VAUGHT: Sitting down with Chris Woolard

He's been part of coaching staffs at UCLA and Murray State and an administrator in Conference USA with a priority on men's basketball, but Chris Woolard views his new job as associate athletics director for men's basketball at the University of Kentucky as both a challenge and upward step in his career.

He's known Kentucky coach John Calipari for years, but has also served on NCAA committees with UK?athletics director Mitch Barnhart. Both Calipari and Barnhart were interested in him filling the spot vacated when Martin Newton was named athletics director at Samford University at the end of the 2010-11 basketball season and the more Woolard talked to others about the move, the more he realized it was a special opportunity for his career.

"I am excited to be here. Cal has been a good friend for a long time. We got a chance to know each other when I was coaching college basketball and then I worked almost daily with him when I was at Conference USA and he was coaching at Memphis. He told me how special the last couple of years have been here," said Woolard Thursday.

"I have know Martin for a long time. He has done a great job at all the stops he's made in his career, but this (becoming an athletics director) certainly shows what this program means and the value it has to other people. I talked to a lot of people about what they thought if I wanted to get to the next level (athletics director or conference commissioner) about making this move and the one thing they kept saying is that University of Kentucky basketball is awfully important and when you are associated with that program it will open some eyes."

Newton was not an associate athletics director, but Woolard wanted to make sure his role was structured to help with his career advancement, a move both Calipari and Barnhart endorsed. He'll now be the primary contact for Barnhart with men's basketball and that works for Barnhart and Calipari because they both already knew him.

"Now there's not just a comfort level on one side, but on both sides. One benefit is that I?have a great working relationship with both of them. They both knew me professionally and felt I was a good fit for this position," Woolard said.

"I got to know Mitch the last couple of years when we serve on the NCAA committee and we built a relationship. With Kentucky also having an affiliation with Conference USA in men's soccer, I also knew him."

Woolard acknowledged he was still learning exactly what his role will be at UK?with Calipari and Barnhart.

"I am not interested in coaching. That part is done with me," he said after joking that Calipari had not yet asked him to "draw up plays" since his arrival three weeks ago.

Instead, he'll be a liaison with marketing, compliance, media and budget concerns dealing with men's basketball.

"Having such a close relationship with Cal, he can bounce things off of me," Woolard said. "I think I can bring a different sense of perspective than just a narrow view of how things fit in the big picture."

Woolard says he never had any trouble hitting it off with Calipari for numerous reasons.

"Number one, he is a great person. I have enjoyed getting to know him. There are a lot of misconceptions about him. Once you get to know him and care for each other, there is not a more loyal person in the world."

He recalled how Calipari was constantly calling the Conference USA office with ideas on how to help the league after several teams — Cincinnati and Marquette among others — left for other conferences.

"The guy has ideas every day. It never stops. Sometimes I think that is overwhelming for some people, but we welcomed them," Woolard said.

"We created a great relationship because he felt somebody in the conference office was listening to him. He respected that and I?respected how much time he put in not only for Memphis, but for the whole league."

Woolard's father was the head coach at St. Louis and competed against Calipari. His father always spoke as highly of Calipari as Memphis coaches Woolard met when he was at Murray. He also understands the various misconceptions many have about Calipari.

"You read them in the media every day. You hear the talk about Cal having the best players and how that happens. People have termed him self-serving and he is the exact opposite," Woolard said. "I know why he is such a great recruiter. He connects with people and he works. Now that he's at Kentucky, the sky is the limit.

"He is one of the most caring, genuine people I?have ever been around. I have known people who say, ‘I don't know about Cal.' Then they spend time with him and walk away and say he is the best."

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