- Scott Woodward left the richest athletic department in Texas A&M to return to his alma mater in hopes of righting the ship and strengthening the culture at LSU.
Scott Woodward owns a fishing camp in a place called Port Fourchon (FOO-Shawn), a marshy paradise for outdoorsmen and a playground for oil workers, the southernmost point in Louisiana accessible by vehicle. Port Fourchon is one of the outstretched toes of the Louisiana boot, dipping farthest into the Gulf of Mexico and blurring the line of land and sea, a swampy spot where getting around might be easiest in white shrimping boots. Port Fourchon is located in a parish named Lafourche (LA-Foosh), features a place called the Kajun Truck Plaza & Buffet, and is surrounded by a dozen bays, bayous and canals with names that only Cajuns pronounce correctly. Port Fourchon is like Scott Woodward—they’re both so gosh darn Louisiana.
Woodward left the nation’s richest athletic department at Texas A&M to move five hours east to another SEC West school, LSU. You don’t really understand why until you talk to him and his Louisiana buddies. You can take the boy out of the bayou but, well, you know the rest. “It’s a coming home for him,” says Jay Dardenne, a member of the same LSU fraternity as Woodward and a longtime high-ranking political figure in the state. “This is a move all along I felt he wanted to make.” They call him Scotty in south Louisiana. A former political lobbyist in the state, he’s as connected politically as some of those who hold elected office. He’s a multi-generational Baton Rouge native. Two of his three siblings still reside in the city and so do his parents, octogenarians who live in the same house in which he was raised in south Baton Rouge. So, when “the opportunity arose” to return, Woodward says, “I couldn’t say no. It’s one of these things that it’s a lifelong love affair. It’s indescribable.”
How did the opportunity arise? He politely declines to speak about such, a conversation better left for a time years from now, maybe while peeling boiled crawfish and guzzling Abita beer. But we know how these things arise. For a man who holds so many connections at that school and in that state, it’s not too difficult for university leaders to dispatch intermediaries to gauge the interest of a Louisiana boy. Even while AD at LSU’s SEC West rival, Woodward was no stranger to Baton Rouge. Less than two weeks ago, he dined there with a group that included LSU deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry and former quarterback Matt Mauck.
Trips to Louisiana to visit his parents often turned into LSU reunions. Part of the band got back together, you might say. What band? The crew of administrators responsible for crafting the Golden Years of LSU football under coach Nick Saban. Some of its members are a who's who in the world of college sports: Woodward; LSU’s No. 2, Ausberry; then-LSU chancellor Mark Emmert, now president of the NCAA; current Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich; Chris Howard, now overseeing football for the NCAA; and Herb Vincent, the right-hand man to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. The group implemented a seat-licensing program at LSU in the early 2000s to bring the school up to SEC standards in the fundraising department, their crowning achievement. "We had to sell boosters, fans and legislators," Vincent says. "Scott was a critical person of knowing who to get us in front of." The move helped LSU get to this point, the ninth-highest grossing athletic department in the nation last year.“We were the group that got this thing started. It was good times,” Ausberry says in an interview Thursday. “We did a lot of good things for LSU. Everybody continued it. From Skip (Bertman) to Joe Alleva, we have the same foundation in place.”
And now it’s full circle for Woodward, a 1985 graduate of LSU who finds himself back atop the department he helped push into the stratosphere. Things aren’t necessarily rosy. There’s cleaning up to do and changes to make. Woodward and Ausberry are planning to conduct a full-scale evaluation of the athletic department. The two administrators are close, so close that Ausberry’s sons call Woodward Uncle Scotty. Their relationship dates back to their jogging days together in the 1990s, when Ausberry was an academic adviser, not yet promoted to athletics, and Woodward was a political lobbyist, not yet hired by Emmert as an LSU academic administrator. They knew each other long before that, of course. Everybody knew Scotty. He worked for Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer out of college before opening his own lobbying firm, and then served as a political adviser to Emmert, the chancellor’s direct link to the Louisiana Legislature and the governor’s office. Woodward downplays his political connections in a state that runs on backroom deals and underhand bargains. Louisiana politics and LSU athletics are wound tightly together. Like the colors of Mardi Gras—purple, green and gold—they are tied together forever. Just ask Bertman, the championship-winning baseball coach at LSU who served as athletic director from 2001-08. “He has a tremendous head start in the fact he knows hundreds of people already,” Bertman says. “He knows the players involved.”
One of those players is his friend, Dardenne, a former secretary of state and lieutenant governor who now serves as Gov. John Bel Edwards’s chief budget architect. Dardenne is a noted LSU fan, just like Edwards, two high-ranking politicians who often attend athletic events. The expectations for his friend are, he says in a word, high. Woodward takes over a department with a basketball coach just coming off a 37-day suspension after initially refusing to meet with school officials about a wire-tapped phone conversation with a recruiting middle man. And then there’s football, a cash cow at LSU where the coach’s leash, whoever it is, is never long. “I think he’s coming into a challenging situation given the uncertainty of the basketball program and situation with Coach O,” Dardenne says. “Coach O has had success and people are behind him. They want to continue having success. That will be the most important thing for Scott’s career.” Woodward has met Ed Orgeron, himself a Cajun from Lafourche, but says he doesn’t know the LSU football coach well. Wade and he have never met. Of the big three, he’s closest to baseball coach Paul Mainieri, arguably the most successful coach on campus and a man he’s sought advice from in the past.
For Woodward, Step 1 on the to-do list in Baton Rouge is getting reacquainted with old buddies—coaches, administrators and boosters—and introducing himself to a new generation of LSU people. Talk politics all you want, Woodward says, it’s all about people. “We Louisianans like to give ourselves credit in being good at politics but everyone has politics,” he says. “I don’t need to give you a political science lesson on what the term politic means—dealing with people. That’s what our jobs are—they’re people jobs.” His predecessor’s strong suit was not politics or people, certainly not media. A New York-born man, Alleva was never fully embraced here, always an outsider, an introvert whose specialties were inside his office—not out. Now, Louisianans have themselves a Louisianan. That’s good, sure, but the expectation is even higher for one of their own. “Scott Woodward’s job is going to be heavy,” says Norby Chabert, another politically connected friend of Woodward who’s served in the Louisiana State Senate for a decade. “You know how we are down here. We’re welcoming from anybody anywhere and we’ll give you a shot, but we’re a little different and we kind of want somebody from here to do it.
“It’s like Bébé,” Chabert says, a reference to Orgeron’s Cajun nickname. “We really, really want BéBé to do well—because he’s one of us. Some of us do well. Some of us don’t. (Former basketball coach) Johnny Jones was one of us. He didn’t do so well. I think Scott’s going to be able to handle it. He’s acutely aware of the pressure he’s under.” Chabert’s political roots run deep in Louisiana—he holds the same seat that his late father and older brother once held. His district includes Louisiana’s most waterlogged territories, its eastern flank barely incorporating a place called Port Fourchon. He hears stories about Woodward’s fishing exploits there, where the speckled trout and redfish are abundant and further out, the tuna are teaming. There are very few residents of Port Fourchon. It is a gated fishing community with about 50 or so camps. There is no beach. There is but one real restaurant. This is not the place to come for beautiful sunset views. It is an oil field service port. “Your views are of oil trucks or oil ships,” Chabert says. “The prettiest sight down there is a houseboat. You want views down there, you get in your boat and you drive to the marsh to fish. That’s where you get your views.” That’s so Louisiana. That’s so Scott Woodward.