• By Bob Peterson
  • 30 Jun, 2016

Late last week members of the NACDA Executive Committee received an email from NACDA Executive Director Bob Vecchione about the health prognosis of Mike Cleary. Mike had returned home from the hospital and was under hospice care. Saturday morning we got the bad news that Mike had passed. What happened next was a deluge of responses to the email from members of the Executive Committee. Each shared their condolences at Mike’s passing, prayers for the Cleary family, and a testament to the impact that Mike Cleary had on them personally and professionally. In a humble and steadfast way, Mike Cleary impacted thousands of people. You can too!

I didn’t know Mike as long or as intimately as some of the others. Although, the few times we talked he treated me like an old friend and on more than one occasion he sent me a note to congratulate me on some success. What I knew about Mike and what I glean from the news reports of his passing, the tweets and email responses, is that he is a guy we should all seek to emulate.

Here are a few attributes of Mike’s that we can all strive to attain.

See the “Value” in Everyone   – Mike genuinely loved people and saw their potential. His contributions to helping athletic administrators grow in the profession are unmatched and still growing. NACDA grew from 300 members to over 12,500 under his guidance because he embraced the idea that anyone seeking to grow should have that opportunity. Mike created growth opportunities within NACDA through the wildly successful intern program. A program that has developed hundreds of collegiate athletic administrators. He helped develop and chair the John McClendon Minority Scholarship Foundation to provide opportunities for minority students interested in careers in athletics.  In short,   Mike saw value in everyone and helped them understand and realize their own potential . You should too.

Make the Big Time Where You Are At   – Many of us are in such a rush to advance in our profession that we don’t embrace the opportunity right in front of us. Mike didn’t seek out greatness…he simply was great. Part of what made him great was that he embraced where he was and who he was. Mike went to a relatively small college, John Carroll University, and was proud of that fact his entire life. Mike’s early career included jobs in the American Basketball Association, the NAIA, and the NCAA. Starting NACDA in 1965 gave Mike the opportunity to follow his passion by working with Athletic Director’s. He embraced this passion and grew the profession for the rest of his life. Mike’s example shows us that the great opportunity you are looking for in life might just be the one you are engaged in now.   Make the most of the opportunity in front of you today .

Never Stop Growing   – The danger in life is when you reach the point that you can’t get any better. Mike never did. He devoted his life to growing and helping others grow. While serving as the NACDA Executive Director Mike also served a stint as a Conference Commissioner, was active in the USOC, and the National Football Foundation to name a few. He saw endless opportunities to grow and contribute. Each opportunity shaped who he was, expanded his base of knowledge, and made him better at what he did. NACDA provides the ultimate opportunity for growth in college athletics. Mike not only built NACDA but sought every opportunity to keep growing personally. You should too.

Live Your Life to Serve Others   – Like all great leaders, Mike was a servant first. His professional career was devoted to serving others. He did so in a humble, gracious, loyal, and unwavering way that is a great example for the rest of us. Devote your life to lifting others….and you will be lifted .


Mike Cleary was a larger than life person that was proudly just a good Jesuit kid from Cleveland. He built success by making others successful and never missed a chance to provide opportunities for others. A simple blueprint for a life that we should all seek to emulate.

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