The day Vic Cegles sat down for this interview was the day he was named 2014-15 I-AAA Under Armour Athletics Director of the Year — an annual award given by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA).
“It’s nice to be recognized by your peers,” Cegles says, but quickly moves on to spend most of his time giving credit to athletes, coaches, administrators and other athletics directors who’ve influenced him throughout his career. It’s the kind of modest statement you expect to hear from people who win things, but with Cegles you can tell it’s genuine.
In the span of this hour-long interview, the Long Beach State athletics director notes more than once that he hails from Niagara Falls, N.Y., a small industrial town that now relies on the falls to churn its economy. What Cegles conveys with each reminder of his beginning as the son of a factory worker in a small town is equal parts humility and the triumph of hard work.
Over his 40-year career, Cegles has earned a reputation as one of the country’s top athletics directors, particularly in the realm of fundraising. Since joining LBSU in 2006, he’s helped rake in over $20 million for athletics, expanding the school’s donor and fan base in the process. With the increased revenue, Cegles has pumped money back into the school making major improvements to athletics facilities and hiring nine new coaches. Under his leadership, Beach Athletics has won over 30 conference championships with 31 teams advancing to the NCAA Tournament. And this year, for the fifth season in a row, the school is taking the Big West Commissioner’s Cup.
So if you ask him to tell you how he’s come to be the accomplished athletics administrator he is today, Cegles will remind you that he comes from Niagara Falls, N.Y., and that he’s worked really hard to win.
To understand what winning means to Cegles, you have to go back to his hometown in the 1950s. As he tells it, there was a neighborhood park where he and four of his closest friends would hang out all day, every day — only going indoors to eat and sleep. It was here that competition and the drive to be better became a natural part of life — and an entertaining one.
“I lived on 81st Street, my best friend lived on 77th and some other guys lived on 90 something. Everybody was there,” Cegles recalls. “We hung out in that park playing football, basketball, baseball, anything, and we competed with each other and challenged each other every day. To be funny, to be more funny; to be smart, to be more smart; to get As, to get better As. It was crazy.”
It was these friends that drew out Cegles’ competitive edge, teaching him about success through friendly banter and ribbing along the way (a jovial style that Cegles says he uses as a leader). He jokes that as one of five siblings, he also had to “compete for who was eating.” Eventually, Cegles parlayed his love of competition into an athletic scholarship at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University and ultimately a career.
Most of Cegles’ job is focused on fundraising, and it’s a task he carries out with laser focus. He once raised money for athletics in the produce aisle at Ralphs. The man is rarely “off.” When he isn’t fundraising, Cegles is on campus coaching his staff, answering emails and generally taking care of business.
His office, housed on the north side of campus, is unremarkable except for two things: the window that looks out onto the bright blue walls of the iconic Walter Pyramid and one specific piece of décor that sums up what Cegles is all about: a rectangular sign with big block letters that says, “GET IT DONE.”
It’s clear that competition is a driving force in your life. What else makes you tick?
There’s an old coaching saying: “You get better or you get worse. You don’t stay the same.” I don’t know if anybody talks like that anymore or if some kids even listen to it, but it’s true. You’ve got to try to get better.
And that never gets tiring? You’ve been doing this for almost 40 years.
I love being around young people and people with energy and spirit. Being on a college campus is pretty special. You see energy, enthusiasm and opportunity. And I’m around co-workers who are also trying to get better every day. There are 13 head coaches [overseeing 19 sports] and they’re all trying to figure out how to improve their programs, how to recruit better student-athletes, how to raise money, how to market the program and how to improve the schedule. It’s so much fun to be around them.
What is the biggest challenge you’re hoping to tackle at LBSU?
Our challenge is to get our almost 300,000 alumni to take pride in this university. I firmly believe that having successful teams — and we have to be really successful because there’s a lot of competition in the marketplace — is how we can get our alumni to give back. That means we need to get to the College World Series for baseball and we need to get to the Final Four. Is it easy? No. But we’ll have to work every day to try to become successful.
Besides your dedication to hard work, how do you think you are best suited to take on that challenge?
What I tell everybody is this: I’m the first male in my family to graduate college, and my way to get that degree was through athletics. So I can relate to student-athletes. I know what it’s like to build relationships with teammates, to put in hard work, to be dedicated and learn about sacrifice. Those things brought me, a poor kid from Niagara Falls, N.Y., to where I am today.
I’m extremely fortunate to have gotten the opportunity through my university to get an education. I want to provide that opportunity to other young people. About 60 percent of our student-athletes here are first generation college students, and it’s personally very rewarding to mentor and develop young people and see them grow.
As Cegles reflects on his achievements thus far, his modesty prevents him from admitting that he has the coolest job out of all of the friends from Niagara Falls. He proudly and fondly notes that each one of his small band of brothers went on to college and successful careers, but he can’t help but sound a little in awe of the fun he gets to have in his job. The closest he gets to admitting he’s got it good, is this: “They’re a little envious.”
But one thing Cegles will say and is very clear of is that he’s still striving to be a better version of himself and to better LBSU athletics in the process. To him, there is no limit to improvement. After all, you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. You can’t stay the same. So if you’re looking for Cegles, he’ll be around…getting it done.