It’s About the People

Ky Snyder


There was a surfboard hanging from the wall behind Ky Snyder’s desk, a Vince Lombardi poster adorning another wall, a hard hat to wear when touring campus construction. But after nearly two decades in the USD athletic department, the past 13 years as athletic director, Snyder will be donning a different hat.

Late last summer, Snyder was promoted: He is now USD’s vice president for operations and chief operating officer. Before starting the next chapter, Snyder looked back at his tenure as athletic director.

Q: USD won 36 conference championships and advanced to the NCAA playoffs 62 times under your watch. What accomplishments make you most proud?

A: First, I would just go to relationships. That’s what this business is all about. Relationships with the student-athletes. And now, relationships with them as alumni. Games? I don’t remember the scores of games, not even this season. I feel sorry for people who judge success by a moment in time. It’s the arc of learning where the success really stems from.

Q: Can you specify a relationship that was particularly meaningful?

A: Of a high profile, one would be Josh Johnson. [Johnson was a USD record-setting quarterback, who this season played for the New York Giants, his seventh NFL team.] Here was a scrawny young man who came from a rough background. His speech at his final football banquet had everybody crying. He was talking to his mother and he said, “I could never figure out why you would fall asleep at traffic lights. And now it’s dawned on me: It’s because you worked three jobs to help put me through USD.” He said, “Mom, it was worth it.”

Josh and his cousin [former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch] built a youth foundation in Oakland. Our campus talks about Changemakers? Well, there’s a Changemaker.

Q: On the flip side, what are some of your disappointments?

A: Just not getting things done that we wanted to accomplish. There are facilities that still need to be built, operating budgets that need to be improved. There are more championships to be won. It’s going to happen. It’s just going to happen on somebody else’s watch. Across the board, we’re an extremely strong athletic department. 

Q: You played football for one season at San Diego State. You graduated from SDSU. How does an Aztec alumnus rise to the highest athletic position at USD?

A: First, you become an Ex-tec [former Aztec], and then you wear blue.

Q: What’s been the most challenging part of your job?

A: It’s the interpersonal stuff. You have hard-driving coaches and people who work in athletics. They all want what’s best for their program and best for their student-athletes. So it’s working through that balance of what you can and can’t do. The athletic director has to say “no” more times than you want.

Q: You hired Dale Lindsey as head football coach weeks before he turned 70. The team has won three PFL titles in his four seasons and won the first playoff game in the program’s 61-year history. Why did you hire Dale?

A: He told me, “Ky, let’s look at this the right way. I don’t care how many games, how many championships we win. If we haven’t developed these young men to be good husbands, good fathers, the next CEOs, the next heads of government, if we’re not doing that, we lost. We blew the opportunity.”

To me, that was USD football. When his values aligned with ours, it became a no-brainer.

Q: Is there a moment, an anecdote, that exemplifies what USD means to you?

A: In the early ’90s [when Snyder was USD’s director of athletic development], we were filming an NCAA spot, interviewing students in front of The Immaculata, having students say what the campus meant to them.

I remember this one young woman, she was just having an incredibly difficult time getting it out. And finally she just screamed, “Ahhh, there’s just something very special about this place.” She paused, looked at me and said, “It’s the people.” And of course, I said to the cameraman, “Did we get that?”

To me, that’s USD. It’s about the people.

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