If décor says anything about a person, Ky Snyder’s framed copy of Vince Lombardi’s “What it takes to be number one” speaks volumes: “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit.”
And USD’s Executive Director of Athletics is certainly a man of habit. Most days he arrives at work well before sunrise. While the campus sleeps, he’s at the Jenny Craig Pavilion burning through his morning workout. When most people are hitting their snooze buttons, he’s at least an hour into his workday. But unlike Lombardi, for Snyder, winning is not the only thing.
“We have some very driven people here, and that’s what makes us successful,” Snyder says. “But then you overlap onto that the academic mission and social mission of this campus, well, that’s our athletic department.”
In a way, Snyder was born for college athletics: One of his earliest memories is attending a football game at the University of Michigan while his father, Les, was earning a doctorate there. Snyder spent most of his childhood in Tempe, Ariz., where Les — a former president of the United States Tennis Association — worked as a professor at Arizona State University.
Snyder himself played football for San Diego State University before knee problems ended his formal athletic career. Undeterred, Snyder channeled his competitive energy first in the classroom — graduating with a marketing degree — and then in the business world, working for companies like Beecham Products and Capital Analysts, Inc.
Then, in 1990, Snyder got the opportunity to become USD’s Director of Athletic Development. He jumped at the chance. “I literally grew up on a college campus,” Snyder says. “So the opportunity to put my avocation and vocation together was a natural fit.”
Snyder helped coordinate fundraising efforts, secure corporate sponsors and launch a campaign to reconnect former USD student-athletes with the university. He left the position in 1996, eventually becoming president of the San Diego International Sports Council. While there, he helped lure a number of high-profile sporting events to the region, ranging from the ESPN Summer X Games to Super Bowl XXXVII.
“That was an eye-opening experience, and a formative piece of my management style,” Snyder says. “There were 65 board members at the Sports Council — all very successful businessmen — and I learned that if I gave them a project I would find 65 different ways to get something done successfully. That taught me to not force my own style onto others.”
Snyder’s style is direct but diplomatic. He’s a cut-to-the-chase kind of guy who also understands the nuances of college athletics, thanks in part to his wife, Sue, a former U.S. National Team volleyball player and one-time USD head volleyball coach.
“With my wife being a former coach and a great athlete, I get that perspective and the drive that’s behind it,” Snyder says. “It’s given me a good background for understanding the kind of issues that coaches face.”
He’s not afraid to challenge his staff to express their ideas and voice their opinions, especially as he continues to build a senior leadership team to take the USD athletic program to greater heights.
“I want people who think differently from me, whose strengths are different from mine, and where they’ve come from is different, because it’s going to give them a perspective that’s different from mine,” says Snyder. “If I can have a whole bunch of people like that, we’re going to come at things in a different way.”
Snyder is responsible for overseeing more than 450 student-athletes, 17 NCAA Division I teams, coaching, training and administrative staffs, fundraising efforts, long-range planning, budgets, facilities, sponsors, promotions, ticket sales, public relations and everything else involved with running an athletic department. It’s a challenge he relishes.
“I’m a light sleeper and work is going through my mind quite often,” Snyder says. “Public Safety has driven by the JCP’s workout room more than a few times and seen me in there between 2:30 and 3:30 in the morning already doing my workout to start the day.”
In his seven years at the helm, Snyder has helped build the USD athletic program into a formidable presence, exemplified by the university having won the WCC Commissioner’s Cup for two years running.
“That’s something we want to win every single year,” Snyder says. “It basically tells everybody that this is the strongest all-around athletic program in the conference.”
Snyder’s mission is to not only lay a foundation for success on the field but also in the locker room, in the classroom and in the community.
“I want our athletic program to have the same reputation that academics do at this university,” Snyder says. “We want to be a Top 100 athletic program that wins conference championships on a regular basis while maintaining academic integrity.”
Shortly after Snyder signed a contract extension this spring, he mused about why he was first drawn to USD in 1990, and what convinced him to return in 2003.
“I’ve always loved the people and what this place stands for,” Snyder says. “I tell recruits and their families all the time that this is a campus where people care about people. The beauty of the campus is secondary to the beauty of the people. It may sound cheesy, but when you live it and feel it, you can say it.”
FEATURE PHOTO BY Luis Garcia