Commentary | Legacy of USF Athletic Director Doug Woolard won't be easy to determine

adell@bradenton.comJanuary 18, 2014 

TAMPA

If we could pen on our own legacies, our lives would seem so much richer.

Unfortunately, others write our personal scriptures.

Doug Woolard will have to accept that.

He announced his intention to retire as USF's athletic director this week effective at the end of his contract in June 2015.

Unfortunately for Woolard, nearly all major college athletic directors are judged on their football programs.

The 63-year-old fell into disfavor among many USF fans for two major reasons -- one that falls entirely in his lap and the other that is open to question.

The albatross around Woolard's neck is the five-year contract extension he gave former USF head football coach Skip Holtz as Holtz was coming off a 5-7 record that included eight losses in the Bulls' last nine games and a 1-6 Big East mark.

Woolard said he was afraid Holtz would leave for another job. His illogical explanation didn't sit well with the fan base, in part because most supporters would've gladly paid his way out of town.

To make his situation worse, Woolard fired Holtz the next year in 2012 after fans wearing bags booed the coach unmercifully at home games toward the end of the season.

Appearing shaken, Woolard turned to Tony Dungy, the pope of Tampa Bay football. In recommending Manatee's Willie Taggart, he gave the athletic director a buffer.

Taggart led the Bulls to a disappointing 2-10 record last season after inheriting a 3-9 squad that lost nine of its final 10 and went 1-6 in the Big East.

Taggart deserves some time, but with a new athletic director coming in the clock started running a little faster for the former Western Kentucky head coach and All-American.

He is trying to install a different offense that relies on a strong run game predicated on massive offensive linemen similar to what Jim Harbaugh built at Stanford.

It takes time to build that type of front line in college, because you are dealing with 18- and 19-year-olds who are just starting to mature physically.

Like most NFL general managers, college athletic directors prefer to pick their own head football coach unless they are walking into a Nick Saban environment.

Though Woolard has overseen more than $70 million in new or renovated facilities, including a massive upgrade in the Sun Dome, he has been present for the decline of the football team, which saw it go from a BCS school to what is considered the mid-level American Athletic Conference.

Under Woolard, USF's NCAA Academic Progress Rate improved dramatically and last year was ranked among the top 25 in BCS conference schools.

That's nice, but when your football program has declined and attendance is at an all-time low in USF'S BCS area, as an athletic director you are on the hot seat.

According to figures released by the Tampa Sports Authority, USF's actual attendance last season was 20,379 per game, which is the lowest since USF joined the Big East.

Under former athletic director Lee Roy Selmon, USF became part of the upper echelon of college football when it joined the Big East in 2005.

The Bulls flourished until teams started splintering off from the Big East. USF couldn't find another home, and a lot of people blamed Woolard for being too passive or not savvy enough to get the school into a power conference.

Putting the blame on Woolard for that failure is not a bulletproof argument.

Woolard further infuriated his critics when he negotiated a contract that gave him the largest incentive bonus of any athletic director in major college football totaling $2.5 million. The chances of meeting that figure were as likely as Tampa getting snowed under, but it was a public relations nightmare.

Among the names being bantered around for the new USF athletic director is Greg Phillips, vice president and athletics director at IMG Academy.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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