Woodward Thinking Outside the Box

SEATTLE - Scott Woodward likes his day job. He fully and freely admits it. But when his boss - University of Washington President Mark Emmert asked Woodward to replace outgoing UW Athletic Director Todd Turner on an interim basis two weeks ago, it piqued his interest. Woodward admits to being a fan of Husky football, and he's been asked to help bring it back to the fans.

Turner, who became Washington's AD in June of 2004, showed up at Graves Annex admist a maelstrom of negative PR. Washington Head Football Coach Rick Neuheisel had been fired for lying to UW officials about his participation in a high-stakes college hoops Calcutta. Teresa Wilson - UW's Softball Coach at the time - had also been fired when word leaked out about team doctor William Scheyer's involvement in giving players improper prescriptions for large quantities of narcotics, tranquilizers and other prescription drugs.

Sensing the dreaded lack of institutional control, the NCAA quickly camped on the Huskies front porch and didn't leave for several months.

Turner was able to turn the Huskies' compliance department completely around with the help of John Morris, and in Woodward's own words, "did his job in terms of getting things done internally". But in asking Turner to step down, Emmert talked about the athletic department moving into a new 'evolution', and it's clear that he was thinking outside the box. Literally.

"We have a very fractured fan base and we have a very fractured donor base right now, and I'm going to do everything I can do to heal that," Woodward said, noting his primary job as interim AD. "I'm also going to help (Washington Head Football Coach) Ty (Willingham) get football right.

"We need to talk about the elephant in the room - that's wins and losses. We view winning to be a core value, a positive value - as long as everything else is underpinning it - meaning compliance, and what's in the best interests of the student-athlete."

Nothing in Woodward's resume speaks to his qualifcations as an athletic director. Frankly speaking, he's a politician at heart. Emmert found Woodward while President at LSU. "He (Emmert) was looking for a (university) external state relations person in Louisiana, and he asked everyone who cared about LSU to a person who the right guy to hire was, and Mark said that it all pointed to me," Woodward said. "I'm humbled by that."

So Woodward worked as Emmert's Director of External Affairs at LSU from 2000 to 2004, and it wasn't surprising that Emmert asked Woodward to pack his bags and move north. It was an out-of-the-box move for Woodward, who had previously been a political consultant, a legislative liaison, a lobbyist, and for eight years the principal in his own government and public relations firm.

"In a lot of ways it was pretty liberating," Woodward said of his decision to follow Emmert. "I've always wanted to live out west, and I'm a pretty progressive guy. To come work in what I consider probably the best city in America in Seattle and for one of the great public institutions at the U-Dub, and for a leader like Mark Emmert - who is at the top of the heap of higher education - it was like I hit the trifecta."

And now - while still working as Emmert's right-hand man in External Affairs - Woodward has been assigned the toughest external affair currently at UW - locating the Huskies' football program. "I watched the athletic pieces and saw how they affected external relations of the greater University," he said. "I did the same thing at LSU, so it was a natural for me to assume that role here."

Woodward will have to put his political chops to work in handling the group responsible for locating UW football. It's going to consist of fans, donors and anyone else that wants to take part in the turnaround. But it really all starts with the man currently in charge - Willingham.

The two have talked about image, and what Willingham can do in the way of bridging the clear disconnect between the program and those that support it. "That's an ongoing conversation that Ty and I will have," Woodward said. "His strength is his weakness. His rigidity is his absolute strength and his solid character - but you have to be flexible in how you do things and change things, and I think he realizes that more than anyone. And I have all the confidence in the world that he's going to get this right and figure out how to connect with the fans, as well as hopefully get some wins this coming fall."

Willingham's most pressing issue concerns staff hires. Running Backs Coach Trent Miles went to coach his alma mater, while the contracts of Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer and Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends Coach Bob Simmons are not going to be renewed. "I'm going to give him as much help as he wants with that and do everything we can to incrementally improve football," Woodward said.

The other pressing issue within the department right now is how the school will proceed with plans to renovate and rejuvenate Husky Stadium. Charitably speaking - it's due for a facelift. Turner was working with a stadium advisory committee chaired by former Governor Dan Evans, but work on the project appeared to be somewhat stilted in nature. There appeared to be no realistic plan in place to handle the track that has to be removed, or how the renovation was going to conincide with the existing Light Rail project. There were thoughts and a basic structure to proceed, but those thoughts barely got to the cost-benefit analysis before the committee's work bogged down, largely due to the fact that the costs came in at nearly $300 million more than anticipated.

Forced with economic realities, they hit a wall. But the real frustration lay in the fact that Turner and Evans had talked about a best-case senario that had the renovation beginning as soon as winter of 2008. But when the price tag came back at $415 million, the committee had no answers.

It's doubtful that Woodward is going to be able to get his hands that dirty before a full-time athletic director is announced by Emmert. "I'm just trying to get the lay of the land and get folks calmed down," he said.

But with projects on the table in dire need of resuscitation, Woodward's political savvy should come in handy. He might be able to shepherd the Stadium Advisory Committee and work with Evans in a way that Turner was unable to. He understands how to work with local and state governments on a university level. He's been doing it the past seven years. And if anyone is qualified to bridge the gap between athletic department needs and overlapping projects at the local government level, it would be someone with Woodward's background. It's the reason he was brought by Emmert to Seattle.

But is he interested in handling the Washington Athletic Department full-time? "It's way premature at this time," Woodward said, while also making it clear that he wasn't saying no either. "I have what I consider one of the best jobs in America in higher education. But I've always been interested in athletics, and if it likes me and I like it, it's a consideration."

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