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Originally published Tuesday, March 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Is Scott Woodward the man for UW AD job?

Scott Woodward's office in Gerberding Hall could be just about anybody's. It's relatively bare, with few personal artifacts, tables covered...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Scott Woodward's office in Gerberding Hall could be just about anybody's.

It's relatively bare, with few personal artifacts, tables covered largely by University of Washington literature.

"It's not about me," he said by way of explanation.

But many on Montlake wonder whether the school's search for a new athletic director won't, ultimately, be mostly about him.

Woodward was named acting athletic director on the day Todd Turner resigned under pressure in early December, and Woodward took over the role Jan. 31.

And Woodward has done nothing to dissuade the popular notion that he would be a good fit to take over permanently.

"I'm enjoying it, I can tell you that," said Woodward, who has been UW's vice president of external affairs since summer 2004 and continues to hold that title as well as handling interim AD duties. "I like the coaches, I like the student-athletes."

Some of those who have seen him in action as AD like what they've seen, as well.

Ron Crockett, president of Emerald Downs and one of the school's most influential boosters, marveled at a recent Tyee Board executive meeting how quickly Woodward picked up the nuances of running the department.

"He's an extremely capable guy and whatever he puts his mind to, he'd do a great job," Crockett said. "It's really up to the president and how he wants to handle the situation."

Therein lies the big question — does UW president Mark Emmert want Woodward to have the job if Woodward wants it?

Woodward has yet to say he will apply for the position, but he has said he leans more toward it every day. Several close to the situation think that ultimately he will apply.

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Emmert, however, said last week he considers Woodward so critical to the university in his current position — which entails lobbying as well as overseeing public relations and marketing — Emmert is not sure he wants Woodward to leave it.

"Clearly he's a valuable guy to the university, and we just have to find the right place for him," Emmert said.

Last week, Emmert named a 14-person search committee to help hire a new AD, and he said any perception that the job will just be handed to Woodward is inaccurate. That perception exists in part because of the close relationship between Emmert and Woodward, who have worked together since 1999.

"We have a good relationship, but I'd have to compete for it and earn it," Woodward said. "I'd have to formally put my name in the ring and go through the process. That's the only way I'd have it."

Emmert said he named Woodward to the interim AD job in part because Woodward had been his liaison to athletics while Emmert was chancellor at Louisiana State and has also kept close to athletics at Washington.

It was at LSU the two first formed their association.

Emmert, a native of Fife and a graduate of UW, became chancellor at LSU in 1999. One of his first moves there was to hire a full-time "state relations person" — essentially, a lobbyist for the university's interests.

"I met with Republican and Democratic house members and state leaders and kept asking, 'Who should I get to fill this job?' And they all had the same answer, and it was Scott," Emmert said. "It was one of my first hires there, maybe my first, and we've worked together ever since."

At the time, Woodward operated his own public and government relations firm in Baton Rouge, his hometown. He lived there until 2004, when he came to Seattle when Emmert was hired at Washington.

Woodward, 45, is a 1985 graduate of LSU; he earned his degree in political science.

He was a competitive tennis player from ages 8-13 until, he said, he burned out. He's long been an avid runner, having once completed a marathon in four hours and one minute. And in 2005 he summited Mount Rainier.

But even as a kid he was enamored of politics. He said he became inspired at an early age by John F. Kennedy. He knew noted political operative James Carville as a youngster, and upon graduating from LSU headed up the campaign of state Sen. Tommy Hudson, who was running for Congress. Hudson lost, but not before Woodward helped him raise the most money of any nonincumbent Congressional candidate in 1986 other than Joe Kennedy, a son of Robert Kennedy.

Woodward then worked a few campaigns with Carville and helped get Buddy Roemer elected as Louisiana's governor in 1987.

He spent 10 years in the private sector before Emmert called. Deciding to work in academia, he said, was easy.

"Attending LSU transformed my life," he said. "Every time I walk on campus it gives me goose bumps. I hate to sound Pollyannaish but it's really true. It had such an influence on me. To have a chance to work at something that changed your life is a great thing."

So he took the LSU job, and he said he was more than happy. Serving as liaison between athletics and Emmert's office was among his main duties. During that time, LSU's football program returned to a national power after Emmert hired Nick Saban away from Michigan State in 1999. Four years later, the Tigers won a national title, and Emmert was regarded as a hero for the bold move.

"You really have to focus on athletics in the South," Woodward said. "It's a hypersensitive issue. It was a natural transition to do it here."

Woodward, who is married with 23- and 20-year-old stepsons, said following Emmert to Seattle was also an easy decision. He said he'd "always had a desire to live out West."

Since assuming AD duties, he said he has spent "the majority" of his time dealing with football.

Notably, he has overseen an increase in salaries for assistant coaches — new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, for instance, signed a two-year contract worth an average of $334,000 annually, about $100,000 more than previous defensive coordinator Kent Baer, who had a one-year deal.

"The league is getting more competitive so we need to continue to attract and retain the best talent," Woodward said.

Woodward has also helped coach Tyrone Willingham along in taking steps to become more open with boosters and fans.

Woodward said Willingham made that decision "on his own" but that "we absolutely encourage it."

Before the Huskies' basketball game against USC, Willingham met with many top boosters, telling them his door would be more open than it has been in the past.

"I find Tyrone to be much more communicative these days," Crockett said. "We have various get-togethers and he grabs the mic and talks to people much more than he did."

Otherwise, Woodward said he's mostly trying to "get my hand on the pulse of the place." He said he prefers to manage in a horizontal style rather than hierarchical.

"I like to go to the source for information," he said.

Said Crockett: "He's very, very good with people. He reads them well and he is very straightforward."

The fact that he was a common face around the department has made the transition easier.

"He's seen a lot and done a lot," said UW basketball coach Lorenzo Romar, a member of the AD search committee. "And he wants to win."

Now it may just be a matter of how much he, and Emmert, want the AD job to remain in his hands.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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