AD's ex-school now just another enemy

Published February 9, 2005

When Bulls athletic director Doug Woolard held the same post at Saint Louis, he would use a men's basketball game at South Florida as a sponsor trip, a nice locale to bring his athletic program's biggest supporters.

Tonight, he'll be the one welcoming the Billikens to warmer confines, but after nine months at USF, he's getting used to the concept of rooting against his old employer when it crosses paths with his new school.

"I'm going to wish them the best throughout the year, every day except Feb. 9," said Woolard, Saint Louis' athletic director from 1994-2004.

Basketball has a special place for Woolard, who went 265-93 in 13 seasons as a high school coach in Carbondale, Ill., before choosing college administration.

Without a football program, Saint Louis looks to basketball as its biggest sport, but Woolard said he was excited to see the Bulls go up against the Billikens in soccer and volleyball last fall.

"I'm sure the game might have an additional meaning to him, simply because he spent 10 years there," Bulls coach Robert McCullum said. "There's bound to be some feelings he'll have, but aside from that, there's no question who he wants to win the game."

As to any insight about Saint Louis, McCullum said that Woolard has been "extremely professional," and the athletic director said his years have taught him to let his coaches coach.

"I'm going to stay out of their way," Woolard said.

STILL WAITING: The lingering question in football recruiting is whether Ricky Jean-Francois, the coveted defensive end from Miami Carol City, will choose USF or LSU. Jean-Francois told his high school coach, Walt Frazier, he'll make his decision Friday.

"I told him if he hasn't decided by then, I'll send these (letters of intent) back to the colleges," Frazier said.

That said, there's a chance he won't make it to either campus this fall. Jean-Francois has a "2.2 or 2.3" grade-point average and a 16 on the ACT, Frazier said, so he would need significant improvements this spring to meet NCAA requirements for initial eligibility. And though he's working to get himself eligible, he could wind up having to go to a junior college and transfer into a four-year program in two years.

After signing only two linebackers in their recruiting class, the Bulls are in the mix for former Riverview standout Tyrone McKenzie, who is transferring after one year at Michigan State.

McKenzie got a call Tuesday from USF coach Jim Leavitt, who is competing with Florida and Georgia for his services. McKenzie said he wants to be closer to his mother, who is still recovering from injuries from a car accident two years ago.

"We don't want to be in that same situation again, where I'm far away from her," said McKenzie, who plans to apply for a hardship waiver that will allow him to play this fall.

THIS AND THAT: Men's soccer coach George Kiefer has lost his top assistant, Jeff Neghala, to one of college soccer's best programs at North Carolina. Neghala will coach goalkeepers for the Tar Heels, and Kiefer, who is interviewing candidates this week, said there are notable Bulls alumni among those he's considering. ... Freshman Courtney Vernon is off to a promising start in tennis, where she has won her first three singles matches, losing a total of five games in her first six sets. Vernon and sophomore Neyssa Etienne, who represented Haiti in the 2000 Olympics as a 16-year-old, have the Bulls and coach Gigi Fernandez up to No. 55 in the national rankings. ... Otis Dixon, part of USF's original recruiting class in football, has been named head coach at Lakewood, joining Chad Barnhardt (Lake Wales) as former Bulls now with prep teams of their own. Dixon once coached on the same Clearwater staff as two fellow charter Bulls, Jermaine Clemons and Roy Manns, but he said those two are out of coaching now and won't be joining his staff.

Times staff writer Greg Auman covers USF athletics. Reach him at 813 226-3346 or auman@sptimes.com