Regner: Remembering friend, mentor Jim Schneider

Jim Schneider wasn’t an ordinary man — far from it.

When I heard of his death this week at the age of 62, I felt as if I had lost a family member.

Schneides, as he was known to just about everybody, spent 30 years at the University of Michigan, where he worked to make people like me better.

As media relations director for Michigan’s hockey, baseball and football teams, my contact with Schneides — depending on the season — was almost daily, especially when I was first starting out in this business.

If it wasn’t for his friendship, willingness to help and his coaching, there’s little doubt in my mind that I’d be doing something completely different than what I am doing today.

For most of my life, I wanted to work in athletics, but my career lead me down the road to trying to become a documentary filmmaker and a disc jockey.

Once I decided to give sports a try, I had zero contacts and zero opportunity.

Longtime Michigan media relations director Jim Schneider, 62, died earlier this week.

So I became involved in Ann Arbor Public Access TV. I was the producer and host of an interview show called "Sports Scope." It aired every week for a couple of years and helped launch me into a field where I was an utter unknown.

That’s when Jim Schneider entered my life.

"Sports Scope" covered all sports and teams but was heavy on Michigan athletics. I booked a lot of Michigan players and coaches, and it was Jim that supported the show by introducing me to Michigan’s athletic community.

It seemed like every day I was in his office trying to come up with a guest or some sort of angle that I wanted to present.

His office was cluttered and had one chair, which was Jim’s. I stood for hours listening to him tell me stories and give me solid pointers on how I could improve.

Schneides also allowed me access to all the photographs in Michigan’s athletic archive. The impact of having classic photographs to illustrate a point or an achievement of a guest enhanced "Sports Scope" immeasurably.

Eventually, I thought I had it down, that I could do "Sports Scope" with my eyes closed. I was my own biggest fan.

My reality check came after I did a show with Michigan’s hockey captains.

Todd Brost, Joe Lockwood and Brad McCaughey were on for a full hour, and after the program, I was flying. I couldn’t wait to see Schneides. I was sure he would share in my enthusiasm of just doing the best hour of television in Ann Arbor Public Access history.

I walked into his office and bellowed, "Jim, did you see ‘Sports Scope!’"

"Yeah, I saw it," he replied solemnly. "Art, it took all my will to get through the show. It was like watching a team meeting. Trust me, it was that boring."

We had a long talk after that, and it was at this point when I realized a couple of things:

If you don’t have much to say, don’t force it. And if you approach your job to entertain yourself, you won’t be employed for very long.

After our conversation, Schneides felt kind of bad. He had been brutally honest with me. He felt I had talent and intelligence, but told me I had to get serious and up my game.

As I was leaving his office, he called me back and said something that I will never forget.

"Art, you arrive everyday in this business," he said. "Because there are so many people trying to take what you have and they’ll do anything to get it.

"Be aware of your surroundings and pick your friends wisely."

It was the best single piece of advice I have ever been given about the media business.

Once I started working in Detroit, I saw less and less of Schneides. Whenever I would see him, we would talk about everything under the sun, with an emphasis on Michigan athletics.

Over the last several years, he couldn’t work any longer, and I would often see this frail man sitting by himself in the Michigan press box and think, "Geez, that guy looks familiar."

Finally, it dawned on me. It was Jim. I’d go over and we’d relive the old days. His voice was weak, but his spirit was strong and sense of humor was still wicked.

The last time I saw him, he told me how happy he was for me. He recalled our little "talk" decades ago, smiled and said, "You haven’t changed much. You’re still pretty high strung."

We both laughed and then I walked away.

Looking back at it, I should have thanked him for everything he did for me, and am hoping that somehow he knew that what I have today is because he took a chance on helping a longed-hair nobody break into this business.

Jim Schneider was always there for me. He was always there for everybody.

Now he’s gone.

My life is better because of him. We should all be so fortunate to have a Jim Schneider in our lives.