John U. Bacon has worked the better part of two decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Bacon earned an honors degree in history (“pre-unemployment”) from the University of Michigan in 1986, and a Master’s in Education in1994. 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 finding fresh features, then left the paper in 1999 to free-lance for some two dozen national publications, including stories on Formula One racing in Australia for The New York Times, on Japanese hockey for ESPN Magazine, and on Hemingway’s Michigan summer home for Time.
He has authored or coauthored six books on sports and business, including Walgreens: America’s Corner Store in 2004, Cirque du Soleil: The Spark in 2006, 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.
In 2008, Bacon was granted unrestricted access to Michigan’s football program, from the meals and the meetings, to the practices and the games, to the sidelines and the locker rooms. Nothing and no one was off limits. From that perspective he produced his latest work, Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011), tells the story of how college football’s most influential coach took over the nation’s most successful program, only to produce three of the worst seasons in the histories of both Rich Rodriguez and the University of Michigan. George Will wrote, “John U. Bacon’s report from the front lines of the weird world of college football is eye-opening, and occasionally jaw-dropping.” The book debuted at #6 on the New York Times Bestseller list for non-fiction, and continues to sell very well.
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, and he still does both. He has also appeared on HBO, ESPN, and the Big Ten Network, where he is a frequent contributor to both “Icons” series.
Bacon teaches at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and 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, 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 this has not stopped him from enjoying all three.