There’s a new athletic director in town
It’s a quality that’s evident from the moment you meet him. He is not merely paying attention, nor simply concentrating on the task at hand. Instead, the aura surrounding him is one of uncompromising focus, stubbornly zeroed in on the academic and athletic endeavors of Alcalá Park’s most elite competitors.
It’s evident in the office, as he pores over the wide breadth of assignments—from emails and budgets to personnel evaluations and marketing initiatives—the day has tasked him with. It’s evident in the campus community, as he socializes with students and athletes alike, promoting upcoming match-ups on the playing field and ensuring that the Toreros enrich the university they represent.
More than anything though, it is evident at the games themselves. Upon entering the building, he deliberately makes his way through the student section, shaking hands and learning names, before settling into a seat on the sidelines and quietly observing the Toreros at work.
There is no applause; there is no disappointment. There is only observation, spurring a sort of investigative environment cultivated to appreciate strengths to maintain and to pinpoint weaknesses to improve on.
His name is Bill McGillis. He is the University of San Diego’s newest athletic director (AD), and he’s here to bring a new kind of athletic affluence to America’s Finest City.
After the promotion of former AD Ky Snyder to Vice President of Operations for the entire university, a thorough job search by President James Harris and other faculty resulted in the hiring of McGillis. McGillis is a longtime administrator who spent the last three and a half years as the AD at the University of Southern Mississippi. McGillis’s career, he said, is one that seems to have led him to this position in this city.
Growing up, McGillis knew he wanted to be a sports administrator. However, the college game was far from his mind.
“I started working for the Seattle Mariners in ninth grade,” McGillis said. “[I] always saw baseball administration as a potential career path.”
However, an internship with the University of Houston shifted his focus toward college sports, and that interest grew as he worked his way up the ladder.
“I went from being an intern to being the number two guy in the program while at Houston,” McGillis said. “More importantly though, I gained experience in every facet of college athletics. I was never pigeonholed, and those opportunities to work and learn in a variety of offices and positions made it clear to me that I wanted to be an athletic director someday.”
Those diverse experiences didn’t stop after he landed his first job as an AD, either.
“I was fortunate to have a blend of breadth and depth of experiences,” McGillis said.
His two seasons working as a general manager for teams in the up-and-coming American Basketball League, a professional women’s basketball league, instilled in him a sense of entrepreneurial drive while inspiring a return to the college scene.
His first job as an AD, at the University of Evansville in Indiana, provided a taste of small-town sports at a private Catholic university. From there, it was on to the University of New Mexico, a large state school that dominates its local market. After that, it was on to the University of South Florida before his most recent gig at the University of Southern Mississippi.
The end result: becoming the head guy at USD. And boy, is he excited to be here.
“I would describe the University of San Diego as the pinnacle for me,” McGillis said. “I’d always wanted to be an athletic director in the West Coast Conference, but the timing and fit was never right for myself and my family.
“Like I told some of our student-athletes last week, this job specifically has always stood out to me because of the quality and the excellence that both the student-athletes and the school represent. USD is a place that feels really good to be in. I truly feel like this was my destination, and my first couple of weeks here have only reinforced the special nature of the university.”
McGillis came in with a clear motive as the athletic program’s new head honcho. Revitalizing a fan base that has struggled to consistently show support for its teams in recent years. When speaking about this, his voice seemed to savor the determined optimism he espouses.
“There’s a few key things here,” McGillis said. “First, we need to make sure we provide a great product on the playing field. Secondly, we need to be very vocal about telling our story and getting in front of students, faculty members, and the community in aggressive and innovative ways. Our goal is to create experiences at events that people want to be a part of and that help strengthen their connection to the university. I never want to walk into a building and be able to count the number of fans in attendance myself.”
One area of Torero athletics that could draw increased attention from McGillis and his staff is the football team, a program that is coming off a historic 2016 campaign that included the first playoff win in school history. Despite its on-field success, however, the team is still surrounded by questions about the money its extensive traveling soaks up as well as its ability to consistently compete with scholarship programs.
McGillis, who played a role in returning pigskin programs at South Florida and Southern Mississippi to national prominence, remains undaunted.
“I am joining a very healthy athletics program and especially a very healthy football program, and I come in feeling very comfortable with the model that’s already in place here,” McGillis said. “I’ve been very impressed with head coach Dale Lindsey and his staff and am looking forward to meeting more of their student-athletes.“
“I plan on spending a lot of time with Coach Lindsey dissecting the program and ensuring that it’s positioned well for the future in a way that’s in alignment with the university’s best interests.”
Of course, McGillis is no one-trick act, and his ideological emphasis goes far beyond the sidelines of Torero Stadium. While he remains committed to meeting and surpassing the on-field goals of USD athletics across the sporting spectrum, his focus lies even more so on the contributions made by student-athletes away from the playing field.
“More than anything, we want to prepare our student-athletes for life, so that they are not only able to graduate, but are capable of enjoying success in their chosen field,” McGillis said. “Winning on the field, in the classroom, and in the community is what we will be all about, and it’s something that I think about every day. Under the leadership of Ron Valenzuela, we’re doing a lot of great things for our student-athletes in terms of student development outside of the classroom, so that sports do not encompass, but enhance the college experience for our student-athletes and the entire campus community.”
Ultimately, the man whose earliest memories of San Diego involve sitting in the back of a station wagon as a young boy, driving down the coast from Seattle, appears to be more than ready to continue developing the bright future lying ahead for USD athletics. His closing thoughts make that as clear as the Torero-blue skies that hover over campus on a near-daily basis.
“This is a place that epitomizes what Division-I athletics should be about,” McGillis said. “There is truly no ceiling for USD athletics. I certainly believe we can win championships in all of our sports; we have both the people and the resources to achieve great, great things here, being very successful competitively, while continuing to graduate every single student-athlete who comes through our program.”
Optimistic? Definitely. Out of reach? Not even close.
But high expectations, especially here in America’s Finest City, are the norm for Bill McGillis. He is a man on a mission, focused on meeting and exceeding the standards he will set forth for USD athletics in the years to come.
Of course, every long journey begins with a series of small steps. For McGillis, the all-important first step is to meet a little bit more of the student section.
Written by Noah Hilton, Asst. Sports Editor