- Associated Press - Friday, January 1, 2016

CLEVELAND (AP) - Mike Cleary, the longtime National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics executive officer, has died. He was 81.

The NACDA said Friday that Cleary died Thursday.

Cleary served NACDA for five decades as executive director and most recently as director emeritus. He was on the National Football Foundation’s board of directors from 1998 to 2011 and received the NFF Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award in 1994.

“For over 50 years, Mike Cleary dedicated his life to collegiate athletics and specifically NACDA,” NACDA executive director Bob Vecchione said in a statement. “Mike has meant so much to so many. I have known him for over 33 years, and to this day I am amazed by the number of people, from all walks of life, who have relayed heartwarming stories on how Mike changed their life.”

While serving NACDA, Cleary also held posts as the commissioner of the Ohio Athletic Conference from 1973-81 and administrator of the Division 1A Athletic Directors’ Association from 1986-92. The Navy veteran served as president of the John McLendon Minority Scholarship Foundation and the Michael J. Cleary Northeastern Ohio Chapter of the National Football Foundation, named in his honor in 2008.

“Mike Cleary was a true pioneer,” NFF chairman Archie Manning said in a statement. “Recognizing a void in college athletics, he stepped forward in 1965 as NACDA’s first executive director, and he built the organization into a powerful force. It would be impossible to imagine the world of college athletics today without NACDA and Mike’s many contributions.”

Before joining NACDA, Cleary served as the director of championship events for the NCAA and NAIA. He also was general manager of the Cleveland Pipers in the American Basketball League under owner George Steinbrenner. While with the Pipers, Cleary hired John McLendon, the first black coach to head an American professional sports team. Cleary also was general manager of the Kansas City Steers of Abe Saperstein’s ABL and Midwest scout for the New York Knicks.

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