Athletics is an integral part of Southern Utah University’s 125 years of history, with its first sports programs dating back to the early 1900s. Since then, the athletics program at SUU has grown thanks to talented athletes and coaches. The value of a revered athletic director alongside these individuals can’t be understated.
In January 2023, Doug Knuth was officially appointed as SUU’s new athletic director. Knuth was hired to replace the now-retired Debbie Corum, who previously served in the position for five years.
The job of an athletic director is to serve and support those involved in the athletics program, whether it be hiring coaches, scheduling seasons, promoting events or budgeting.
Although Knuth only recently started building his legacy as a Thunderbird, he already plans to have an influence on the school. Knuth’s SUU impact may still be in the making, but he’s already built up a reputation of his own throughout a lifetime of involvement in athletics across the nation.
All the way from Connecticut
Born and raised just outside of New York City in Fairfield, Connecticut, Knuth was the last of four children. By the time he was 8 years old, his siblings had all moved away, and Knuth, feeling like an only child, focused his effort into sports.
“I think it’s one of the greatest teaching tools out there to be on any kind of team. You’re challenged every day to be better than you were yesterday. That’s a powerful life lesson,” Knuth shared. “When your sports career ends, you’ll still have that mindset from all those years of sports.”
With both of his parents working, the young athlete grew to be self-reliant and flexible, skills that he considers crucial to the constantly fluctuating career of sports administration.
Knuth’s student-athlete years
Understanding the valuable lessons of independence and adaptability, Knuth was thrilled to move into the next stage of his life and further develop as a student-athlete. At the University of Connecticut, he narrowed down his wide range of sports to one: tennis.
The fresh-faced UCONN Husky was in the top spot for singles and doubles through all four college years, but he faced plenty of difficulty despite his success. Knuth took losses hard, mulling them over in his mind and letting them linger longer than his victories.
Knuth took every loss as a learning experience that could help shape him as a player. His challenges began working to his advantage, showing him the improvements he needed to make. He was enjoying college, making the most of both wins and losses.
“When we make decisions today on stuff that we want to do in our athletic department, I go back to 30 years ago when I was a student-athlete and think about what that experience was like,” Knuth said. “I think about how I was treated and use it to help me make decisions on how we want to provide the student-athlete experience.”
He spent his last couple of years in college as a captain of the successful tennis team, building on his knack for leadership and teamwork. The athletic department at UCONN took notice and offered him a job after his graduation in 1994.
Discovering his purpose
Knuth explained that he barely knew what the athletic department was let alone what it meant to be a member of it, but he didn’t let that stop him. Over his first couple of years on the athletic development staff, he discovered his purpose: to serve and support.
Motivated by this concept, Knuth started to drift west from UCONN between a few different universities before landing at Michigan State University as their assistant athletic director. After five years at MSU, he served as senior associate athletic director at the University of Utah for nearly eight years. He’d been climbing the ladder, honing his abilities to prepare for his next big step.
In 2013, the University of Nevada, Reno’s athletic director position opened up, and Knuth answered the call. He served there for his longest tenure of nine years, working to improve UNR athletics.
Becoming a Thunderbird
For Knuth, 2022 brought the need for a change of scenery, and the athletic director was searching for three things in his new home. He wanted to work in a great place with great people so that he could have a greater impact.
As far as a place, Knuth loved the idea of living in a tight-knit community surrounded by a stunning outdoor environment, so his interest in SUU was piqued. Once he met the staff and spoke with President Mindy Benson, he knew the job was right for him.
“There’s a lot of really great universities out there in amazing places, but they’re steeped in tradition and never going to change. That’s not for me,” Knuth said. “I want to be at a place where I can roll up my sleeves, make positive improvements and grow a program. That’s the kind of place this is.”
Knuth doesn’t plan on letting the athletic department run itself. He wants to take the reins and lead the program to more victories. To fill that role, Knuth will have to rely on his ability to adapt.
“There’s no such thing as a typical day. The role of an athletic director is to serve and support everyone in the department,” he said. “There are certain things that don’t change: values, mission and purpose. Yet, in my 10 years as an athletic director, my schedule has been variable and always changing.”
Plans for the future
The most pressing issue on Knuth’s to-do list is fundraising. He plans to start a significant campaign, raising financial support from the SUU community to build and enhance facilities for Thunderbird athletes.
“I need to provide the resources for our student-athletes to be successful in the classroom, in competition and in growing and maturing as young adults,” Knuth said. “I need to make sure our coaches have the things they need to be successful, and that’s very different every single day with the diversity of sports, coaches and athletes we have.”
Knuth knows the rest of the Western Athletic Conference won’t wait for him to get settled in and up to speed, so he intends to start making improvements and growing the athletics program now. He doesn’t just want to stay competitive with the other teams in the WAC, he wants to be better than them.
His drive to win doesn’t distract him from his motto. Knuth’s priority is to serve and support, helping student-athletes to refine themselves both inside and outside their sports.
“We have these amazingly talented young people who come to this university, and my job is to make sure they leave here with an incredible education, the ability to perform their sport at the highest level possible and a great experience,” Knuth said. “We want them to leave this university with a diploma in hand and look back on their days here and say, ‘those were the best four years of my life.’”
With Knuth drawing from his experiences, the new athletic director can lead SUU into a new era in the college’s impressive athletic history.
Story by Kale Nelson
Photos courtesy of Doug Knuth
This article was originally published in March 2023 edition of the University Journal.