John U. Bacon has worked the better part of two decades as a writer, a public speaker, a radio and TV commentator, and a college teacher.
Bacon earned an honors degree in history (“pre-unemployment”) from the University of Michigan, and a Master’s in Education. He also was awarded a Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowship in 2005-06, where he was 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. There he wrote long features about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, bullfighting in Spain, and high school basketball on a Potawatomi reservation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, earning numerous state and national awards for his work.
After Bacon covered the 1998 Nagano Olympics, he moved from the sports page to the front page, roaming the Great Lakes State finding fresh features, such as the creation of the Mackinac Bridge, as unlikely a story as it is inspiring, and the defining effect the famous “Anatomy of a Murder” epic has had on its birthplace.
Bacon left the paper in 1999 to free-lance for some two dozen national publications. These have included feature 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 five books on sports and business, including A Legacy of Champions: The Story of the Men Who Built University of Michigan Football (1996), Blue Ice: The Story of Michigan Hockey (UM Press, 2001), Walgreens: America’s Corner Store (John Wiley & Sons, 2004), and Cirque du Soleil: The Spark (Doubleday, 2005).
Bacon coauthored his most recent book with the late Bo Schembechler. Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership, has made it to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal’s Business Best Seller list, and has received very positive reviews from Newsweek, The Washington Post, business best seller Tom Peters, and Warren Buffett, who described it as, “a great book about a great man.”
As a complement to his writing, Bacon has been delivering speeches to corporations, university and service groups since 1991. He speaks on the themes in his books, including developing leaders, generating creativity and instilling discipline and teamwork. He has spoken from Toledo to Taipei, and Vancouver to Sao Palo for such clients as Chrysler, Ford, Microsoft Brazil, the American Museum Association and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Bacon has found time to pursue his passions for radio, coaching and teaching. After being asked to fill in for local legend Ted Heusel on WAAM-1600 AM in Ann Arbor from 2000 to 2001, Bacon launched his own show, “Off the Field,” on WTKA-1050 AM. It has run on Sunday mornings, from 10-12, since 2002, making it the longest running show on the station. In the fall of 2007, Michigan Public Radio asked him to deliver sports commentary every Friday morning for its 500,000 listeners statewide. The station is looking to expand Bacon’s work in the coming months.
Bacon has also provided commentary on documentary films for Michigan Public Television (“Michigan Football Memories,” 2004), HBO Sports (“The Rivalry: Michigan vs. Ohio State,” 2007), and A&E Biography (“Bo Schembechler,” 2009). Since the fall of 2007, he has been creating stories and conducting interviews for Fox Sports Detroit and The Big Ten Network.
Bacon has designed three courses at the University of Michigan and Miami (Ohio) on the history of college athletics, the rise and fall of the American Sportswriter, and the art and craft of sports writing. His classes have been among the highest rated at both Miami University and the University of Michigan. In 2009, the students named him the winner of the Golden Apple Award for teaching, for which he gave the “Last Lecture.”
On the side, Bacon became the head coach of his former high school hockey team, Ann Arbor Huron. As a player in the early 80s, 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 High School 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.