AD's second language: coachspeak
Woolard background aids USF's search.
By GREG AUMAN
Published March 14, 2007
TAMPA - It has been 19 years since USF athletic director Doug Woolard last called a timeout, last drew up a play on a clipboard.
And yet when former Saint Louis basketball coach Charlie Spoonhour speaks of Woolard, he still addresses him not as Doug but rather as "Coach Woolard."
"He knows the game. He played it, he coached it," Spoonhour said. "He's very astute, very perceptive, always got along well with coaches on a friendly level. He's someone coaches think very much of."
Spoonhour recalls attending Conference USA league meetings with Woolard, who he said was as eager to talk with the basketball coaches as he was the athletic directors. That familiarity, with the experience of being a high school coach in Carbondale, Ill., for 13 years, will help as Woolard searches for a coach to make USF competitive in the Big East.
"He's got a good handle on basketball, and he's in tune with what's going on," said Spoonhour, now a TV analyst for Oklahoma basketball. "He knows a number of coaches, enough that he'll make a hiring situation as good as possible."
Such a coaching background in an athletic director is becoming increasingly uncommon. Chuck Neinas, a Colorado-based consultant whose search firm helped match Woolard with USF three years ago, often is hired by athletic directors who aren't as well-connected with prospective coaches.
When Neinas was named commissioner of the Big 8 conference in 1971, he said three of the league's athletic directors were also football coaches, two more former football coaches and two former basketball coaches, with just one from the administrative ranks. Today?
He said only two of the Big 12's athletic directors are former coaches.
"The situations have changed considerably," Neinas said. "I think Doug Woolard has many good contacts. He's certainly well-known in the coaching ranks."
His personal ties include Indiana's Kelvin Sampson, who coached at Washington State when Woolard first got into college administration, and Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, who played two seasons for Woolard at Carbondale and has stayed in touch with his coach.
"He's a great friend, and I learned a lot of basketball from Doug," Gottfried said Monday. "Over the years, I've relied on him as someone I'd call when I needed advice on career moves. As an athletic director, he's one of the best guys in the country, a visionary."
Woolard has been tight-lipped about his priorities in seeking USF's next coach. But a glimpse at his two basketball hires as athletic director at Saint Louis shows an ability to identify and place trust in young, up-and-coming coaches.
Woolard's first hire at Saint Louis was Lorenzo Romar, then 40, a former UCLA assistant who had a 42-44 record at Pepperdine.
Woolard had interviewed him when he was an associate athletic director at Washington State and got him the second time around.
Romar won a C-USA championship his first season, leaving two years later for his alma mater, Washington, where his career record is now 196-142.
In replacing Romar, Woolard turned to his top assistant, Brad Soderberg, then 39, who had less than one season as a Division I head coach.
He led Saint Louis to the NIT in his first two seasons and went 20-13 this year, giving him an 80-74 record with the Billikens.
Woolard, inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame last year, downplays his coaching background, reminding that he has been an athletic administrator since he became Carbondale's athletic director at age 28.
"I think it's a benefit to have been an athlete and a coach," said Woolard, who had a 265-93 record at Carbondale. "It helps people relate better with coaches, but I think most athletic directors can grasp that quickly."
Robert McCullum, fired Friday after four losing seasons, was entering the second year of a six-year contract when Woolard came to USF, so this hire represents his first opportunity to put his mark on a key position in any Big East program.
Woolard has never had a job to fill as attractive as this, though the team's 4-28 record in two years in the league and the challenge of building a winner in such a tough league are hurdles.
"I think his track record shows he's made some pretty good choices," said Mike Lewis, a former USF assistant coach and the outgoing executive director of the Bulls Club. "Anytime you've been a coach and an administrator, you understand what coaches go through, but also what makes a good coach. It's a good balance."
Greg Auman can be reached at 813 226-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.