Today marks the end of an era at ESPN – the last day at the company for long-time respected executive John Wildhack, who is leaving his post as EVP, Production and Programming, to become the athletic director at his alma mater, Syracuse University.
Wildhack, who joined ESPN in 1980, has held various management roles over his 36-year career and as a result, “he has had a direct hand in virtually every major content milestone ESPN has achieved,” according to ESPN President John Skipper.
The following are some reflections about Wildhack’s impact from some of his behind-the-scenes and on-air colleagues. Front Row also combed the ESPN Images archives for photos reflecting Wildhack’s tenure at ESPN.
Lindsay Czarniak, SportsCenter anchor:
“I will truly miss seeing John around campus in Bristol as well as on location at various ‘on the road’ events where I’ve seen him frequently over the past few years. I’m grateful to have been able to work for someone who is a terrific leader and a great person. He lets you know he cares about your happiness at work and is also genuinely interested in how your family is doing. He recently spent time with my family at the Indy 500 and they all said the same thing — ‘That John Wildhack seems like a really great guy.’”
Mike Greenberg, co-host, Mike & Mike:
“John Wildhack was a good friend and great supporter of our show since we went on the air almost 20 years ago. I could always count on an encouraging note from John during good times and challenging times – they were equally appreciated in both cases. I have no doubt he will have great success at his alma mater and I look forward to chronicling all of it.”
ESPN SVP, Production, Mark Gross:
“John is the ultimate ESPN pro who cared as much about the people as the product on the air.”
Jon Gruden, ESPN Monday Night Football analyst:
“John is a great friend and he is a big reason why I’m at ESPN. What I respect most about John is that he is always honest. He didn’t hold back and he held us all accountable. He wanted us to be ambitious and set a high bar that we will continue to strive for on Monday Night Football. He has done so much for ESPN and we are going to miss him, but John is going to be a great athletic director at Syracuse. I have no doubt about that.”
ESPN SVP, SportsCenter and News, Rob King:
“You could spend a long time looking. . . But you’ll never find a better man. His generosity is matched only by his decency. I’ll miss John more than I can say.”
ESPN EVP, Programming and Scheduling, Burke Magnus:
“Virtually every day of my 21 years at ESPN have been on ‘Team Wildhack’ and to have a front row seat to witness and learn from John has been amazing. His intellect, personal style, relentless work ethic and keen business acumen is what sets him apart. I am very thankful for all John contributed to make ESPN the special place it is today.”
Sean McDonough, ESPN MNF commentator, Syracuse graduate:
“While I am sorry to see him leave ESPN, I am delighted for John and for Syracuse University that he will be our next athletic director. John is an outstanding person. He is smart, is a great leader, and he loves Syracuse. His remarkable career at ESPN has been well-chronicled and speaks for itself. He is one of the most important people in the history of ESPN. I am grateful to him for his friendship and for all he has done for me, personally and professionally. Now, as he, Amy and their boys begin this exciting new chapter, I look forward to watching him use his considerable talents to elevate the athletic program at our beloved alma mater.”
Stephen A. Smith, First Take commentator:
“Talent should always give maximum effort. That’s a given. But if you’re lucky — especially in this business — you come across a boss who is so fair, who treats you with a RESPECT you’ve craved for so long, that he inspires you to exceed your wildest expectations. Just because you don’t want to let him down!
“For me, John Wildhack is one of those rare people. A true honor to work for. He was so good to me in so many ways that even though I heard the word ‘No’ more often than I ever heard yes, I rarely cared. . .because it was HIM telling me so.
“The guidance and counseling he provided was immeasurable and will stay with me forever. I will always be grateful not just for him making me better but genuinely wishing the very best for me — something you don’t see much of from most people in this day and age. My gratitude to him will never fade. And although he won’t be around to hear me call him boss any longer, he’ll always remain that in my mind. And so much more.
“He is my friend. And I’m going to miss him dearly!”
Sage Steele, NBA Countdown host:
“It is so rare to get the opportunity to know one of your bosses on a personal level, but that’s exactly what I have been able to do with John. His dedication and love for his wife Amy and his sons always shined through, and to me, that says more than anything. So thank you John for being a great example, not just on the court, but off the court as well. That’s where it really counts. You will be missed!”
ESPN SVP, Production and Multimedia Sponsorship Integration and Management Operations, Tina Thornton:
“John hired me in 1993 as a Production Assistant to help launch ESPN2. What an honor it’s been to work with and for someone whose influence is felt across the sports production landscape. His genuine leadership, integrity and advocacy will be missed by those he inspired in his 36-year career at ESPN.”
Scott Van Pelt, SportsCenter anchor:
“Personally and professionally, I am conflicted about this. I’m happy for John because I know how much he loves Syracuse and how great he will be in this role. Selfishly, I’ll miss him for our company and myself. He was a wonderful advocate who helped me see a greater vision for myself and created an avenue to show it. His faith and encouragement were a big reason I was willing to tackle a new challenge. I hope he takes from here that same confidence that he can, and will, be great in this next chapter of his life. Because that’s exactly what he’s going to do. Like another Syracuse guy I know who moved on to another gig, he’ll always have ESPN in his heart as ESPN will have a place in its heart for him. A big one.”
Sara Walsh, SportsCenter anchor:
“Personally, I was so sad to hear John Wildhack is leaving. Professionally, it’s such a great move because I know how passionate he is about Syracuse. John has been so instrumental in my time here. He always treated me as more than just an employee, reaching out more than once when he knew I was dealing with personal adversity. I am so thrilled for his next chapter. And the solace I take in him leaving is that my Syracuse fanatic parents are telling all their friends I know the Syracuse AD!”