John U. Bacon has worked the better part of two decades as a writer, a public speaker, radio commentator, college teacher, and high school hockey coach, winning awards for all five.
Bacon earned an honors degree in history (“pre-unemployment”) from the University of Michigan in 1986, and a Master’s in Education in 1994. In 2005-06, the Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowship named him the first recipient of the Benny Friedman Fellowship for Sports Journalism.
He started his journalism career covering high school sports for The Ann Arbor News, then wrote a light-hearted lifestyle column before becoming the Sunday sports feature writer for The Detroit News in 1995. He earned numerous state and national awards for his work, including “Notable Sports Writing” in The Best American Sports Writing in 1998 and 2000.
After Bacon covered the 1998 Nagano Olympics, he moved from the sports page to the Sunday front page, roaming the Great Lakes State to find fresh feature stories. He left the paper in 1999 to free-lance for more than two-dozen national publications, writing stories on Formula One racing in Australia for The New York Times, on Japanese hockey for ESPN Magazine, and on Ernest Hemingway’s Michigan summer home for Time.
He has authored or coauthored eight books on sports and business, including Walgreens: America’s Corner Store, Cirque du Soleil: The Spark, Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership, which hit The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal’s Business Best Seller lists. He then researched and wrote a trio of books covering big time college football from the inside out: Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football, Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football, Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football. All three were New York Times best sellers.
His latest book, Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope, coauthored with ESPN’s John Saunders, tells Saunders’ life story in dramatic detail, and will be published in May of 2016.
Bacon delivers speeches on the themes in his books — including leadership, creativity and diversity — to corporations, universities and other groups around the country and the world. In 2011, the Michigan Chapter of Meeting Planners International (MMPI) named him “Speaker of the Year.”
Bacon has also pursued his passions for radio, television, coaching and teaching. In 2002, he launched a Sunday morning sports talk show on WTKA (1050 AM, wtka.com, in Ann Arbor/Detroit) called “Off the Field,” and in 2007 he was invited to give weekly sports commentary on Michigan Radio every Friday morning. In 2015, his commentary won first place in the Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRINDI) competition, open to all 900 NPR stations, who submitted 1,100 entries. He has since added weekly live interviews with Michigan Radio’s Cynthia Canty on “Stateside,” he often speaks on NPR’s “Here & Now” program, and he has been a guest on NPR’s popular game shows, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” and “Ask Me Another.” He also appears frequently on TV, including HBO, ESPN, Fox Business, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, and the Big Ten Network, where he has contributed to several dozen of BTN’s documentaries.
Bacon teaches at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and at the University of Michigan, where the students selected him for the 2009 Golden Apple award, given annually to the University’s top teacher.
On the side, from 2000-2004, Bacon became the head coach of his former high school hockey team, Ann Arbor Huron. As a player in the early eighties, he set the record for most games in a Huron uniform without scoring a goal, 86 (he’s not braggin’ – he’s just sayin’). As a coach, he took over the worst team in school history (0-23-3 in 1999-2000), and helped transform them into the best (17-4-5, #4 in the state, and #53 in the nation), in just three seasons. In 2007, he was inducted into the Huron River Rat Hall of Fame.
Bacon is now an average hockey player, a mediocre Spanish speaker, and a poor piano player – but that has not stopped him from enjoying all three.