June 6, 2014
By Courtney Ratkowiak
In 1974, as a recent graduate of Western Michigan University, Bruce Madej accepted his first job as a sportswriter for the Ypsilanti Press.
His career path had seemed clear in college, where he had written for the Western Herald student newspaper and worked at the school's radio station. He had no idea that he would spend 34 of the next 40 years on the other side of the press box, writing a completely different story -- the journey of the longest-tenured Sports Information Director in University of Michigan athletic history.
Madej will be retiring from the University on June 30 of this year after almost three and a half decades as the main media liaison for Michigan sports teams. On June 9, he will receive the College Sports Information Directors of America Lifetime Achievement Award. But even beyond the record-setting tenure, accolades and accomplishments, Madej will likely be remembered best around Ann Arbor for his big personality and commitment to service, the two reasons for his lasting success.
Almost universally, media and public relations colleagues alike describe Madej the same: an outgoing "people person" who is always willing to help others.
Twenty-seven-year Chicago Tribune veteran Ed Sherman, who covered national college football from 1988-94, visited Michigan Stadium often to cover big games. Sherman said Madej's rapport with media in the press box made it feel like he was "hosting a party and inviting us to his place," a welcomed trait in the public relations world.
"Bruce had a way of bringing you in and making you feel like a part of everything," Sherman said. "He always made you feel at home and he had our interests in mind, which is not necessarily always the case in PR, especially in college sports. Sometimes they're trying to protect the coaches and the players at the expense of us, and Bruce walked that balance."
Madej's successful navigation between the journalism and public relations world continued to pay dividends during his career. In 1978, after one year at the Press and two at the "Ann Arbor News," Madej accepted a job as the University's Assistant Sports Information Director.
After briefly leaving the University to take a job in public relations and marketing for the American Power Boat Association -- a job that was appealing, in part, because he had "the opportunity to go to the Bahamas rather than West Lafayette" -- then-Athletic Director Don Canham re-hired Madej as a Sports Information Director in 1982.
Early in Madej's career, his main job responsibilities were to interact with the media and manage radio and publication contracts. After earning the trust of Canham and then-football coach Bo Schembechler, Madej became the Assistant Athletic Director in 1989. With additional marketing responsibilities, Madej worked on promotions for multiple sports, including improving the Michigan football pregame experience with Athletic Department-sponsored tailgates.
Lloyd Carr (L) and Bruce Madej
Madej was passionate about using technology as a means to promote Michigan Athletics, and his work ensured the athletic department was almost always leading the way in computer, Internet and social media adoption. He helped Michigan transfer to computer-based statistics for football games in the 1980s, and helped create what is now MGoBlue.com in 1994.
In recent years, Madej's favorite part of his job was his work with social media, including the introduction of Twitter as a marketing tool for Wolverine sports teams in 2009.
Beyond the typical SID job description, Madej stepped in wherever help was needed in the growing athletic department -- including acting as the public address announcer for ice hockey and basketball games in the 1990s. Traveling with the Fab Five in 1992 and 1993 was one of Madej's best memories, since watching the team play was "great theater."
But of all his years in Ann Arbor, Madej's favorite was the 1997 football championship season, capped off by the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl win on a perfect day in Pasadena.
"We weren't supposed to win it, (Brian) Griese wasn't supposed to play that well, we had all sorts of surprises, and it was just an amazing, amazing year," Madej said. "And that was absolutely a blast. Everything seemed to break the right way."
Though the press box felt like a party when times were good in Ann Arbor, Madej had a keen ability to stay professional under pressure. Former Detroit Tigers public relations director Dan Ewald met Madej when he was still a reporter at the Ann Arbor News, and the two started a friendship that continued after Madej switched over to public relations. After years of trading "war stories" and advice, Ewald said Madej's ability to deal with crisis was key to his success.
Bruce with his wife, Suzette
"Sports has become so big, and to be successful, it takes a PR guy who's got patience, insight and can laugh," Ewald said. "That's what I liked about Bruce. If a problem arose, he handled things with a class that showed he had things under control. He makes it look easy, and it's not as easy as he makes it look."
In 2003, then-Athletic Director Bill Martin promoted Madej to Associate Athletic Director. He remained in that role until 2010, when he became the Associate Athletic Director for Special Projects.
One of those special projects included the design of interactive content and historical displays in the new Crisler Center concourse and Towsley Family Museum inside Schembechler Hall. Twenty years before, Madej had helped establish a relationship between the athletic department and the University's Bentley Historical Library. Many of the artifacts, photos and quotes currently in the Crisler Center concourse and Schembechler Hall museum were directly taken from Madej's work in the 1990s with the Bentley Library staff.
It was only fitting for Madej that one of his passion areas, the preservation of University athletic history, turned into his final full-time project before this month's retirement.
"It's been a lot of fun -- it's been a lot of work, but a lot of fun," Madej said. "I worked seven days a week and I never felt when I was working that it was work."
➨ For Bruce's top 10 memories from his time with U-M, check out: Maize and Blue Memories: Top 10 Madej Moments
From left: Desmond Howard, NBC's Tom Brokaw and Bruce Madej share a laugh