Martin Jarmond: A career of firsts, launched by a life-changing phone call (“1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast)

UNCW alum now leads UCLA’s athletic department
Martin Jarmond, UNCW alum and current Athletic Director at UCLA, is the guest on the new...
Martin Jarmond, UNCW alum and current Athletic Director at UCLA, is the guest on the new episode of the "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast. Martin talks about becoming captain of the Seahawk basketball team, learning the world of college athletics, and the phone call that helped launch his groundbreaking career.(WECT)
Updated: Sep. 16, 2022 at 5:29 AM EDT
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Martin Jarmond, UNCW alum and current athletic director at UCLA, joins the "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast.

LOS ANGELES, CA (WECT) - Martin Jarmond’s career in college athletics began when he arrived on the campus of UNC Wilmington in 1997. It continues today, a quarter of a century later, with Jarmond named in 2020 as Athletic Director at UCLA, leading a program that has won 119 NCAA team championships in its’ storied history.

“I never saw myself living as far west as Los Angeles,” Jarmond said in an interview from his office on the UCLA campus. “I never would have envisioned that in my wildest dreams. But I’ve been blessed and fortunate to have a lot of really good people along my journey who really supported me. We’re always a product of our experiences and relationships, and I’m just lucky and fortunate to have had so many great people that have cared about me and have helped me grow and develop and learn.”

A native of Fayetteville, North Carolina, which is located about 90 miles northwest of Wilmington, Jarmond played basketball at Pine Forest High School, but he did not receive a scholarship offer to play for Head Coach Jerry Wainwright’s improving Seahawk program. Undeterred, the 5′9″ point guard tried out and secured a spot on the 1997-98 UNCW team as a walk-on.

Jarmond’s playing time was limited, seeing action in just five out of the team’s 59 games in his first two years. But he put the team’s needs ahead of his personal aspirations, often leading the scout squad in practice against Coach Wainwright’s starters. Jarmond’s determination, work ethic and selflessness earned so much respect inside the program that the coaching staff and fellow teammates named him as one of the team captains for his junior season.

“I tried to figure out early on in my career at UNC Wilmington where I can help, where I could fit in,” Jarmond remembered. “I thought that relating to the guys, understanding the coach’s perspective, the amount of work and discipline that was needed to be successful, and where can I help push, and that’s what I tried to do. I tried to push my teammates every day of practice and tried to execute to the best of my ability, within my ability, what the coaches wanted to do and just try to be selfless in my approach.”

Two of the many ‘firsts’ Jarmond accumulated in his athletics career came during that same 1999-2000 season. UNCW entered the post-season Colonial Athletic Association Tournament as #4 seed, but ran off three straight victories to win the school’s first CAA Men’s Basketball championship, earning UNCW’s inaugural bid to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, known to many as March Madness.

“That team, it started with love,” Jarmond says, remembering back to March 6, 2000, and the 57-47 win over Richmond in the championship game. “That was a really close-knit team, it was magical. I just remember that night that we won. It was like the best feeling ever in your life, you know, because you worked so hard. The coaching staff had always said we want to get to the NCAA tournament, that was one of the goals. To work that hard and to have done it for the first time, knowing it’s never been done and you do it. There’s no kind of feeling like that. Just a belief in each other, and that’s what we had. But we it started with love. And I would say that that team really loved each other.”

Off the court, Jarmond earned CAA All-Academic honors in 2001, and was named the school’s first Upperman Scholar, receiving a four-year scholarship named for a local doctor, Dr. Leroy Upperman, whose donations helped establish the Upperman African American Cultural Center on campus. Upon graduation, Jarmond decided to turn his love of college athletics into a career. He enrolled at Ohio University, into one of the most prestigious programs in the country, to pursue Master’s Degrees in both Business and Sports Administration. It was during Jarmond’s first year on the Athens campus, when a phone call changed his life.

“At the end of the year, we always have this symposium where all the alumni come back, and this was the first time that a lot of us students were going to meet the alumni,” Jarmond recalled. “We get to that night, 300 people, and I look around in the ballroom, and no one looks like me. I took it hard, I went to the bathroom, got to a stall, locked it and started crying. I called my mom and I said, ‘Mama, I’m not going to become an athletic director, because no one here looks like me’. She proceeded to ask me, ‘Are you by yourself?’ I’m, you know, crying, ‘Yes, Mommy, I’m by myself’. She says, ‘Get up, wash your face, and go back out there!’ I’m like, ‘What?’. She repeats it more sternly, ‘Get up, wash your face, and go back out there!’. She told me, ‘Not only will you become an athletic director, but you’re going to come back to this event, and you’re going to be the person that others that look like you see, so they can see it too’. That was probably a turning point for me. It’s hard to be something or do something if you haven’t seen it before. If you see someone that either has the same background, looks like you, speaks like you or whatever it is, there’s just a comfort level to that. When you can’t see it, is much harder to attain. Even though I couldn’t see it, to have that belief in me and to help me find that belief in myself was a game changer for me.”

Undaunted, and fueled by the confidence instilled by phone from North Carolina, Jarmond earned his graduate degrees and landed his first job at Michigan State University. In six years (2003-2009) at the Big-10 school, Jarmond worked his way up from Development Assistant to Assistant Athletic Director of Development, excelling in fundraising as part of a $1.2 billion University Capital Campaign. In 2009, Jarmond accepted a job as Associate Athletic Director for Development at Ohio State University. Over the next eight years, Jarmond rose through the ranks in Columbus to become Chief of Staff for Gene Smith, OSU’s Athletics Director, ultimately overseeing day-to-day operations for all men’s and women’s sports.

Jarmond’s next set of ‘firsts’ came in 2017, when Boston College hired him as the school’s first African-American Athletic Director. At the age of 37, he also became the youngest athletic director at a Power-5 (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) conference school. Three years later, he got the opportunity to join the team at UCLA, signing on to be the first African-American Athletic Director in the school’s 101-year history.

Virginia Jarmond passed away in July of 2020, just weeks after Martin accepted the job in California. Her words of encouragement some 18 years earlier had set her son on a path to groundbreaking success. They also enriched him with the passion to blaze a better path for those who will follow.

“I use that as fuel, and it shifted me from a less selfish, ‘What about me?’ perspective, to ‘I’ve got to do this for others, I’ve got to do this for those coming behind me, to try to impact this space to make it easier’,” Jarmond says. “I’ve been involved in a lot of firsts, and I don’t know if I would have handled it as well if I didn’t have that.”

Martin Jarmond lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Jessica, and their three daughters, Scarlett, Savannah and Serena. I hope you enjoy this inspiring conversation as much as I did.

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