TAMPA — University of South Florida athletic director Doug Woolard, who oversaw big increases in the visibility and funding of USF sports during his 10-year tenure but who also was blamed for some of the college's athletic stumbles, will retire when his contract ends in June of 2015, the university announced Thursday.
A national search for a new athletic director will begin immediately, USF officials said.
Woolard, 63, has been the university's athletic director since 2004.
During his time at USF, the athletics department went through a $70 million renovation, including a $35.6 million upgrade at the Sun Dome. The university's football and basketball practice facilities are considered top-notch, and USF has new baseball, softball and soccer stadiums. The athletics budget has more than doubled during his decade leading the athletics department.
The football team briefly reached the No. 2 spot in the country in 2007, the men's basketball team reached the third round of the NCAA tournament in 2012, and the university's NCAA academic progress rate has improved each of the last seven years and ranked among the Top 25 of BCS conference schools in 2013.
“Doug has led USF athletics with integrity and focus, as well as a deep commitment to our students, coaches and the entire USF community,” USF president Judy Genshaft said in a university press release announcing Woolard's impending retirement. “He was instrumental in transforming our athletic district facilities and I want to thank Doug for his achievements in leading our program over these years.''
As the man in charge of all athletics at the college, Woolard's name also is linked with some of the university's disappointments and scandals, including the January 2010 firing of football coach Jim Leavitt after Leavitt was accused of striking a player during halftime of a November 2009 game. Leavitt filed suit against USF the next year; the university and Leavitt settled the suit in 2011, with USF agreeing to pay Leavitt $2.75 million of the contract extension he had signed in 2008.
In 2012, Woolard negotiated a five-year, $2 million-a-year contract extension with Leavitt's successor, Skip Holtz. Holtz was coming off a bowl-less season with a 5-7 record when Woolard signed him to the five-year extension, which included a $2.5 million buyout.
Holtz lasted just one more season - going 3-9 - before USF fired him. The university's signature programs - football and basketball - have struggled in recent years. The football team went 2-10 in 2013; men's basketball is 10-7 this season, 1-3 in conference play.
USF's standing in college sports has in part been a victim of a major shift in conference alignments in the last few years. USF joined the Big East in 2005, becoming part of a conference with strong basketball and football programs. But Big East members began defecting to other conferences, leaving the Big East a shell of itself before it split. USF is now part of the American Athletic Conference, which has a relatively low national profile.
The university gave Woolard a three-year contract extension in September 2012, with a base salary of about $560,000. That contract extends to June 30, 2015, which is now his scheduled retirement date.
“I have been truly blessed to enjoy a 40-year career in education and athletics,” Woolard said in a prepared statement. “After Cherrie and I spent some great quality time with our family over the holidays, I have been visiting with the President for the last few weeks about initiating this plan. I appreciate the special partnership I've enjoyed with (USF) President (Judy) Genshaft and I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all of the outstanding coaches, members of our administrative staff, generous donors, and most importantly, our wonderful student athletes. Cherrie and I will treasure our time at USF; we are Bulls for life.”
Prominent USF booster Les Muma said he's not surprised with Woolard's retirement announcement.
“He's had retirement in the back of his mind for quite a while,” Muma said. “I think the man was ready to slow down. He spends an enormous amount of time on planes. As far as I know it was a decision made by Doug. He was ready to retire.”
Muma, a 1966 USF graduate, and his wife Pam have donated to the university's schools of medicine, health and business. They have also donated to the athletic department and the basketball practice facility at the Sun Dome is named in their honor. Les Muma is a board member of the USF Foundation, which is the fundraising arm for the university.
Muma said he travels with Woolard to games and they sometimes vacation together.
“This university is losing a fantastic AD,” Muma said. “He has brought us a long, long way. He's a people person. A good fundraiser. He's got good vision.”
Harold Astorquiza is a USF 1985 alum and member of the board of directors of the Bulls Club, USF's athletic booster organization. He said Woolard's legacy is the development of the buildings and stadiums for the athletic department and credits him with bringing increased attention to the athletic programs.
“He helped get our infrastructure where it needs to be,” Astorquiza said. “We wouldn't be able to compete without the upgrade in facilities.”
While Woolard helped build the university's athletic program, the next leader might take it further, he said.
“Sometimes you have people who build it to a point,” Astorquiza said. “Sometimes you need someone else to carry the baton over the finish line.”
He said he didn't know if some people had pushed to get a new athletic director but acknowledged some fans had expressed frustration at the records of the football and baskeball teams in recent years.
Woolard deserves the credit for the first-rate practice facilities at the college, said Frank Morsani, an important donor at USF who has a building named after he and his wife.
“His creation of all the facilities is second to none,” Morsani said.
“You have to have good facilities to attract good athletes,” Morsani said. “We can compete with anybody in the country. He can take a lot of pride in his accomplishments.”