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John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

"The Real Ted Lasso"

John U. Bacon

"The Real Ted Lasso"


John U. Bacon has worked nearly three 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 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 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 eleven books on sports, business, health, and history, five of which are New York Times best sellers.

Bacon has also pursued his passions for radio, television, coaching and teaching. In 2007 he was invited to give weekly sports commentary on Michigan Radio every Friday morning, which he still does. He also appears weekly on WTKA Sports Talk 1050’s The Michigan Insider, Michigan Radio’s Stateside, and occasionally on National Public Radio, which awarded him the PRNDI prize for nation’s best commentary in 2014. He appears often on TV, including HBO, ESPN, Fox Business, MSNBC, and the Big Ten Network, where he is a frequent contributor to both “Icons” series.

Bacon has taught at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, and teaches 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, 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.

A popular public speaker, Bacon delivers speeches on the themes taken from his books, and coaching and teaching experiences – including leadership, diversity, motivating millennials, and creativity – 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 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. He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and son.

Speaker Videos

TEDx: Worst to First - Motivating the Next Generation

Speech Topics

The Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership

John draws lessons from a variety of sources,his own experiences, and his best-selling book, Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership, which Warren Buffett himself endorsed. John tells stories to underscore how great leaders listen, communicate, and make decisions. In this fast-moving and fun speech, John gives specific, direct advice leaders can use the next day. Bo Schembechler impersonation guaranteed.

Hire Better, Fire Less

In this popular presentation, John describes how the best companies – from Zingerman’s famed deli to the Michigan football team to Walgreens – spend a lot more time, effort and thought hiring their people, and much less dealing with mediocre performers, and firing them. John lays out a practical guide – supported by fascinating stories – for searching, interviewing, “auditioning,” and ultimately hiring the right people.

How to Create Creativity – and Manage It

Every company today must innovate to stay ahead of the pack. But how do you open the floodgates for creativity – and still make sure the trains run on time? John explains how some of our best organizations do it, and conducts several fun, fast-moving exercises of his own creation to make lasting points – points the participants can put to use immediately to be more creative, without losing the discipline necessary to be effective.

Diversity for Fun & Profit

In this frank and refreshing discussion, John challenges us to face our fears, shines a spotlight on what we need to understand about each other, and makes it clear why expanding opportunities to more people makes us stronger. John’s ideas on diversity come from his research and writing about sports, from Jackie Robinson to Title IX to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires all teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any head coaching vacancy. His speech is surprisingly, but appropriately, funny – often at his own expense. The bottom line is simple, however: we don’t seek to diversify to be charitable, but to be more successful.

Motivating Millenials

Bacon derives the material for his talk on Generation Y from his experience leading the Ann Arbor Huron hockey team from the school’s worst to best in three years (despite being the worst player in school history – and he can prove that!) and teaching them at Northwestern and the University of Michigan, where he had received the highest evaluations on campus E (4.9/5.0) AND only SIX late papers out of 1700 students. Managing them should not be a mystery, and shouldn’t be a headache. They unfairly get a bad rap, when the responsibility to lead them is ours.