On Nov. 12, the Athletic Department announced that Steve Watson would replace interim Athletic Director Susan Malisch, who has held that position since March of this year when former director M. Grace Calhoun left for the University of Pennsylvania.
Watson is currently the athletic director at St. Bonaventure University in New York, where he has worked for eight years. Prior to St. Bonaventure, he worked at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Dayton.
Watson’s career in athletics began in college, when he played basketball for Rutgers and Bowling Green State University.
After college, he took his basketball career abroad, playing in Europe and Asia for six years.
At St. Bonaventure, Watson was responsible for hiring men’s basketball coach Mark Schmidt, who turn the Bonnies’ program around. Under his direction, the men’s basketball team won its first Atlantic 10 conference championship and earned an NCAA tournament berth.
Watson placed an emphasis on academics, and during his time with the Bonnies, the school earned its best Academic Progress Rates.
Watson is currently visiting Loyola, and The Phoenix had a chance to sit down and speak with him about his career and his plans for the university’s Athletic Department.
Loyola Phoenix: What was your path to becoming an athletic administrator?
Steve Watson: I had a great experience as a student-athlete and I felt like I could have a positive impact on student-athletes in the future. I wanted to stay associated with athletics. It’s been a big part of my life, and the college athletics scene was what I was looking for. I was pretty much raised on a college campus, and I feel like it is a great place to raise a family. The best role models for my kids are student-athletes, and I have raised my family in the same atmosphere that I was raised in. It has been a big part of my life, and like I said, the positive impact that I can have on student-athletes is a big part why I do what I do.
LP: How does your experience as a professional athlete affect you as an athletic director?
SW: It gave me international experience and allowed me to see another part of the world. It was a great experience for my family and me. It really made me appreciate what we have in America, and it made me appreciate the opportunities that we have here and take for granted a little bit. My daughter was born overseas. She was born in France. She was two years old when we were living in Taiwan, and at that point we realized that we wanted to raise our family in the States. She was starting to talk, and the Taiwanese kids she talked to had no idea what she was saying. We felt like at that point it was time to come back to the States and get a little more rooted and start our family in the States. At that point I knew that college athletics was the path that I wanted to go down. I had experienced the professional side and really felt like college athletics was the way that I wanted to go. I had really wanted to stay involved with athletics, like I had said before. I felt like with college athletics, I could have a greater impact on people and that’s where it led me.
LP: What drew you to Loyola, as a school and as an athletic program, and what made you want to come here?
SW: It’s a great school, [and] I was very impressed with the leadership in President [Rev.] Garanzini. I had a fantastic meeting with him, and it’s in Chicago. [It’s] a great school with an Athletic Department with a lot of potential competing in the Missouri Valley Conference. All those things were very attractive to me and the family. Chicago is a great city. You have a great school in a great city with a lot of great people, and that was a combination that I wanted to be a part of.
LP: What from your experiences at St. Bonaventure do you look to bring to Loyola?
SW: I have been an athletic director for eight years and did it at a high level. I was in the Atlantic 10 which is a conference that I think is comparable to the Missouri Valley, and we have had some success there in a lot of our sports. I think I have a little bit of a unique background in that I have experience with things on the external side like fundraising, marketing and promotions, but then also was on the other side of it internally. I was in facility management, game operations and that sort of thing. I think I have a well-rounded background. I was a former student-athlete, played Division I athletics, played professionally and I think I relate really well to coaches. While I am young for an athletic director, I am young but experienced. That helps me relate to student-athletes. I have the credibility of playing not just Division I but also professionally, and I think that help relate to our coaches and our student-athletes.
LP: Do you look to make any changes coming into the Loyola the Athletic Department?
SW: Right now I am just doing a lot of listening and assessing, and I am trying to figure out which key opens which door. Once I get my bearings and start to get a feel for things, we might start doing things a little differently. Right now, my main focus is just to listen and to assess what is going on in the department.
LP: Coming to a Jesuit university, do you look to bring some of the Jesuit values into the athletic department?
SW: That was a big draw to me, [Loyola] being a Jesuit, private Catholic school. I spent eight years at St. Bonaventure and the things that are important to me are the same things that are important to a place like Loyola. It’s more than just wins and losses and graduating kids. Looking at the holistic education, service and giving back, all those are things that are important at a place like Loyola. Those are the things I bring and that I have experience with. Like I said, it is more than just winning and losing, it is a lot bigger than that. Those are the things that are important to me and my family as well.
LP: You have talked a lot about how important family is to you. Do you look to bring a family-oriented approach to Loyola athletics?
SW: I mentioned before, I feel like I raised my family on a college campus. I was also raised on a college campus. What you see at St. Bonaventure is spouses, significant others and kids running around the Reiley Center — that is our basketball facility — there [are] kids everywhere. I love that and encourage that. Coaches and administrators in our business put a lot of time into it and it is not just a profession; it is a lifestyle. Your family has to be a part of it and I encourage that. We will do things to bring the families and people together at our events. That part of it is really important, the whole family aspect.
LP: Anything else to say before we wrap up here?
SW: I am just excited. I am here from Monday to Friday this week. I’ll be back for good and really starting to dig my heel in starting in January. I am excited, I have had a couple of great days, met some wonderful people and I am excited to roll up my sleeves and get going. I haven’t met many of the student-athletes yet. I am excited to meet some of the student-athletes and the teams and get to know them a little better. The people have been great and I am excited to start.