Kenmore native John Wildhack, a powerful ESPN executive and Buffalo Sabres and Bills fan, has been named the athletic director at his alma mater, Syracuse University.
Wildhack replaces Mark Coyle, who ended his brief run as Syracuse AD after 11 months to take the same position at the University of Minnesota.
In a statement carried by the Syracuse Post-Standard, Wildhack said “to say this is a dream job would be a significant understatement.”
The announcement was a surprise since Wildhack has such an important role at ESPN in programming and production and doesn’t have any experience as an athletic director.
However, one of his many jobs over 36 years at ESPN was to negotiate TV contracts with sports leagues.
A 1976 graduate of Kenmore West and a 1980 Syracuse graduate, Wildhack once told me that when he was a high school student he would come home on the National Football League’s Draft Day and plop in front of the television to learn who the Bills drafted.
Years later when he worked at ESPN, it was his idea to have viewers watch Oklahoma State running back Thurman Thomas wait to be taken in the draft.
The Thomas wait during the 1988 draft became one of the most memorable scenes in ESPN’s draft coverage.
"We wanted a player on the bubble, who some experts said would go in the first round and some said would go in the second round," explained Wildhack years ago. "We said, 'Let's spend the day and agonize with Thurman Thomas.' Besides the human interest, there also is a big money difference between being a first- and second-rounder."
Thomas' agony ended when Wildhack's favorite team -- the Bills -- picked him in the second round.
"I wrote Thurman a note and said, 'Enjoy the chicken wings,' " said Wildhack.
Thomas, who was picked in the second round, went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Bills.