When Doug Woolard became athletic director at Saint Louis University in 1994, he joined a program preparing for transition into a new conference.
Now, with a jump to the Big East just one year away, USF has called on Woolard to do it again.
“I’ve had a chance to work on two conference changes at Saint Louis. One of those was from the Great Midwest Conference to Conference USA, and then from Conference USA to the Atlantic 10 (in 2005),” Woolard said Wednesday at a press conference. “I’m looking forward to being able to do the same thing here at South Florida and I am actually planning on attending the Big East meetings to represent South Florida at that time.
“We want to make USF the best athletic department in the Big East as quickly as we possibly can. I say that with the full realization that there are challenges ahead of us.”
Woolard was named USF’s AD Wednesday. He replaces pro football Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon, who, citing private health issues, resigned in February to head a new fundraising group in the athletics department.
“I respectfully accept the baton from Lee Roy to carry this great program on the next leg of this historic vision,” Woolard said.
Selmon has worked in the department since before the USF football team’s inception in 1996, becoming AD in 2001. Saint Louis does not have a football team, so Woolard has not worked with one in 10 years. He last oversaw a football program when he was associate AD at Washington State from 1988-94.
But Woolard thinks that his experience is enough.
“When I was at Washington State, in the six years I was there, we were able to qualify for three bowl games, so I’m looking forward to being able to get back involved in that respect,” he said.
In a statement read by USF President Judy Genshaft, the absent Selmon said Woolard would make an excellent successor.
“He is an excellent fit for USF …. He is an outstanding person, and he will lead with great integrity and character. I look forward to teaming up with him to build a top-caliber, national championship-level program,” Selmon’s statement said.
Genshaft said Woolard’s longstanding reputation for strong leadership and his high academic standards made him a great choice.
In 2002-03, Saint Louis led C-USA with a 69 percent graduation rate among student athletes. The program has also won the conference’s institutional academic excellence award all eight years the league has existed.
“He has vision; he has leadership; he’s the right person at the right time for USF. He has the proven experience as an athletic director,” Genshaft said.
Saint Louis President Lawrence Biondi said in a press release that Woolard’s stable leadership made the school’s athletic department progress over the last decade possible.
“He capably steered our program through transitional periods with two conference memberships and accomplished this with incredible integrity and dignity,” Biondi said.
Woolard’s stay at Saint Louis was marked by a dramatic rise in attendance at Billiken sporting events. Three times under Woolard the men’s basketball team finished in the nation’s top 10 in attendance.
At Saint Louis, Woolard also oversaw the construction of a new soccer stadium, a new softball facility and nine new tennis courts as well as the planning and fund-raising stages of a $70 million multi-purpose facility where the Billikens will play their men’s and women’s home basketball games.
This involvement is among the things that make Woolard attractive to the community, said AD search committee chairman Hinks Shimberg.
“Woolard shares President Genshaft’s commitment to cultivating positive community partnerships,” Shimberg said. “This history of collaboration with business and community leaders is just the right kind of vision and approach that will position USF well in this region.”
Ultimately, Genshaft said, the hiring of Woolard is the first step in raising USF to new levels of national prominence.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “We are going to move in and make a difference in the Big East. We’re going to show everybody what USF can do.”
Woolard officially begins on June 14. His pay is still being negotiated, according to university media relations director Michelle Carlyon.