non-event? Well, look what the NFL Draft has become. It’s a massive event.

So it’s, it’s finding things that are untapped and, and having the wherewithal to, all right, let’s try and develop something. Let’s try to turn this into a franchise, and if it works, great. If it doesn’t, admit it didn’t work, learn from it, and move on.

Yeah. And it makes sense, right, because like, you know, people make broadcasts and events out of two teams playing with two groups of fans. The NFL Draft involves all 30-plus fans…


…and people do care about and there’s a lot of fixed markets like that but yet it hadn’t been anything at that point. It’s really cool. Obviously, the Big East, me growing up here in Syracuse, and how much you guys covered that, was really unique as well.

Well, it was a perfect conference because ESPN needed content and the Big East needed exposure. And Dave Gavitt is one of the great leaders in the history of college sports. He knew that. And Chet Simmons who is our president of ESPN at that time, you know, Chet knew that we need content, so, you know what, here’s, here’s the marriage.


We can provide the platform; you provide the content.

What’s an example of something you guys tried that didn’t work?

Oh, my goodness. There’s so many.

And what did you learn from it?

There’s so many. Probably the biggest, the biggest, in some ways, the biggest miss was ESPN The Phone, right, when we tried to get into the phone business, the hardware business, and we shut it down…

I remember that.

And it was shut it down after nine months and just to think that we could compete in, you know, physically, all right, having a branded ESPN phone versus, you know, the telecom companies that were, you know, they were light years ahead of us. But what we learned from that is that we’re… ESPN is a content company.

So we could take the content that we were producing for ESPN The Phone and we could license that, right, to the Verizons of the world, etc., that type of thing. So it taught us that we’re a content company, not necessarily a hardware company.

So, to wrap up ESPN, you, you get to this place where you’re now an executive there and you’re able to use all these years of experience going from a startup to a pretty established media company, multiple channels and help lead the whole thing. And how hard was that for you, or easy maybe, because you had been on the ground level and you knew now it’s all about talent, right?


It’s all about the right people in the right roles. What was the learning curve like for you to go from a doer and an executor to a leader who could actually find people better than you were to do what needed to be done to grow this network?

It’s a transition when people make that. It’s going to take time because, because you become, you know, you’ve been an operator, in a sense, right? And now you’re kind of segueing out of, all right, you’re not the operator anymore; you’re the… you’re the leader. You’re the one who oversees. You’re the one who advises. You’re the one who works with others to develop the strategy.

And, you know, what I learned really quick is, is surround yourself with people who are smarter, that are more talented than you, that have more expertise than you do in certain areas; leverage that for the collective success of the organization. You as the leader provide… you provide… you’re the example and you help… you provide and establish the culture of the organization, the values of the organization, how we’re going to conduct ourselves, how we act, what is our culture, are we going to be… are we’re going to have a conservative culture.

Or, are we going to be aggressive in our… despite the success and the notoriety ESPN had, we always maintained that entrepreneurial spirit. We’re always willing to take calculated risk. And I think that made… I think that made the place better and I think it empowers your staff when they know that they can try something and if it doesn’t work, we’re not… we’re not going to penalize them.

Now, if you do something that’s, you know, that’s unethical, yeah, you’re gone, right? You do something, you know, that’s just wrong, you’re not going to be there. But you can make a mistake. Admit it, learn from it. Don’t make the same mistake too many times now, okay. But it’s, you know, we had a culture where we rewarded risk.

And then all of a sudden you go from during this time, you’re there for this long period time, private company to then Disney, and trying to preserve a culture like that during a madness, you know, business situation. What was that like?

Well, it’s, Disney has been a great owner for ESPN. And it’s 80% Disney, 20% the Hearst Corporation. And I think Disney has been a fantastic owner. And we’re very fortunate because Bob Iger, you know, and Bob is, you know, he’s one of the great CEOs of all time without question. Bob grew up in sports. And he’s a big sports fan. And Bob grew up in programming at ABC Sports. So Bob understood the sports business. He was a fan. So, you can… you could… when there were conversations with Bob, he immediately grasped, all right, here’s what we’re trying to do. Here’s why we want to do it. And he was… Bob was always, always very supportive of what we wanted to do.

All those years at ESPN, who was like, like I asked about your college years, who took you under their wing and really had a big impact on?

Well, there’s a… there’s a number of people. Steve Bornstein really gave me my first, first big opportunity because in ‘87 when ESPN acquired the rights to the NFL games, you know, Steve could have picked anybody inside or outside to produce the games. And that was by far the marquee franchise for ESPN. It really legitimized ESPN.

And Steve chose me, and I was 28 years old at the time. And, I mean, that really jumped started my career.

So I’m forever indebted to Steve for taking a chance on me, because he could have hired a producer who was… had far more experience and was more established. So I’m forever grateful for that. George Bodenheimer, George was just a great leader, a great boss. He’s the most genuine, humble person that you’d ever want to meet.

And just… George was… George was the smartest person in the room but he never had to prove it. He never had to say the most. You know, George would sit back and he’d listen and he’d observe, and then he would be able to take something which was really, really complicated and he would be able to boil it down into, “So, really what the issue here is A, B and C, right?” And we’d all sit there, like, you know, once again, George just figures it out, distills it down to where, you know, we can all comprehend this.

So George was incredibly, incredibly supportive and, you know, great… not, not… he’s a great, not so much as a mentor but as a leader and just, you know, someone that I have so much personal and professional respect for.

That’s a really neat story. It’s funny, it reminds me of, I just read this book, Trillion Dollar Coach by Bill Campbell. Are you familiar with Bill Campbell?

I’m not.

So Bill Campbell is this guy who basically was coaching football at Columbia, and was moderately successful. Ends up going to Silicon Valley, second career in his 30s, leaves coaching and becomes one of the most successful board members in Silicon Valley history, was the CEO of Intuit. He was Steve Jobs’ Chair of the Board at Apple when jobs came back, Google board member. It’s an amazing book for listeners. I highly recommend you listen to it.

But that was literally… what you just described about George is literally what made Bill Campbell A Trillion Dollar coach for all of the most successful Silicon Valley companies that we know.


And it’s funny, when we’re in it, even if we’re at a high level, when we’re in it sometimes we just can’t see everything, you know what I mean? And to have somebody in the room who can kind of help us just see it and not get emotional about it, and just see the facts.


It’s really important.

Right, and just kind of cut through… cut through all the issues, cut through all the red tape and like, “Hey, this is the issue, right?” “Yes. Okay, how are we going to resolve it?” Boom, who’s going to own it? Boom, go.

Yeah, go. Okay, so, so while all this is going on during your, your multiple decades at ESPN, Syracuse University continues to be a prestigious athletics brand, right. And, you know, known for mainly basketball but a lot of great sports here, football’s head runs, all that. And then the job becomes open. What makes you decide that this is a transition from media madness to college athletics?

So, it was, it was nothing that I had planned. It was nothing that I aspired to do, quite frankly. I got to know a lot of Ads at my time at ESPN and the job of an AD is incredibly, incredibly complicated and a difficult job. But I had two people when the job became open, Sandy Montag who’s a close friend and Mike Tirico who’s a close friend, and Sandy is Mike’s agent. They called me and they said, “Would you ever consider?” I’m like, “No.” I said, “No, I’m not moving. I’m not moving from Connecticut. I’m not moving my family. My wife is from Connecticut. Her family is from Connecticut. My kids, they love their school. They’re doing great.” So I was, “No.”

And then they called me back I think probably like a week later, “Well, would you at least meet with the head hunter?” I’m like, “All right, I’ll meet with the headhunter.” “Well, the headhunter can meet with you in New York.” I said, “No, no, no. The headhunter is coming to Bristol. I’m not driving to New York.”

You know, so, you know, so one thing led to another and the job did pique my interest. I have a great affection for the university and for the community. Most of my family went here. My dad did his… dad did his undergrad here. My older brother, my older sister, their graduates, my two nephews are recent graduates. We’ve got great connectivity to Syracuse University.

And it was really, the MVP was my wife, because it was Father’s Day 2016 and I remember sitting her down and I said, “I think I really, really want to explore this.” And if she had said no, it wouldn’t have happened. And, you know, ultimately that led to me being interviewed and I told the Chancellor Syverud and he’s… he is a lot like George Bodenheimer, you know, he’s, he’s a very humble, genuine person, incredibly bright, who’s been a fantastic leader for the university.

And one thing, you know, you always want to consider the person you’re going to be working for, right? And because you’re what… are their values consistent with your values?

Culture fit.

And in Chancellor Syverud, you know, I admire him greatly. But I told him, I said, “It could be a four, nothing, vote. My wife’s got it and my two sons, and if it’s not four, nothing, we’re not going to do it. And we went… we talked about it with my sons and told him, I said, “This is, this is, these are really good decisions to have to make because there’s no bad outcome here. If we in Connecticut we’re blessed and you know what, we’ve got a great life.

If we decide that we want to make the move, you know what, it’s going to be a tremendous adventure for all of us. And the vote was four, nothing. And here we are.

So you come in here and you’ve got to reestablish some culture, right? There’s been multiple leaders…


…this century, and you’re coming in, you had to define a culture. You’ve got to create a vision. There’s things to celebrate and leverage. There’s things to improve like any organization. How did you do that?

Well, the first thing I did is when I was named and I met with the staff and I looked to everybody now, I said, “I have more to learn than anybody else in this room.” And I said, “I acknowledge that and I also commit to all of you that I will do whatever it takes to learn what I don’t know so that I can… that I can be effective in…” You know, then we, we established a senior leadership team.

We kind of defined a culture defined a mission statement. A lot of things that I brought from ESPN are transferable. ESPN was a very collaborative culture, very communicative culture. The same thing here, I brought that. I’m like, “We are at our best when we’re talking and communicating with one another.” And by the way, that includes your rigorous debate, rigorous debate is really, really good, is fantastic as long as it’s respectful. And when a decision is made, everybody owns it.

That’s right.

Whether you… whatever… it doesn’t matter what side you were on, decision is made, you know what, we all are responsible for executing that decision. And it took some time to build that culture. But I think we have a… I think we build a very strong… it is a collaborative culture, not only within athletics, but across the university.

I wanted athletics to be seen as a great partner across the university. And I think we complement each other in so many ways. When we have athletic success, like when we go to the Camping World Bowl, leverage that for the benefit of the university, just not athletics, and I really, really mean that.

You know, it’s funny talking about debate, one of our core value as an INFLCR is be passionate. And I think that’s one of the best ways that comes out. Debate means that two people are talking or maybe multiple people are talking about an issue that they really care about.


And they just… as long as the goal is to make the right decision for the company or for the Syracuse Athletics brand, a great thing can come out.

Right, you’re trying to get better.


That’s what you’re trying to do. So, all right, let’s, let’s figure it out. Let’s see, okay, let’s argue, you know.


Put your position forward. You know…

I don’t have to read between the lines.

Right, and then let’s go. Okay, you know what, hey, here’s what we’re going to do.

Okay, so what’s the formula that you brought from ESPN to establish that vision? You said you worked on some things you brought from there to create a mission and vision here.

You know, Jim, I think it was just, it’s, it was more, it needed to be organic in a sense.


Right. And it takes time to make it organic. You know, part of it started with, you know, all right, I had to do a little evangelizing. You know, senior staff, mid-sized senior staff, every area is represented. You know, we would, we meet every two weeks.

So again, that’s just, you get people together and they start talking and they’re talking before the meeting, they’re talking after the meeting, sometimes hallway conversations are the most effective, most important conversations there are. And you discover we all have a heck of a lot more in common than not, and the one thing I stressed is we have 14 ACC schools that are great academic and athletic institutions and we’re competing against them every day.

So darn it, we better not compete against ourselves. And if we are going to compete against ourselves, then you’re not going to be on the team. But if you’re willing to be collaborative, if you’re willing to be communicative, if you’re willing to be… think aggressively, act aggressively, you can take chances. You could take calculated risks. And if it doesn’t work, I’m not going to… I’m not going to fire you. Again, you do something reckless, you do something unethical, yeah, you’re going to be fired.

And I think it takes time to build that culture but I think it’s… I think it’s happened here.

What are you most excited about right now with what’s going on at Syracuse University?

You know, there’s, you know, there’s so many different things. I’m really proud of the academic and competitive success that we’ve had. And it all starts around the 600 student athletes that we have.

We’re here to provide them a great experience, whether… it doesn’t matter how long they’re here at Syracuse, that we prepare them to have success after Syracuse. And whether that’s grad school, whether that’s the business world, whether they’re good enough to play professionally.

And I tell kids who play professionally who have aspirations, I said, “I covered the NFL. I covered the NBA. It’s a business. They love you until the day there’s somebody better. And then there’s another name in what used to be your locker. So, yeah, you better be prepared for that.”

And what’s the biggest thing you’re working on that you want to see happen here? What’s the what’s the biggest initiative you guys are working?

You know, I think, again, I mean, overall, we just want to, we want to build on the academic and competitive success that we’ve had. We’ve got a strategic plan, which I think is a really good, aggressive strategic plan for the next five years.

The stadium project is really exciting. You know, the dome to me is the most unique facility in college sports, you know, home to five of our sports. I think it’s, it’s… and it’s a building that as we renovated we need to leverage better than we have in the past. We need to celebrate it because it is unique and it provides, I think, a distinct advantage for us, a home field advantage, whether it’s football or basketball or lacrosse.

So obviously, you guys are thinking about new media here at Syracuse. Some of that comes from just your behaviors at ESPN, always trying to see what’s ahead. You’re partnered with us in INFLCR. You’re doing a lot of things to build a team internally that’s operating like its own media company. Jordan Kligerman and some of the staff here have really been instrumental at putting out great content.

And we enjoy seeing your student athletes build their brands, and that’s what we do. But there’s so much more than that going on in, in media right now. Talk about what media looks like. I mean, the ACC Network, launching with ESPN this year, is a part of all the new things going on for Syracuse with media.

And absolutely, Jim, and couple things, in terms of people will refer to it as new media, to med it’s digital media. So it’s no longer new. And it’s an opportunity for us from a brand, from a marketing exposure for all our sports to get our message out there. We need to put our message out where it’s going to be consumed by the audience that we’re trying to attract. Jordan and his team have… they’ve done a fantastic job.

And we really didn’t have a unit like that, a creative services group when I got here. And I’m like we need to be, we need to be the most aggressive promoters of our brand, of the Syracuse athletics brand and the brand of all our 20 sports. We need to do that. We can’t just rely on third-party media to do that. They’ll do it if we’re really good, but we got to push it every single day.

And we got to create content, which is going to connect us, going to connect us with alumni, going to connect us with friends in the university, going to connect us with parents, with recruits, prospective student athletes, and that’s what we’ve tried to do.

The ACC Network, to answer your question on that, it’s, it’s one of the beauties of it. It’s going to provide so much incremental exposure for Olympic sports and our women’s sports. And I think that’s fantastic across the board for the conference. The ACC obviously is best known for men’s basketball.

The ACC is great… ACC is great at every sport. And now we get to showcase that and not only the linear platform, but ACC Network Extra, which is a streaming companion to it is a huge part of the network as well. So, again, I think it’s a great opportunity for the conference in all 15 schools to really get our message out and to get… and to advance our brand.

So we sit here today, just recently, the Fair Pay to Play Act made more news. South Carolina has come in and kind of put together their own proposal. And you know, it seems to me like more of not if but when it will happen in saying.

Don’t really want to get into the opinion you might have or position you might have but I do want to talk about what you think life looks like or could look like as this happens three, four years down the road because we have heard that if it does happen just in California, still has three years for operation.


So instead of fighting against it, I feel like people need to talk about, well, what could it look like so we can be ready for it.

Well, I think one thing is the NCAA has also formed a committee to study the name, likeness, and image. And I’ll be interested to see what the report and what the recommendations that that committee puts forth. But it’s, you know, there’s always a myriad of issues. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in college athletics, or if you’re in media.

You know, when I was at ESPN, “Well, what’s the media world going to look like 10 years from now?” Well, you want if I can answer that question, I probably wouldn’t be here. I’d be doing something else, you know, for a living.

But that’s part of, you know, we live in a time of… we live in a time of change, right? We live in a time of disruption in the media world. So to me, you have to, you know, you have to embrace the period that we’re in. It’s exciting. You can’t let it intimidate you. It has to be… you let it excite, you let it energize you.

And when there are issues that come up, you need really thoughtful leaders and thoughtful conversation in terms of, “All right, what should we do? All right, what’s, what are we comfortable with? What aren’t we comfortable with?”

I think overall is I think we do… I think we do a good, good job of providing a really good experience for our student athletes. You know, a number of student athletes across the country, they’re receiving cost of attendance, right? They’re receiving some type of aid. They may be receiving Pell Grants. So you know, they are receiving through the appropriate channels, some type of support. But I think as new issues arise, that you can’t put your head in the sand. You have to address them.

I love that approach. And I think, you know, the reality is, is if we just keep putting the student athlete first, everything else will work itself out.

That’s what we’re here. I mean, I get asked by parents or recruits, “Well, athletic, what do you do?” You know, I mean, I said, “It’s very simple. We’re in the business of developing young people.”


Just like any university is.


We’re in the business of developing 600 young women and men to the best of their ability to succeed academically and succeed competitively. That’s what we’re here to do. It’s no more complicated than that. That’s our mission statement. I just distilled down our mission statement.


Yeah, we had one that used to be five pages. Now it’s one sentence. But that’s got to be… that’s what’s got to drive the staff every single day. We’re in the business, business of developing young people to their full potential here so they achieve all that they can academically, competitively. And then, when they leave Syracuse, as I said earlier, they’re prepared to have success no matter where they go, no matter what endeavor they choose.

And whatever they do, they can know that the people here we’re all rallied around how to make that happen.

All right, so to wrap it up, I want to have you try to do this. Talk to your 22-year-old self. So you’re getting out of school here and you know everything you know now.

Oh, my god.

Okay, and what are some things that you would tell yourself?

Yeah, I think, I think a couple things is, is and I tell this to young people all the time, “Be patient and persistent.” And well, they conflict, I say, “No.” I say, you got to be persistent and… in trying to achieve your goals. You got to be persistent in chasing your goals.

But you also need to be patient. You’re not going to walk into the company and in six months be CEO unless you’re doing a startup. You’re just not going to do that. And I think the other thing is, is learn, learn, learn, learn, learn. You… you learn more by listening and asking questions than by talking. So learn. Have a mentor. It doesn’t have to be an official relationship, but have people that you really respect.

Get to know them, ask them for advice, and counsel, because people will give back. They’ll get back and, you know, in spades that way. And then, you know, focus on what… focus on doing your current job really, really well. We all want to get promoted. But if you focus too much on the next job and you don’t do your current job very well, you’re never going to get promoted.

Your biggest advocate should be your manager, your immediate supervisor. So when they… he meets… he or she meets with their peers, they can say, “You know what, you know what, Jim is killing it. He’s awesome. He’s ready to be promoted.” Well, you do that by, you know… focus on what you’re doing now. Do it to the best of your ability. Try to learn around your… around the job where you can. Try to do more if you can.

Try and do extra, volunteer, whatever, spend more time in. And just, again, be patient and persistent.

It’s awesome stuff and the people who are listening are getting a chance to listen, and learn from you today. And that’s because you took the time. On the same day that Clemson is in town to meet with me, we appreciate it at INFLCR, our partnership with you guys and your 200-plus athletes across the five teams we serve. It’s been a blast and we’re excited to be a small part of the big story you’re building.

Well, you guys… you guys have been a great partner and it’s awesome because it’s great to give our, our teams and our student athletes a platform right where they can express themselves and again, you guys, you know, what you’re doing in the digital media space is really cool and it allows us to connect our student athletes.

Their personal brand also allows us to connect in terms of recruiting, you know, prospective student athletes. So, we love the relationship and you should be really proud of what you’ve accomplished.

Such great stuff from John. And as you know, INFLCR is the power behind this podcast, these interviews you hear. We’re interviewing partners and some of the most influential folks that work for those partner brands like Syracuse Athletics.

Or in past episodes, you’ve heard Geoff Collins from Georgia Tech, Eric SanInocencio from the ACC, Bill Clark from UAB. These are all folks we get to serve with INFLCR, with our software platform. We’re serving now almost 100 brands in the college sports realm and beyond that in pro sports, and we also have more than 9,000 athletes that are active in their INFLCR app grabbing content and using it on a daily basis.

And so, what I want to do right now is I want to visit with one of those athletes and he’s actually a former Syracuse basketball player, recently declared for the NBA draft and headed to the NBA. And he’s actually starting his career in his home country of Canada with the Toronto Raptors and that’s Oshae Brissett.

Oshae is a very active guy on the platform. And I had a chance to chat with him a little bit about digital and social media content and, of course, how he uses INFLCR to build his brand. Check this out.

So, O’Shea, first off the fact that Syracuse invested into a platform like INFLCR and a content team to produce content around everything you’re doing so that you could then have it delivered by your INFLCR app and have it at your fingertips in real time, how important was that for you?

Oshae Brissett: It was amazing. You know, right after a game we would get a text or notification right from the app and, you know, 36 new files or 20 new files. You know, going on the app, seeing all those, you know, nice-quality pictures, every picture has great quality, no blur, no, nothing.

And, you know, especially that we could use though, you know, I mean, having something else on it, you know, we sometimes, we get pictures from different websites and we have to crop it or try to make it to where we can put it on Instagram but, you know, INFLCR has it where you could download it right away right through our phones and it’s something that everyone on the team use from, you know, starters to even [inaudible 0:38:58]. It’s basically for everybody. So, it was great.

So moving forward, going into the NBA and knowing that there’s photographers from national media outlets and videographers and broadcasters from big broadcasting brands, recording all the moments you are going to make in the NBA and knowing we have a deal with USA Today to help deliver those moments to you automatically, but there’s more companies out there that we can partner with to do that, how important is it to be an advocate for athletes to get their content in real time through a platform like INFLCR?

It’s great. You know, now that I’m at a point where I’m trying to build myself and my name and, you know, pictures then, you know, video is a way to do that. And social media is a big thing now, and if I can get the right pictures right away to post, you know, I know this is going to help me with my career. So INFLCR is something that helps a lot of players, NBA, NFL, the guys that really need to build their name, build their brand. It’s something that we’re going to use to the rest of our careers.

Awesome stuff from Oshae and really excited for him as he goes into his pro career now with the Raptors. And listen, at the end of the day when we put athletes first in this industry, we’re all going to win because that’s our job. That’s the reason we exist.

You heard John say that when we were talking in our conversation on this episode, and that’s the biggest thing I hope you take away is when we put the athletes first in whatever role we play, the athletes are of course what make our positions and our roles possible, right. And so, by putting them first, by thinking from their perspective, by hearing their perspective, like Oshae’s there and thinking through that we can win together in everything we’re doing in our roles to create maximum impact not just for the athletes, but for our athletics department, or if you work for a pro team for your front office, or if you work for a media team for your media brand.

Everybody wins when we put the athletes first.

And I just want to thank John Wildhack for sharing his amazing story. The show notes are on INFLCR.com. You just click on the podcast option and you’ll see Episode 4 John Wildhack. You’ll see the show notes.

You’ll see links. You’ll see ways to follow Syracuse and John on social media and, of course, ways to continue to engage with this podcast. You can subscribe to this podcast either where you’re listening to it right now or right there on the Episode 4 page on INFLCR.com that I just described.

Make sure you subscribe on whatever engine you use, if it’s iTunes, Spotify, so that you can continue to get notified when we release new episodes of I Want Your Job. And of course, follow us on social @INFLCR, I-N-F-L-C-R and follow me at@jimcavale.

And we will be back with some incredible episodes here in Season 1 of I Want Your Job including a really special one next week that’s got a surprise to it. So I can’t say any more than that. But stay tuned for next week’s episode and the other episodes in Season 1 and thank you for listening to Episode 4 with John Wildhack today on I Want Your Job.

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