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On the Bench with USF Athletic Director Doug Woolard

For years the face of USF athletics was former Tampa Bay Buccaneer great and Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon. For more than a decade — before the restaurants — Selmon brought USF athletics out of the dark, eventually passing the torch to the current man at the helm, Doug Woolard.

Woolard comes over from C-USA foe St. Louis after being there for more than a decade. While running the Billikens’ office, he raised the attendance level for almost every sport, including bringing the men’s basketball team’s average attendance to the nation’s top 10 with 17,708.

Then of course, Woolard is one of the main helping hands who brought USF to the attention of the Big East conference, and with all the moves just about every college is making in the fall of 2005, he will assume a leadership role to a school now eligible for BCS consideration for a football team less than eight years old.

Recently, Oracle Sports Editor Mike Camunas sat down with Woolard to get his take on anything from two loves — his family and college basketball — to what’s in store for USF athletics.

Oracle: You just got back from the Final Four in St. Louis. You said you had a great time. What team were you backing there?

Doug Woolard: For me, it would have been Louisville because they are a member of our conference. It would have said great things about Conference USA and it would have said great things about the Big East. Louisville in C-USA going to the Big East winning would have been a big statement. I know all three coaches personally. They are all terrific people. What I think is that the semifinal games are often very good, and that the final game is sort of anticlimactic. And the way it turned out was probably not only what the fans wanted to see, but what CBS wanted as well.

O: So you know all the coaches. Do you know (UNC coach) Roy Williams?

DW: Yes, yes I do. I talked to him Thursday.

O: Was he just absolutely ecstatic that he finally won a championship?

DW: I think so. I think it’s a little different, though, once you get to that level. I think that does a ball happen to roll in or does a foot happen to be on a line, it’s just a nuance that can determine the outcome of a game and Roy has been there four times. This was his fifth. And what you do over seasons should be what you are judged by — how good you are — and to go to the Final Four five times just proves the kind of program you have. I felt good that he was able to do that for himself, but he never had to validate himself to me. But at the same time I feel for (Illinois coach) Bruce Weber. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s on the emotional side since he just lost his mother.

O: Is the Final Four your favorite sporting event to go to?

DW: I think it’s the best sporting event in the country. You just know you’re going to have two great games on Saturday and the championship game on Monday. The NCAA just promotes a great amount of time and effort to this championship.

O: Is college basketball your favorite sport, or is there another you have some heart for?

DW: I enjoy all of them. I really do. But that’s always a great way to get to know student athletes and who they are and what they do. I coached basketball at the high school for several years. So I know how it feels.

O: Ever play basketball?

DW: I played a year of college basketball for Jack Harden, who was the coach at Southern Illinois University. He also coached Walt Frazier. I played one year and my father was a dentist and I said I would go into dentistry and I think that’s how I tricked my wife into marrying me.

O: What position did you play?

DW: Point guard.

O: Did you have a good shot?

DW: I was probably a better defender than a shooter.

O: Name your favorite sports movie.

DW: Hoosiers.

O: Of course, you’re a basketball guy. Gene Hackman fan, huh?

DW: Yes. He’s very good. Did a great job in a great movie.

O: Speaking of movies, who plays Doug Woolard in the Doug Woolard movie?

DW: Probably my son (Chris). He’s the director of championships for C-USA. It’s his first year at the job.

O: Now you have to be honest, do you eat at Lee Roy Selmon’s?

DW: I do. I live in Tampa Palms and I go to the one on Bruce B. Downs, but I don’t know if I should admit to that. It’s probably not very healthy for me.

O: Well, everyone wants to know if you get a discount.

DW: (Laughs) No discount. I didn’t know there was one, I’d better check that out.

O: Talk about what was so appealing about coming to USF.

DW: St. Louis was such a sports city. It really participated with all the athletics. I enjoyed it a great deal there and I miss being involved. But the main reason was the amount of potential we had here. The chance to go into the Big East: a BCS conference. We have so much opportunity and potential here.

O: Still really excited about the Big East, where it keeps you up at night?

DW: It does. It’s something that the community is really starting to realize. I know our coaches are (starting to realize it) and they have indicated they have been able to attract potential student athletes that they would have not been able to get in the past because of league affiliation. I certainly applaud what President Genshaft has done to get us there.

O: You told me once you’d do anything just to get more fans in the stands. I think you need to make a deal with The Bullspen where, if they fill up the Sun Dome, you’d paint your body or something and hang with them for a game. Would you be willing to do that?

DW: (Laughs) I’d be willing to do that.

O: I’ve got you on record here that you’ll do it.

DW: Well, I think you’re right that it’s a partnership that fans and their base have gotten better and I think people will take notice. Because I envision a time where the Sun Dome will be sold out, and Raymond James may not be sold out for a year or two, but I think more people will come. And if they can sell out in Tallahassee and Gainesville, why not here in Tampa?

O: I think you should still guarantee the fans something crazy that you’ll do if something gets sold out.

DW: I’ll let you come up with something if that happens.

O: That probably wasn’t such a wise decision, but I’ll take it.

DW: I may not be safe now.

O: How about that men’s basketball team?

DW: They have gone about doing business the right way. Certainly have been a good ambassador for USF, and the way they finished the season was pretty special. Won last 3-of-4, and to make it to the semifinals in the conference tournament was just great.

O: Finally, what do you see in the USF Athletics’ future?

DW: People are excited about the potential. There were a lot of schools that would have liked to get into the Big East, I’m sure. But that gives us potential in every one of our sporting programs. I see an opportunity for national exposure. I see an opportunity for success, but we want to make sure we do it the right way. We’re not taking any shortcuts. We value the term student athlete, and to me, that’s phrased correctly. Student comes first. The athlete comes second.