On Wednesday, news hit the wire that former UW and current Texas A&M president Michael Young had hired Scott Woodward away from Washington to become the new Athletic Director for the Aggies. This news comes on the heels of news that former Texas A&M AD Eric Hyman had resigned from that same point on Tuesday.
Nobody knows for sure how long a deal had been in place, but the briskness of the move makes the two-day courtship that Woodward had with Chris Petersen when he hired him look like a trip to Mars complete with robotic nannies and cryo-bed linens.
Woodward initially came to UW in 2004 from LSU. He came along with Young's predecessor, current NCAA president Mark Emmert. He served in a few different roles before ascending into the AD's chair in early 2008. Under his tenure, UW has overhauled its facilities, upgraded coaching staffs for key programs, improved academic performance across all teams, and had success in a wide variety of revenue and non-revenue sports. Woodward will go down as the AD who not only opened the new Husky Stadium but who also "got the white whale" when he hired Chris Petersen away from Boise State.
The move by Woodward to Texas A&M is a move closer to home. The former PR executive is a Louisiana native who has started businesses in that part of the country in addition to his time at LSU. His loss is a big one for UW but he leaves behind an athletic department in terrific shape. Below we discuss the implications of this move and prospects for what might come.
What is the best thing that Scott Woodward did for Husky Athletics?
Chris: The stadium and Petersen deals were epic, but I'd place a vote here for simply returning the UW athletic department to state of competency. It isn't hard to recall the days where coaching staffs were liberally rotated, players were flunking out and getting into trouble and regulation enforcers were constantly sniffing around Campus. Woodward inherited some pieces to work with, but he put together a comprehensive operation that elevated the entire department above the quagmire and enabled the talented folks in the building to drive that operation forward. He leaves UW in as good a shape as any athletic department in the PAC.
Brad: I agree with Chris, in that Woodward was here for eight seasons, and actually made "continuity" a credible virtue to maintain. He proved himself worth "keeping" here.
I'd say his most important act, and hence probably his best, was getting the stadium renovated in the time frame and for the cost he did. I hesitate to give him too much credit, simply because he was the beneficiary of timing to a large degree (dramatically improved economic times, the new TV contract, etc.), and because he sold too much of the soul of Husky football for my liking in getting it done (a handshake deal with the devil that any athletic director would've made, to be totally fair), but he did shake the boosters out of a malaise to get the start-up money for the project.
His hiring of Chris Petersen could surpass this in the future, but it's too early to tell. And while it was painful in the short term, avoiding the knee-jerk reaction to the basketball program's swoon by firing Lorenzo Romar appears to be a good move.
Kirk: What folks will most remember about Woodward's tenure as AD here will be getting the stadium rebuild done and hiring Chris Petersen (assuming he has the success here we anticipate). There's a lot of good from his time here - most Husky programs are doing well (Men's crew, Volleyball and Softball in particular) and there's been a wave of facilities improvements (Husky Ballpark, the new track, Husky Soccer Stadium, the upcoming basketball training facilities upgrades), but the focus is almost certainly going to be on football.
Husky Stadium is the most iconic part of Husky athletics and the rebuild - long-needed but much delayed - got done under his watch, with the result being a modernized facility that once again matches the beauty of the setting on which it sits. And if Petersen returns the football program to competing for conference championships and Rose Bowls, that will be the other key pillar of his tenure here - getting the program all the way back from the depths of the Willingham years.
Ryan: I'm going to echo Chris' sentiments. When Woodward arrived in January 2008, Husky Stadium was a dilapidated mess, the baseball field looked like a slightly above-average high school diamond, and Ty Willingham had just completed a disappointing 4–9 campaign. Almost exactly eight years later, the stadium was renovated on time and under budget without dipping into the public's coffers; Husky Ballpark is one of the most beautiful facilities in the conference, if not the nation; and the football program is led by one of the most respected coaches in America and can be expected to make a legitimate run at a division title in 2016. Simply put, Scott Woodward made UW athletics attractive and relevant again, and it's hard to overstate just how distant that goal seemed when he came on board.
If you had to critique something about the Woodward tenure, what would it be?
Chris: Its hard to know exactly how much influence Woodward garnered inside the conference offices in San Francisco. I am aware that he served as the lead on the PAC 12 revenue committee for a while. But one has to wonder if his agenda was pushed hard enough or successfully enough in the conference. Thinking back to how conference expansion and the PAC 12 Network deals were constructed, it would seem that UW's voice was somewhat muted. If I had to make a critique, it would probably be in his representation of UW among the other power brokers in the conference.
Brad: He was a bean counter, and not much more. That's not entirely a bad thing, because the reality is that college athletics is a big business, and before you can do anything, you need the money. But part of me thinks that Woodward doesn't actually understand the culture of athletics, nor fandom. There's a sliding scale there, and I think he missed that.
Woodward also tended to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease at times. "On the cheap" are never words that should be uttered when attempting to raise money to remodel an icon, for example...
Kirk: The modern college sports landscape has changed dramatically in the last 30 years with the explosion of TV money. It is a much tougher sell these days to get fans in expensive seats for football and basketball with the wildly varying game times and the option of sitting in the comfort of one's own home and watching on a big-screen TV. To combat this, a modern athletic department needs to have a terrific marketing team and plan in place, and while there has been an effort on this front, I think the UW still has a long ways to go to do it right. Winning is the ultimate driver of fan demand for tickets, but there's a lot that can be done by being more marketing-savvy and doing a better job of understanding the customer base.
Also, for someone touted for his political savvy and background, he put his foot in his mouth more than you'd like.
Ryan: Since the renovated Husky Stadium was reopened in 2013, I don't think I've met a single person who has made the argument that the game day experience is improved over what existed pre-renovation. Traditions such as "Captain Husky" and "Hello, Dawg fans" have gone the way of the dodo, and while not all the blame can be laid at the feet of one person, it goes without saying that the athletic director is the one in charge of making changes to ensure that the men and women who spend hundreds or thousands of their hard-earned dollars to see football games on the shore of Lake Washington get their money's worth. While the facilities and concessions have improved, days spent at Husky Stadium lack the emotional connection that they used to imbue. (I feel like calling the Husky game day experience "soulless" is a bit too far, but I can't come up with a better term for it, either. So take from that what you will.) And don't even get me started on the athletic department's refusal to encourage folks to be in their seats for kickoff by denying re-entry after halftime or by closing The Zone.
Is this development good news or bad news for Husky Athletics?
Chris: Good news.
The fact that UW has now produced a "developed" AD candidate who is in high enough demand to be recruited into a position of power at an SEC school speaks to the credibility of the UW job. While it hurts to lose a man of Woodward's accomplishment, the fact that UW has returned to the status of "destination job" can only be viewed as good news. UW will have some ability to be selective in who they recruit to replace him. Let's hope that the powers that be take full advantage by carefully considering where the program needs to go from this point and chooses their next leader accordingly.
Brad: I agree with Chris' comments by and large, but I find myself in the "we'll see" camp. I know nothing about how the new University of Washington president Ana Mari Cauce feels about athletics, and football in particular. Since the most pressing needs of the football program have been addressed (the stadium renovation), things can slide. But only a little. It's a long, cold arms race out there, and the Huskies certainly aren't "winning" right now. A bad hire can kill the momentum the athletic department has built over the last few years the same way a good one can maintain and build on it.
Kirk: Hard to say at this point. While there's certainly room for improvement, by and large I think Woodward was a plus for the department, and there's no guarantees the next hire will be as good. Husky athletics as a whole are closer to their theoretical ceiling than they are their floor. The good news is that the department is in a good place, and finding a strong replacement should be easier than it was after the Todd Turner debacle.
Ryan: Good news, for sure. Woodward has always struck me as the type of man who performs at his best when he has a goal laid out in front of him, and can take concrete steps to turn that vision into reality. This parting looks to be mutually beneficial: A new position at a different institution with its own attendant challenges and concerns will be good for Woodward's growth and motivation, and an infusion of new blood into the top levels of the athletic department will allow the university to better address some of the criticisms that fans and boosters have of the way things are currently done. I don't see any reason that both parties won't come out the better for this turn of events.
What kinds of qualifications are you looking for in UW's next AD?
Chris: First, I think we want to find somebody who philosophically embraces the ideas of organizational continuity and has a track record at building such organizations. UW has developed a high-functioning operation with quality people both as heads of sports programs and as heads of operational departments. The new leader should be looking to build on that as opposed to reworking it.
Second, and I think this is key, the leaders should have exceptional experience in marketing. The foundational repairs to the UW infrastructure are largely complete. The next big hurdle for UW will be to improve their competitiveness in attracting the attention of Pacific Northwest consumers who have so many options to choose from when it comes to spending their leisure time and money. The new AD ought to be somebody who knows how to speak to and address the needs of such a consumer base.
Brad: Where do I get tickets to your seminar, Chris? It sounds intriguing.
I agree. But at the same time, I'm not opposed to upsetting the apple cart some. While things were certainly trending in the right direction, that direction isn't without its flaws. While I'm not in favor of burning things to the ground, I want someone that isn't afraid to critically look at all of the processes that got the department to this point and improve on them. Right now, particularly with football, I think there's a little lack of focus; the athletic department is trying to be too many things instead of just concentrating on perfecting a few of them. Maybe that statement lands me a guest speaking role at Landon's seminar.
Making Husky athletics relevant to consumers with a lot of other options for their limited entertainment dollars and time is critical. One key area I think the Woodward regime missed the boat is connecting with the young donors that will eventually make up the new blue-haired crowd. You can only go to the same well so many times; cultivating the next generation is a critical aspect that seems to be lagging.
Kirk: College sports are such a big business these days that you need to have someone that either has the business savvy to successfully manage the books and run a top-notch marketing group, or at the very least understands how important this is and is capable of hiring the right folks to keep things running smoothly. The candidate also has to be enough of a people-person to be a benefit in managing relationships with boosters and keeping the flow of big donations coming in, but also not losing sight of keeping the common fans happy and engaged too.
This person also needs to be a strong manager with a track record of success in hiring. Choosing the right people to work in your organization is tremendously important in any business, and it's no different here. Knowing how to effectively interview candidates and having a good hiring process is one of the most important traits for any manager in running a successful team.
Ryan: As President Cauce makes her first athletic director hiring, she'll need to walk a fine line between staying the course and showing a willingness to embrace change where it is needed. Washington's revenue programs look to be in as stable a position as they've been since the 1990s, so any potential AD will likely not be in a position to hire their own coaches for several years, at least. Meanwhile, recent drama in the crew program demands someone who is not afraid to assert his or her authority, and who has the ability to tamp these types of fires before they have a chance to spread. Based on her role as a liaison to the media during the Husky Stadium renovation, as well as her close working relationship with Woodward, I am inclined to support Senior Associate AD Jen Cohen's ascension into the head job. No doubt, her name will be one of many bandied about in the coming days and weeks as the position is filled.