5 Questions… with new athletic director Amy Backus

Amy Backus CWRU headshotAfter every basketball practice during her sophomore year at Central Michigan University, Amy Backus went home and logged each drill her team performed that day.

That’s when it hit her: Her aspirations changed from becoming a high school teacher and coach to coaching at the collegiate level.

“Around that point, I started to realize, this is something I might want to do for a career,’” said Backus, Case Western Reserve University’s new athletic director. She started on July 1.

Backus went on to log a 215-205 record as a college head coach, while teaching a variety of physical education classes from aerobics to archery.

A native of nearby Vermilion, Backus made coaching stops at Otterbein College in Ohio, Middlebury College in Vermont, Northwestern University in Illinois and Yale University in Connecticut.

After a long coaching career, Backus opted to join the administrative ranks of athletics, beginning in the compliance office at Yale, where she learned every aspect of the athletic department.

“There came a point where I couldn’t quite envision myself as a coach for the rest of my life,” Backus said. “That’s when I really began to pursue opportunities in full-time administration.”

Backus advanced to senior associate athletic director at Yale—a career move that led her back to Ohio as the athletic director at Case Western Reserve.

“My journey has taken me to many great places,” Backus said. “Now to be able to return to the Cleveland area and share my experience with family, this is incredibly rewarding.”

The draw to Case Western Reserve was about more than just the physical location for Backus.

“I’ve been fortunate in my career to work at institutions where academics are the top priority,” she said. “That is no question the case here. The student-athletes are goal-oriented. They are self-motivated. They’re here for a reason. They are participating in their sport because they love it. To work with those kinds of student-athletes is what makes this job great.”

Paired with the location, academics and all-around atmosphere on campus, Case Western Reserve was a perfect fit for Backus.

“When I began looking at the position, I could feel the energy and upward swing of what’s happening here at Case Western Reserve,” she said. “Since President [Barbara R.] Snyder’s arrival, the university has experienced unprecedented levels of success.  That success has also been felt in the department of physical education and athletics, and I am excited to be a part of it.”

1. Who do you consider your greatest role model?

My parents. I grew up in a family of four girls, and we were given unbelievable opportunities. A great example is our passion for sailing. Our parents provided us with incredible support and the opportunity to be independent when traveling to compete. That independence for me developed into a self-confidence that is vital to success, not only in business, but in life. I’m so appreciative of the support my parents gave to us growing up.

2. How do you keep up with the news?

NPR, and I’m a New York Times freak. I have to read it every morning. When I don’t get a chance to listen to NPR or read The New York Times, I will open up CNN online for a quick snapshot.

3. What is the most challenging class you’ve ever taken?

Shakespeare during my spring semester of my senior year in college. I was an English minor, and I saved that class until the very end. I apologize to all the English professors here, but it was excruciating for me. I’m just not a huge fan.

4. What do you consider the best invention of all time? 

At the risk of being too 21st century, I’m going to say the World Wide Web. It gives us all the chance to be creative, to learn about other cultures and to communicate with others around the world. The web also provides unbelievable opportunities to those who may have physical or mental disabilities.

5.  What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

The people I’ve met so far are incredibly passionate about this place, and they’re passionate about their work. They are hard working, supportive and really optimistic.