Michigan Athletics announced on March 10 a $3 million gift on behalf of Nicki Harris and the late J. Ira Harris.
Shortly before his death Feb. 21, Ira Harris committed to a transformative gift to the athletic department with the desire to advocate for equity among women’s sports programs.
By virtue of this gift, the head coach of the Michigan women’s basketball program, currently Kim Barnes Arico, will be known as the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach.
The Harris family’s women’s basketball head coach endowment follows the program’s extraordinary 2020-21 season. Barnes Arico led the Wolverines to two firsts in program history: a 10-0 start to the season and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen.
“I am honored to hold the title of J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach,” Barnes Arico said. “The Harris family’s generosity in supporting Michigan Athletics is amazing, and I am especially grateful to serve in the first endowed coaching position for a Michigan women’s sport.”
The Harris family’s gift comes at an opportune time as the women’s basketball program continues its record-breaking 2021-22 season. The Wolverines celebrated seven consecutive weeks ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press women’s basketball poll. In doing so, the team also attained its highest ranking in program history at No. 4.
Barnes Arico is the program’s all-time winningest coach and was recently named 2022 Big Ten Coach of the Year.
As the 50th anniversary of Title IX legislation approaches in June, J. Ira and Nicki Harris were inspired to recognize women’s sports’ impactful role in the history of U-M athletics. Title IX legislation has been effective in the development of women’s sports nationwide, and since its adoption, U-M’s women’s sports have brought home 32 national championships.
“We believe that women’s athletics leads to other people recognizing the role that women’s athletics has at the University of Michigan,” J. Ira Harris said prior to his passing. “In making this gift to women’s basketball, we recognize the value that the program adds to Michigan Athletics and hope that others will share in our enthusiasm for Michigan women’s sports. I cannot think of a better person to hold the title than Kim Barnes Arico.”
J. Ira and Nicki Harris, longtime philanthropic partners of the university, have created an enduring legacy through their two coaching positions at the university.
In 2014, the Harris family’s $10 million gift named the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach position presently held by Jim Harbaugh. The Harris family further supported U-M football with a $3 million locker room expansion.
In addition to athletics, the Harris family’s contributions have benefitted other realms at U-M, including scholarships and professorships within the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and LSA.
The Harris family also has supported the U-M Museum of Art by providing funds that the museum used to acquire Behind the Walls, a Jaume Plensa sculpture.
A Ross School graduate, J. Ira Harris was the chairman of his financial consulting firm J. I. Harris & Associates. He served on the U-M Investment Advisory Committee, an alumni group that provides expertise to university investment personnel.
In 2010, J. Ira Harris received the Ross School’s Outstanding Alumni Award, and in 2014, U-M awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
Nicki Harris, a University of Colorado alumna, is active in the art and education community. She is a board member of numerous foundations and exemplifies stellar dedication to these communities at-large.
“The Harris family’s donation reflects their utmost generosity,” said Warde Manuel, the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics. “We are saddened by the news of Ira’s passing, but his legacy will live on through his unwavering support for women’s sports. Michigan Athletics, and above all Michigan women’s basketball, will benefit tremendously.
“Ira’s and Nicki’s gift will assist in upholding the women’s basketball program’s rich history of excellent leadership and driven student-athletes. It’s donors like Ira and Nicki that pave the way for the university’s continued academic and athletic success.”