Woodward: Yes-Man or Outside the Box?

SEATTLE - It took nearly nine months and a $75,000 executive search for Washington President Mark Emmert to realize the best fit was also the one he made originally. Wednesday Scott Woodward was named as the Huskies' latest athletic director, a post he had been working at since this past February in an interim capacity.

"In the end I concluded the person who was best suited for this job was the one who had it right now," Emmert said. "When it all was said and done, this was actually a very easy choice. There's a sense this has been long drawn-out and even speculation that this was a troubled search, but in all candor that's nonsense. A nine-month timeline is not unusual in our business."

Woodward, 45, who had been Emmert's Vice President for External Relations since Emmert arrived from LSU in 2004, expressed an interest in the vacant AD position at Washington following the resignation of Todd Turner in December of 2007, and took over the role on an interim basis two months later.

"I'm excited about this new challenge because I've been doing external relations for nine years, but it's an evolution in my career and it's something I have a passion for and believe in to my core," Woodward said. He added that he accepted the job on the spot when offered a few days ago. "Collegiate athletics is a great thing for higher education. What we do and how we behave here is something we can be very proud of as citizens of the State of Washington."

Randy Hodgins takes over Woodward's job as Vice President for External Affairs. Hodgins is currently Washington's head of state relations and is expected to stay there through the legislative session while the school appeals the state for funds to help in the renovation of Husky Stadium, among other things.

Ever since being named the interim AD, Woodward had been a fixture at Washington football practices, and around the various sports facilities. It's clear he has a passion for sports and an enthusiasm that is contagious. The only stumbling block is his resume; it's not chock-full of athletic department experience.

By going through a search firm - Parker Executive Search of Atlanta, Ga. - the Huskies wanted to make sure they created a short list of the most viable and attractive candidates currently on the market. Emmert admitted that he would have loved to finish the AD search in the spring, but he wasn't satisfied with the pool of applicants. Utah's Chris Hill, Georgia Tech's Dan Radakovich, UTEP's Bob Stull, San Jose State's Tom Bowen, former Oregon AD Bill Moos and former UW kicker Chuck Nelson were names discussed throughout the process.

"I looked at as many candidates as I needed to to know what the market had and I knew I had the right guy (Woodward) for the job," Emmert said, adding that no candidate passed on the job, and no one else besides Woodward was offered the job. Terms of Woodward's contract have not been finalized, but Emmert hinted that it would probably be similar to Turner's contract, which was a five-year contract. Emmert also said Woodward's yearly salary would be commensurate with the going rate in the Pac-10.

Woodward worked as the President's liaison to the Tigers' athletic department while in Baton Rouge. The Louisiana native has worked as closely with Emmert the past nine years as anyone, and that was a major consideration. "He's (Woodward) got a lot invested in the athletic department already, so it made some sense to carry that on," Emmert said.

"The startup time will be roughly zero."

So while Woodward hits the ground running, he faces numerous challenges: renovating the crumbling icon that is Husky Stadium, as well as the UW football program; handling said renovation of Husky Stadium while half of the south parking lot is eaten up by the five-year Sound Transit project; general fan dissatisfaction with the direction of Husky football, which is at an all-time high; baseball and soccer facilities which still need to be funded and finished. Woodward referenced Wednesday a donor ready to step up and help bridge the baseball facilities issue, so that appears to be a positive first step in addressing a problem that has existed for years.

Emmert once talked about college athletics being the 'front porch' to a university. He reiterated those comments Wednesday. If college athletics are a school's front porch, Washington's football program must be its cellar door.

"Football is struggling mightily," Emmert said. "The outcomes are pretty cut and dried. We aren't winning a lot of football games, and that's something Scott and the coaches will be working on."

"I'm not happy, no one is happy," Woodward added. "They (coaches and players) are working hard, and no where near quitting. They are going to give it their best. It's early in the season, and it's premature to be talking about anything but supporting these Huskies and supporting them as best we can. But when you're losing, your warts show."

And with the Huskies stumbling out of the gate 0-3, the program is a giant boil on the butt of progress. And Woodward was not hired as a lance - at least not today. The bulk of his time will certainly be directed at improving the football experience at Washington, but that won't be his only focus. "You don't hire somebody to deal with one issue; you hire somebody to be the leader of an entire unit for an extended period of time," Emmert said. "We don't need any more revolving doors. We need stability and leadership over the long run."

Woodward's relationship with Emmert immediately begs the question; will he be nothing more than a yes man for the head man, or with Emmert's blessing will Woodward be allowed to explore out-of-the-box thinking in the same way Oregon did with hiring Pat Kilkenny or Notre Dame did recently with Jack Swarbrick?

'Whiplash' was the word Woodward used to describe his last nine months in office. In February he was assigned the interim AD tag, while lobbying Emmert for the full-time spot. Emmert, in a move Woodward called 'flattering', talked Woodward out of the AD role because of his inherent value in the President's office. And now, at the end of the search for the best athletic director candidate, Emmert went back to where he began, calling the move 'unequivocally the right thing for the University of Washington and for University of Washington athletics'.

The part about the University of Washington is understood. As VP for External Relations, it was Woodward's job to act as intermediary between the school and the state legislature - a role he also played while at LSU. This experience will come in handy when the athletic department lobbies the state for half of an estimated $300 million plan to renovate a decrepit Husky Stadium. Woodward stressed that they would only be asking for funds to bring the structure up to current code and seismic standards for the health and safety of the patrons who use the state-owned facility. They would be asking for tourism taxes through the hotel-motel tax, rental car tax and restaurant tax, the same taxes that helped to fund two other King County public facilities - the Kingdome and Safeco Field.

"We're going to ask to be a part of that (tax) mix when it's decided in Olympia and is taken to King County," Woodward said. He added that the other half would ideally come from current seat donor increases, philanthropy and loans the department could manage and fold into their own general budget.

"This is one of the few athletic departments that is a tub on its own bottom."

Given that major decisions - like coaching changes - won't be done without going through the President and 'key constituents' (read: big-money donors) first, it's easy to question just how much autonomy Woodward will have as AD. And really, it's a question of just how much independence any AD has had making those kinds of decisions, decisions that will either dress up the front porch considerably or tear it down completely. One thing he has going in his favor is that he doesn't have anywhere near the bureaucratic pedigree of his predecessor, something that should definitely allow him to work on solutions instead of forming committees.

"This is a special place," Woodward said, adding that he'll be attacking the athletics issues just like he would at External Affairs - hard work, vigor and passion. "We're down a little bit because everyone views your fortunes on your win-loss record in football."

Since Woodward stepped on campus in 2004, Washington's win-loss record is 12-35. That's not enough to even replace some of the rotted floorboards that have fallen apart on the university's front porch. He talked about how the 'hot dogs are colder and the splinters are more frequent' nowadays.

Now it's his problem. Officially.


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