There was no ticker-tape parade, but the lovefest Louisiana celebrated upon Scott Woodward’s return to LSU as athletics director last April was something else.
And it made him inwardly squirm.
Yeah, here he was, the Catholic High grad, the LSU product, the hometown guy who went out and made a name for himself first in Louisiana politics. And then in the LSU administration working for Mark Emmert, and then with Emmert at the University of Washington, first in administration and then as athletics director.
And finally, after spending the past four years at Texas A&M as A.D., Woodward was back to take over the LSU athletics department.
“While it made me feel good, and made my mother feel better, it was very, very uncomfortable. But humbling,” Woodward says, thinking about the attention. “It’s all about the student athletes and the coaches. It’s not about me.”
Woodward, simply put, is a different kind of A.D. Sure, like any person in his position, he wants to win championships, upgrade facilities, and come in under budget (in LSU’s case, just north of $130 million a year).
While he loves sports, his true passions are drinking fine wine, duck hunting and saltwater fishing—he even has a place in Port Fourchon.
And he—pardon the expression, but it’s true—thinks outside the box.
“LSU transformed my life,” says Woodward, who started at the school in the fall of 1981.
“Two things they tell you at LSU. Number one, go to class. For a guy from Catholic High, to have classes with girls in them, that’s a no-brainer. And number two, stay current. Do your work.”
He did, of course, but there was more. There was the tremendous influence of political science professor Kevin Mulcahy.
“I was dating my high school sweetheart at the time, and she and I did things that most undergraduates don’t do at a big public university—and that’s be treated like you’re at a small liberal arts college, which Dr. Mulcahy did,” Woodward says.
“Within the LSU world, I had a guy in Dr. Mulcahy who took interest in my education to broaden me not only as a student but as a thoughtful citizen. … We went to ethnic restaurants, we went to foreign films, we did different things, went to different lectures, and he was always encouraging us to do outside reading.”
Years later, Woodward’s thoughtfulness has helped him pull off some of the biggest wins of his career.
He’s the guy who went to Texas A&M and lured football coach Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State—something his LSU predecessor couldn’t do. Then he stunned the basketball world by getting Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams to take over at A&M.
And then he left for LSU, where his instincts will be his best attribute.
“That’s the one God-given talent that I do have. … I may not be the smartest guy, the fastest guy, have the biggest brain. But I have the innate ability to read somebody and understand somebody and understand human nature. I was given that talent. And I’m blessed for it.”
That quality may not be critical in the short term—Woodward inherits an athletic program that finished 11th overall in the nation last season, its best finish in a decade. Still, the LSU basketball program and its coach could be on shaky NCAA ground; it’s inevitable in today’s world that the football program will be under tremendous scrutiny; and, well, with LSU athletics, there’s always something.
Woodward knows all that. For now, he’s been simply listening: to people in the department, fans and boosters.
“I never had the issue of letting my ego get in the way,” Woodward says. “I have always been kind of the guy behind the guy. That’s been my whole career, whether I did political consulting, whether I worked for a governor, or whether I worked for a president or chancellor here—most of my career until I was an athletics director, I was the guy behind the guy. And I still view myself that way.”
Woodward might, but the LSU fans who celebrated his homecoming don’t.
This article was originally published in the August 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.
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