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

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.

"He's really very flexible, which isn't what you would think by looking at him," said Chris Smith, a scout and instructor for the New York Yankees who played for Snow at Valley and coached with him at Loyola. "I think people get the idea that he is made out of concrete."

Snow, however, is hard-headed about fundamentals, which he does not teach so much as ingrain. Doug Baker, who played at Granada Hills High and in the 1984 World Series for the Detroit Tigers, said transferring to Arizona State after playing for Snow at Valley was, "kind of a step backward," in terms of learning about the game.

Chris Donnels, an All-American third baseman at Loyola last season who was a first-round draft choice of the New York Mets, said he still follows the concepts he learned from Snow.

"I still do things out here like hustling after balls in batting practice and running out bases hard," said Donnels, who is playing for St. Lucie, the Mets' Class-A affiliate in the Florida State League. "People look at me kind of funny, but that's what got me here. Snow always stressed that busting your butt in practice would show up in games."

Snow's practices are exercises in purpose, designed to enable his players to react confidently in any situation.

"His kids are not afraid to go out and make a mistake," said Craig Wallenbrock, a scout for the Chicago White Sox. "Most of the places I go, the players seem to have one eye or ear in the game and the other in the dugout to see if the coach approves of what they're doing.

"Snow's players don't play in fear. They're loose and play like they have a love for the game."

Snow is also astute at identifying talent and molding players without sacrificing their individuality.

"Dave is smart enough to let people be their own personality," said Cerritos Coach George Horton, who was an assistant under Snow at Valley. "He doesn't try to mold people into solid-citizen types. As long as they put the team first, they get along fine."

Snow's most distinguishing trait as a coach, however, is his knack for preparing and motivating players to perform beyond their perceived abilities.

"That's what appeals to me most about coaching, that you can go beyond ability," Snow said. "You have to have some horses at Division I, but preparing players, getting those people to really believe in themselves, dwelling on their strengths and trying to overcome their weaknesses, that's what gets me off."

Snow's coaching career began after his playing days ended with a broken ankle suffered in a home-plate collision during his senior year at Cal Poly SLO.

The injury finished a playing career that began in a semi-rural setting in Bellflower. Horses and cows roamed the family's two-acre spread where Snow played pickup baseball with youngsters from a boys' home next door. The games were rough and they shaped Snow into a hard-nosed player.

"We'd just pick up and play ball in the pasture," Snow said. "I remember running into barbed-wire fences and tripping in holes in the ground. As I look back on it, it was a pretty physical type of baseball. Those were rough kids, and there was always someone getting knocked down. It was as competitive as heck."

An all-league infielder at Bellflower High, Snow matriculated at Cerritos after graduating in 1968. At Cerritos, Snow played third base for Wally Kincaid, who retired in 1980 with a record of 674-162 in 22 years of coaching. Snow once said that, as a coach, he could learn more in a day from Kincaid than he could watching 100 ballgames.

After leading Cerritos to the state title in 1970, Snow was enticed north by Garrido.

"Augie emphasized that he was bringing me in to be a leader for him and that appealed to me," Snow said. "What really intrigued me was an opportunity to be a part of turning a program around."

San Luis Obispo, with Snow and a freshman pitcher named Mike Krukow, finished 39-11 in 1971. The broken ankle cut short his hopes for a professional baseball career and set Snow on the path that led him to Loyola.

"Being here has been a very positive change for me in terms of appreciating the value of an education," Snow said. "The No. 1 thing now is that my players end up graduating. I couldn't really say that was true when I was at Fullerton or Valley.

"It's changed my style a little bit, because now I'll talk more and deal with players about their academic progress. I'll deal with teachers, counselors, people from the admissions office and the learning resource center.

"That's a gap that's been filled in my coaching life and I think it's something I'll always keep with me."

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