The boy everyone called "Woody" sat in the back seat as the gold Jaguar swerved around the barricade and onto the empty interstate.
Woody's best friend sat beside him. His friend's father was behind the wheel. James Carville, then a young litigator at a Baton Rouge law firm, sat in the passenger seat.
The New Orleans Jazz were tipping off soon.
The Jaguar's engine howled, and the bayous whizzed past Woody's window, the speedometer clocking well over 100 mph, the sun setting in the South Louisiana sky.
A day after the whirlwind news of a shakeup in the LSU athletic department, the school officially announced that Texas A&M athletic direct…
Ask enough people just how much of a Louisianan new LSU athletic director Scott Woodward is, and the stories start boiling up like crawfish on Good Friday.
The Baton Rouge native spent evenings following family Thanksgiving dinners watching the horses at the New Orleans Fair Grounds. He graduated from Catholic High in 1981, LSU in 1985, and as a young man, he swigged suds and swapped stories at the since-closed Cotton Club on Highland Road. He rubbed shoulders with the most powerful people in state politics, working in former Gov. Buddy Roemer's administration until eventually starting his own government and public relations firm.
To those who knew him best, Woodward was a man who held the pulse of Louisiana between his fingers, someone so connected and respected, that when now-NCAA president Mark Emmert moved from Connecticut to be the LSU chancellor in 1999 and needed to hire a savvy assistant to be his guide, his search didn't last long.
And so Woodward ventured into a career in college athletics, earning a stellar reputation as a program builder and deal-maker as the athletic director at the University of Washington and Texas A&M, all the while maintaining his Louisiana friendships on visits with his parents, who still live in Baton Rouge, and his frequent fishing trips to his camp in Port Fourchon.
"He's got mud instead of blood in his veins," said Carville, Louisiana's gregarious homegrown political consultant, who said talking about Woodward is like talking about a nephew.
Back on those high-speed trips to Jazz games in the mid-1970s, it was Carville who would drive the Jaguar back home to Baton Rouge. They'd weave back onto the interstate, even though it hadn't yet been opened to the public and didn't have a squad car in sight.
And who flipped from the driver's seat to the passenger side? The late Sheldon "Shelly" Beychok, a former member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, who befriended Carville and whose son, Michael, is a lifelong friend of Woodward's.
"We'd be going 120 back across the bridge," Carville said, laughing at the memory. "And (Beychok) told me I had to go faster, faster."
'I thought he'd be Governor'
The son of Sylvia and Warren, a respected dentist people still call "Cy," Scott Woodward spent the sweltering summers of his childhood hammering serves at the Bocage Racquet Club, a few blocks away from his family's Tara neighborhood home.
This is where sports began for Woody: the scorching courts where he became one of the top 12-year-old tennis players in the city. Michael Beychok, a political consultant who also handicaps Fair Grounds races for The Advocate, said he and Woodward spent entire days swimming and playing tennis at Bocage, where Woody's competitive fire carried him deep into local tournaments.
"As a tennis player, I was terrible," said Beychok, who said he's known Woodward since they both attended a preschool program at City Park. "I'd get beat 6-0, 6-0 and go watch him the rest of the tourney."
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The friends were like brothers. Woody went on family trips with the Beychoks in the summers to the Grand Canyon and Cozumel, Mexico. On Saturday nights in the fall, if they weren't lucky enough to get a ticket to Tiger Stadium, they'd listen to their LSU football heroes on the radio: Bert Jones, Brad Davis, Terry Robiskie.
But were there dreams of one day being the boss of one of the biggest phenomenons in the state?
"We talked about going to Florida and girls and spring break," Beychok said. "I didn't know what the hell I was going to do, and I'm pretty sure he didn't either."
They spent their days like most kids: getting through school to reach the weekend and hanging out at the McDonald's.
But, of course, the LSU Tigers were a huge deal at the time — especially at Catholic High, where Beychok said it was "a really big effing deal."
Within the tight-knit classes at the all-boys private school, sports were just about all anyone cared about. Scott Gremillion (Class of 1980) said classmates passed around hand-drawn betting sheets for LSU football games on Fridays. Tim McGinty (Class of 1980) said if you walked down the hallway, chances were "there'd be people on the phone talking to someone with a horse racing form in his lap."
Woody could hold court about sports with the best of them. He continued to play tennis on the Bears' high school team. But he was just as tied in to politics and local events, which always seemed to be tied to sports anyway.
Woodward once helped Shelly Beychok, an attorney at the time, plant campaign signs for one of Beychok's partners, Mary Olive Pierson, who ran for district judge in 1977. Beychok and Pierson also both held interest in the Jazz before the NBA franchise relocated to Utah in 1979.
Neal Dellocono (Class of 1981), who played linebacker at UCLA, said Woody would be the guy who'd come over to his house and talk to his parents about local politics.
"That's one of the things I enjoyed about being around Scott: You could talk about anything," said Dellocono, who lives in San Antonio. "When I was recruited, people mostly talked to Scott because they found him so interesting. Driving to the airport, coaches were talking to Scott the whole time."
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That was the consensus among Woodward's Catholic High classmates: He was a polished, respected guy who knew everyone and everything.
"I always thought he'd be governor," said McGinty, a sporting representative for Nike. "I thought Woody would be governor, and I thought Beychok would run his campaign."
'He is simply the most qualified'
Perhaps Woodward would have been governor. He earned a degree in political science at LSU, and he became a prominent leader at Sigma Chi without ever holding an official title.
"Typical Scott. He didn't need an office," said Jim Nickel, Woodward's fraternity brother who was the rush chairman at Sigma Chi. "He knew who was who. He was my right-hand man. Me being from Crowley, I needed a Baton Rouge ear. 'This guy's dad is this. This guy's mom is that.' Even at the time — we were 19 or 20 — it was clear that he was a very good adviser. He was strategic and smart, a lot of integrity."
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Woody was always the organizer, Nickel said, and one of their crowning achievements at the fraternity was picketing the local NBC affiliate when it suddenly decided to stop televising David Letterman, a Sigma Chi alumnus.
"That was our show," said Nickel, who has been the spotter for football broadcasts on LSU Sports Radio Network for the past nine seasons. "We got (Letterman) back on ... I don't think it was us. But we got him back on!"
After graduation, Woodward became a policy adviser in the Roemer administration from 1988-92. He then worked closely with the state senate as an independent lobbyist, crossing paths frequently with another Sigma Chi alumnus, Jay Dardenne, who has held several high-ranking positions within Louisiana politics.
"You get to judge people pretty quickly in a legislative setting," said Dardenne, who is commissioner of administration for Gov. John Bel Edwards. "They're up there trying to get you to vote in the best interest of their clients. He was somebody everyone liked and respected."
Then a shakeup happened within the LSU system: William Jenkins was promoted from chancellor to president in 1999, and his successor, Mark Emmert, sent word that he wanted to create a full-time government relations position.
Emmert's office at the NCAA responded for this story, saying Emmert was traveling and unavailable for an interview.
The job was first offered to Bob Baumann, who ran the LSU energy center at the time; Baumann declined but said he was asked to make a couple recommendations.
"Word got out and Scott came to me, who I knew was very interested in the job," said Baumann, who runs an independent lobbyist firm. "I recommended that Emmert interview him first. They hit it off. It went super-well, and to my understanding, Emmert offered him the job without interviewing anyone else."
FLOWER MOUND, Texas — Marcel Brooks sits down in the Marcus High coaches office and rubs his arms, still sore from his workout the night before.
Woodward was the first full-time government relations employee LSU ever had, Baumann said, and from 2000-04, Woodward was LSU's director of external affairs, working as a liaison between the university and the Capitol.
"His integrity was always good. He told the truth," said John Alario, who has served in the legislature since 1972 and is president of the Louisiana Senate. "I just remember him being a helluva nice guy. He was willing to have a nice conversation, and whatever it was, he was straight forward. Didn't try and dodge the issue."
Woodward's political experiences will be invaluable as LSU's athletic director, said Beychok. In a state where politics are played at the highest level, Woodward knows how to "manage the obstacles and manage the people that are trying to get ahead of you."
"He is simply the most qualified athletic director in the United States," Carville said. "He's at LSU now. That's pretty good news."
LSU has received a commitment from a four-star Texas linebacker.
'Scott's a Baton Rouge guy'
The wind whips through the marshes and canals, through the private camps on the boardwalk.
The sun is a half-hour from setting behind the jack-up rigs at Point Fourchon, a residential fishing community at one of the southernmost points of Grand Isle, where the fingers of Louisiana curl into the gulf.
It's too windy for Trey Ourso to fish. He didn't even bother putting in his boat in the water on this Good Friday, when surrounding families peeled crawfish and sucked down frosty beer.
Ourso and Woodward are neighbors at Point Fourchon, and their little community in outdoors paradise is an example of just how small Louisiana can be.
It was developed by the father of Dr. Brent Bankston, LSU's team physician and Woodward's fraternity brother. Bankston owns a camp next to Ourso, who is partners with Michael Beychok at their political consulting firm. Mary Olive Pierson owns a camp across the canal.
Sometimes they're all here together, Ourso says, away from the emails and texts and cable news.
On this evening, Ourso is alone with his family.
He was hoping Woodward would be here, but of course, it's only been a little over 24 hours since Woodward was officially announced as LSU's new athletic director.
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But Woodward has always found ways to sneak down to Fourchon. Even when he lived in Washington, he conveniently found a direct flight from Seattle to New Orleans, so he could get here on a Thursday or Friday and stay the whole weekend.
They'd take a boat deep offshore and cast nets into the gulf. They'd come inland along the coast, hunting for speckled trout.
A little over 10 years ago, Woodward had called Bankston to help find him a partner to go in with him for a camp at Point Fourchon.
Scott, you live in Seattle. Why? Bankston had said. But by gosh if Woodward wasn't down there more often than the medical partner Bankston set him up with.
It's no surprise to Ourso that Woodward returned home.
"You know, Scott's a Baton Rouge guy," Ourso says. "Sometimes life opportunities present themselves."
On a summer evening soon, the group of friends will be back here together.
The wind howling. The bayou rippling past Woody's feet. The sun setting in the South Louisiana sky.