Todd Stewart discusses his road to athletic director, gives thoughts on state of athletics

WKU Athletics Director Todd Stewart stands before the Board of Regents on Jan. 26 in Jody Richards Hall to ask that Rick Stansbury’s annual base salary be raised by $150,000. 

Drake Kizer

WKU athletic director Todd Stewart has led the Hilltoppers to unprecedented success during his six-year tenure on the Hill, capturing 36 total conference championships. Stewart is thankful for his success, but he said he is still a husband and a father above all else.

Stewart, who is originally from Cincinnati, has worked for 30 years in both the collegiate and professional sport industry. 

Prior to his arrival at WKU in 2008, Stewart worked exclusively in communications and media relations. By 2010, Stewart had risen to WKU’s senior associate athletic director, and on May 9, 2012, he was named WKU’s athletic director.

According to WKU’s budgeted salary information, Stewart will earn a $195,576 base salary in 2018-19, which is also what he earned in 2017-18.

Stewart has guided WKU to 24 conference championships since the 2014-15 season, which is twice as many as any other program in Conference USA. Stewart said that while his prior experience helped him tremendously, his competitive nature drives his success at WKU—on the field and in the classroom. 

On his background

Stewart said the most vital part of his career development was the 15 years he spent working in communications and media relations with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts. He said operating “in a fish bowl” under intense scrutiny prepared him for his current role.

“Sometimes here we try to recruit publicity, but in the NFL, you manage it,” Stewart said. “You’re getting it whether you want it or not.”

Stewart also credited former WKU athletic director Ross Bjork with helping him realize that he wanted to become an athletic director, something Stewart said he never aspired to be. 

Family is important to Stewart, and he said one of the best parts of being an athletic director is having the flexibility to include his wife and son in his work.

“A neat aspect of this job is that I can involve [my family] in what I do and they get to be a part of it,” Stewart said. “I miss out on some things because of the job and the travel and the hours, but by the same token, they get to be involved in some things that are unique and special as well.”

On his role as athletic director

Stewart compared his job to a “traffic director on Times Square” and said the hardest part of his day-to-day work is trying to efficiently manage the volume of needs he is responsible for. Stewart said his support staff is full of dedicated people who take a lot of pride in their work.

“I’m fortunate in that I have really good people around me,” Stewart said. “If it was just me, yeah, there would be enormous pressure but…I am not in this by myself.”

Stewart said he is a competitor and likes to win, but to him, winning at the collegiate level covers a lot more than what happens on the field and court. While team success is obviously important, Stewart said he and his staff also have a responsibility to help individual student-athletes achieve their goals and grow as people while they are attending WKU.

On the success of WKU sports programs

WKU’s athletics budget ranks 12th out of 14 C-USA schools, which Stewart said makes maximizing resources important. Stewart said he feels good about the fact that 12 different sport programs have won conference championships during his tenure.

“I have always believed that a rising tide lifts all boats,” Stewart said. “I do not believe that one program’s success comes at the expense of another one so…any time any of our programs succeed it shines a greater spotlight on the entire campus…and elevates everybody.”

WKU has been tasked with replacing numerous campus legends across all sports over the last few seasons, but Stewart said great coaches, facilities, tradition and the fact that WKU is now outfitted by Nike have helped each program recruit high-level athletes to reload their rosters.

On WKU football

Stewart said although the team’s performance so far this season reflects who WKU is right now, he does not believe it is an indicator of who they will be in the future. Former head coach Jeff Brohm led the Hilltoppers to new heights prior to his departure, but Stewart said it was not likely the program could have ever continued performing at that level indefinitely.

“We all got spoiled from 2014 to 2016,” Stewart said. “I mean that three-year period was probably the best three-year period in the history of our program… when you look at it from a standpoint that we won three straight bowl games at the highest level, we won two conference championships and were ranked in the top 25.”

Stewart said the dramatic drop-off in wins this season was unexpected, but he has not lost faith in head coach Mike Sanford’s ability to win games for the Hilltoppers in years to come.

“I believe in Mike, I believe in his staff, I believe in our players,” Stewart said. “We have a lot of young players playing a lot of key roles. Everyone’s hope is that the growth that they are going through this year leads to many victories in future years.” 

On WKU men’s basketball

Stewart said all the credit for the team’s rise goes to head coach Rick Stansbury and his players. Last year’s squad, which won 27 games and beat opponents from four of the five Power 5 conferences, created momentum that Stewart said has carried into this season.

“When Rick took over a little over two years ago…he said, ‘There’ll come a time when you won’t be able to get a ticket, so you need to get it now,’ and that has proven to be true since we are actually sold out of our season tickets for every single game this year,” Stewart said.

Sports reporter Drake Kizer can be reached at 270-745-2653 and [email protected] Follow Drake on Twitter at @drakekizer_.