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The Renovator : Baseball Program at Loyola Thrives With Snow at Helm

May 29, 1988|GARY KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

In a recent story that sought to rate the top managers in baseball, Sports Illustrated queried the men in question about the secrets of their major-league success.

"It's a people business," Jim Leyland of the Pittsburgh Pirates said, "and you better start with being honest, because you just can't snow players."

Dave Snow read the quote aloud, tugged at his tobacco-packed lower lip and laughed at the irony of Leyland's choice of words.

Snow, the sometimes standoffish but always straightforward baseball coach at Loyola Marymount University, has built the Lion program into a national power by adhering to the belief that honesty, however brutal and unnerving it may be, is indeed the best policy.

"I don't think you need to pull any punches with somebody or give any false impression or phony confidence," Snow said. "I think you need to be up front."

Out front is where Snow's teams usually spend the season. As an assistant under former Cal State Fullerton Coach Augie Garrido, Snow recruited and tutored many of the players that made up the Titans' national championship teams of 1979 and 1984.

At Valley College, where Snow was the head coach from 1978-82, his teams won four Metropolitan Conference titles and a state championship.

And like the planes that scream out over the Pacific Ocean from nearby LAX, the Loyola program has taken off since Snow arrived at the Westchester campus in the summer of 1984.

Two years after Loyola went 11-41 in Marv Wood's final year as coach, Snow led the Lions to a 50-15 record, a share of the West Coast Athletic Conference title and into the College World Series. Last season, Loyola finished 36-21-1 overall but missed the playoffs with a 10-12-1 record in the WCAC.

This season, Loyola (48-17) is back in business in the NCAA playoffs after qualifying as the third-place representative from the WCAC. The Lions, who have nine players from the Valley area on the roster, defeated McNeese State, 12-4, Saturday night to stay alive in the NCAA Midwest regional in Stillwater, Okla.

"Running a baseball program is no different than running any other business," said Snow. "You have to have strong leadership, you have to have direction, and you have to have people who are willing to give themselves up to a certain degree and go along with your system."

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Greg Mathews, who played at CS Fullerton, was one player who had difficulty coping with Snow's system and expectations. After Mathews completed his junior year in 1983, Snow, with the support of Garrido, flatly suggested that the left-handed pitcher either get with the program or transfer to another school for his senior season.

"We had our difficulties, but if Dave didn't do what he did, I might never have made it," said Mathews, who returned for his senior year. "I have to give him credit for shaking me up. It made me grow up and become aware of what I really wanted to do. It kind of turned me around."

The ability to turn things around, be it players or baseball programs, has been a Snow trademark throughout his career.

The opportunity to make something from nothing led him to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo--rather than UC Santa Barbara, UCLA and Cal State Los Angeles--after becoming an All-State infielder at Cerritos College.

It led him to Valley where, as one scout said, "he took table scraps and made it into a feast."

It has also kept him at Loyola despite a lucrative offer from Fullerton last summer to return to head the program after Garrido left to become coach at Illinois.

"I kind of like being the underdog," Snow said. "I kind of like not having the resources or name some of these big schools have and going out and beating them."

To that end, Snow is constantly thinking about improving the cards he is dealt.

"Dave has very tunneled vision," Garrido said. "He can really find focus and that is why he's successful. He spends 26 hours of a 24-hour day thinking about how he can help his players get better so the team can win. His mind is just locked in to what he's doing."

Unlike many coaches whose charm exceeds their ability, Snow, 38, does not have a how-the-heck-are-you personality. Consequently, people who don't know him often mistake him as aloof.

"As a personality, a lot of people that worked with me and are around me probably say, 'Gee, I'd like to get to know this guy better,' " Snow said. "But you know, when I come here to my office, I come to work. When I'm on the field I go to work. And when I go home, a lot of times, I work.

"I just want to do a job. I've always had a lot of self-motivation and I don't get involved with a lot of different things. My life is pretty simple and always has been. I put my energy into just a very few things and try to do the best job I can with those things."

Another misconception about Snow is that he is a strict, unbending disciplinarian. The image is perpetuated somewhat by his intensity and his appearance, especially the dark-lensed sunglasses that are as much a part of his uniform as his hat.

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