Dressing the team for success
He might not be noticeable to most U-M fans, but Jon Falk plays a vital role every time the football team wins a Big Ten championship, trounces a rival or simply begins practices during fall camp.
For 30 years, Falk has served as U-M athletic department equipment manager and is responsible for athletes having the proper uniforms to compete. He supervises five full-time assistants and four student workers.
His main duties involve outfitting the football team115 players and 20 staff memberswith everything from socks to coaches' headphones to tackling sleds. The work included many hours packing and unpacking 40,000 pounds of equipment during the recent Rose Bowl trip, the team's 29th consecutive bowl game. U-M lost 28-14 to the University of Southern California, the co-national champion.
"Despite the outcome, the Rose Bowl trip was still special because the team accomplished at least one of its goals of winning the Big Ten," says Falk, whom players call "Big Jon."
Falk says his operation runs smoothly, in part, because he's assisted by Rick Brandt and Bob Bland.
An equipment manager is a confidant and motivator to players, Falk says.
"You're not a coach, but you can help the players' attitude by having a positive, winning disposition," says Falk, who served as executive director of the Athletic Equipment Managers Association for 16 years and won the association's 2001 Glen Sharp National Equipment Manager of the Year award.
"That means something to me if a player thinks, If it's important to a guy 50 years old, maybe it should be important to me to win a ring and championship,'" he says.
Since his high school days in Oxford, Ohio, thousands of athletes have received their equipment under Falk's supervision. Falk says he wasn't good in sports, but he still wanted to be close to the excitement and action as athletes competed. He spoke to his high school's football coach about becoming an equipment manager and received the job.
"The fun thing was that I was part of the team and I could travel with them," Falk says in his office at Schembechler Hall.
He later earned a service award scholarship to Miami University (Ohio) and served as an equipment manager. He met Bo Schembechler, who at that time coached Miami University's football team.
Schembechler became U-M's coach in 1969, and in 1974 asked Falkthen an assistant equipment manager at Miamito take a job at U-M. At age 23, Falk became head equipment manager here.
During his 30 years at U-M, the football team has won 16 Big Ten titles and made 12 Rose Bowl appearances.
"Every year I look forward to winning the Big Ten championship and rings in football," says Falk, noting that he has 16 Big Ten rings.
And which of these is his favorite?
"The best ring is my next ring," he says.