When he was named LSU’s athletic director in April 2019, Scott Woodward described his affinity for his alma mater as “a love affair that doesn’t go away.”
Like a long marriage, that doesn’t mean there won’t be rocky times.
While 2020 has brought the culmination of a national championship football season to LSU, it has also brought a pandemic, multiple tropical storms and hurricanes thundering across Louisiana’s coastline, the loss of tens of millions of dollars in revenue and, not least of all, a struggling first half of the reconfigured football season that finds the Tigers 2-3 heading into next week’s game against Alabama.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron said starting quarterback Myles Brennan's first practice since his injury didn't go very well on Wednesday and that he is…
While Woodward certainly has his concerns, his comments in a phone interview Thursday give the picture of a man who remains unflaggingly confident in his school, his department and the future. Here is our Q and A with him:
What are your thoughts and concerns about the football program at this point?
Like all fans and all athletic directors, especially me being from Baton Rouge and LSU, you want to win every game and win a championship every year. I’m as disappointed as our kids are, but I have all the confidence in the world that we will get back to our winning ways. It’s been a rough year. We’ve had COVID to deal with, storms and enormous personnel change, a lot of turnover in our (football) staff and adapting to new systems. There’s a lot going on. But I’m very confident coach (Ed) Orgeron can right the ship and get it going. Less than a year ago we had something pretty magical, and I believe we can get back to it.
On Oct. 29 you announced a number of cost-cutting measures because of the pandemic’s economic impact that has resulted in $80 million in lost revenue — laying off people in or eliminating vacancies for more than 20 jobs, a 5% reduction in salaries for staff earning more than $80,000 and the elimination of bonuses for coaches and staff. How difficult have those moves been personally to have to implement?
Those are the hardest things because of the relationships you have with good people. It’s not what you sign up to do. But in the same vein you have enormous compassion and empathy with everyone suffering out there right now. It’s part of the nature of what’s happening. It’s the piece of the business I deplore, but it was necessary.
You have to give Ed Orgeron credit for one thing.
With the current financial constraints, do you have the means to make moves to replace coaches if necessary? (Woodward did not address specific concerns about defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.)
We’re always prepared for personnel changes in all of our sports. That’s part of running a prudent department, being ready for it no matter what. We know the old cliché: ‘The only constant is change.’ But it’s way too speculative and early to tell what we will do. Our fall sports are in the middle of their seasons, our winter sports are coming up and spring sports behind them. I’m sure we will have the proper evaluations at the proper time to see what and how those moves will be made, just like we do every year.
Are you concerned that the athletic department may have to endure another round of layoffs and belt-tightening?
I’m very confident our staff has done a thorough enough job to get us through. We have to be prepared for the future, but hopefully this is temporary. I am very optimistic about the future of LSU athletics. As we all know, this virus is unpredictable. I don’t know when we will have a vaccine or a good therapeutic or a good solution going forward. But I have confidence.
You have been emphatic during the pandemic about not cutting sports, which is happening at other schools around the country. Do you feel confident you will be able to avoid doing that?
First and foremost, the most important thing is the care and compassion for our student-athletes and how we do things. That is our first priority in what we do and how we do our budget.
You have two home football games left — Alabama on Nov. 14 and Ole Miss on Dec. 5. Are you hopeful that you may be able to expand capacity for those games beyond the current 25% limitations in Tiger Stadium?
It will probably be pretty much the same. You never know. We’re ready if there is a change in the public health standards. But I don’t foresee it changing.
The NCAA waived minimum win requirements for teams to be bowl eligible this year. Even if LSU doesn’t have a winning record, would you accept a bowl bid no matter what?
That’s premature. It’s something we will talk about with Coach O when and if the time comes. It’s such a bizarre year. We’ll have to see. It’s too early to speculate right now. We’re worried about getting back to our winning ways and preparing for our opponents in the regular season.
What are your long-term concerns, not for this football season but for 2021 in terms of spring sports championships and hoping to have full capacity in Tiger Stadium again?
My biggest concern is the health and welfare of our student-athletes as well as our employees who support them and the fans who come to campus. That’s always my top priority. I can’t control the other things. I can plan and play out scenarios. We are in a very lucky position to be at LSU and in the SEC, in my opinion the best conference and one of the best athletic departments in America. We will plan and do things accordingly, like we did with reducing our budget and fixing our budget deficit. I’m optimistic. I hope we can have a lot more fans (a higher percentage) outdoors for baseball games than in Tiger Stadium and get Tiger Stadium back in 2021 to some semblance of normalcy.
The pandemic wiped out spring sports championships like the NCAA basketball tournaments and the College World Series. How confident are you that those spring championships will be played in 2021. Do you think you could have March Madness in a bubble like the NBA playoffs?
I don’t think you will see a bubble. Kids have to go to school and live their lives. I could see variations of events inside some type of semi-permeable bubble. All those discussions are going on. But we don’t even have our (basketball) schedules from the SEC or what our capacity (in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center) will be yet. We’re trying to figure that out. Am I hopeful we will have spring championships? I am optimistic. I think they will be at diminished capacity. It won’t be smooth, but like the bumps in the road with football we will try to get through it.
How do you feel the SEC football plan has gone?
It’s been good. We were prepared for bumps in the road. And it’s not over yet. I’m very concerned going through the spikes (with the coronavirus) we’re having right now. But I couldn’t be more pleased with the job commissioner (Greg) Sankey and the SEC has done and working with our colleagues at the other schools. We meet two or three times a week sometimes. We’ve been very dogged and determined to do the right thing and be on the same page. But there’s always something around the corner.
LSU had a productive drive to register student-athletes to vote and to turn out to vote, close to 100%. How gratified are you by that?
We put it all in the students’ hands. They stepped up. They wanted to make a statement and be proactive and they have done that. I couldn’t be more proud. We were there to aid them and answer questions and support them, and they did a tremendous job.