Note: This is a piece co-written by our entire staff. We all chipped in here, so think of it more as an editorial board collective.
So Doug Woolard is leaving. A few of us have met him, and none of us have a bad word to say about him personally. He's shown his kindness to fans, letting them stay warm or dry in the Selmon Building waiting for rides home, and picking up tabs and helping fans out when they're on the road. And hopefully someone will figure out who slashed his tires in Orlando.
All of us want USF Athletics to succeed very badly. With the search for a new athletic director about to begin, this is a chance for the university to put Athletics back on the path to success that seemed inevitable just a few years ago. USF needs to get this hire right, because with the gap already forming between the power and non-power football conferences, there may not be another opportunity for us to catch up.
These are the qualities we think USF should look for in a new athletic director:
* Find someone who still sees the same opportunity in USF Athletics that we all still know is there. They need a lot of energy, good communications skills, media relations skills, and a real, tangible plan to rebuild our athletic department.
* Whoever shows up has to be ready to work hard. This is not a cushy job for a retread AD to come in and coast towards retirement.
* No empty platitudes like "Why not USF." The new person needs to tell us what needs to be done and how we're going to do it.
* Much like the football program needed with Willie Taggart, we think the big chair needs someone with enthusiasm and salesmanship. We're not a self-starting fan base yet. We need some support and guidance and even some cheerleading.
* They don't necessarily have to have experience as an athletic director. They can hire a #2 to help them out with the mechanics of running a department. But salesmanship should be non-negotiable.
* Engaging the media is a tricky balance. They should be accessible and willing to talk, but when things are going well they should be able to blend into the scenery. Coaches and players should always have the spotlight on good teams. When things aren't going well, the AD needs to be out in front and demonstrating that they're taking care of the problem. One of our biggest concerns with Athletics has been that no one would answer the tough questions when they needed to be asked. That can't continue.
* We can't emphasize the need for a plan enough. Outside of hiring football coaches, and maybe the Athletics Village, I'm not sure Athletics has had an overall plan for quite awhile. Or if there was one, no one on the outside knew what it was. There may well have been some good ideas on the table. But there was almost no communication with the people who could have helped bring them to life. As ticket-buyers and donors, we should get at least some information.
* They have to be ready to sell USF Athletics hard to the alums, the casual fans, and the local business community, because no one's done that for a long time.
* What would motivate you to donate? Or donate more? Or buy tickets? Of course we mean other than winning, because that's not always going to happen. Do you need a goal? Do you need to be challenged? Do you need a solid plan to invest in? A new AD has to find out what motivates our fan base and tap into it for support.
What would get a local business to donate? Or donate more? Or advertise? Or sponsor an event? Or at the top level, put their name on the Sun Dome, which we've been trying to sell the naming rights to since forever? Even more than fans, businesses need a solid plan to invest in, because most of them won't throw money at things irrationally.
Which reminds me - if you're successful at fundraising, maybe you can lighten up the burden the students are carrying to balance your budget. Yes, they get free admission to games out of the deal, but student fees should not be 40% of your revenue.
They need to earn the respect of the people who work for them, including the coaches and their staffs.
* Bosses can't be liked by everyone. They have to make tough decisions that can upset people. What they can do is treat everyone fairly, explain their decisions, and welcome input and feedback. They can let the people they hired do their jobs without constant interference. And they can show them that they're valued in meaningful ways (this does not always mean money).
* USF lost a lot of talented, dedicated people from its staff the last few years because they were micromanaged, ignored, run over, and taken for granted (not to mention terribly underpaid compared to their peers at other schools). The toxic work environment might have cost them quality candidates who found out what they would be getting into and withdrew from consideration for jobs, or just never applied in the first place. In the position they're in now, USF Athletics cannot afford to drive away smart people who want to be there.
There's also one thing that we as fans have to do:
We have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and acting like we're powerless.
This "oh, what could we do, woe is us" attitude has got to stop. No one's coming to save USF and no one's giving us anything. It's on all of us to solve our own problems. The right leader will set goals we can help achieve, and a vision we can rally around. We haven't had either of those for too long, and it's led us to where we are now. We have to fight just as hard as the teams we cheer for to get USF back on track.
These are just a few things we think are needed to get the Bulls on track to success. The six members of the search committee have been named, and having wonderful community leaders like Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Oscar Horton is a tremendous boon for the program: it shows they care about the fate of the Bulls and their long-term direction. They want USF to succeed. And that kind of support is huge to fixing the hole in which we find ourselves.
We'll get behind whomever they choose, but we hope it's someone that's able to step in and reinvigorate the bond between an athletics department and a community. Much of the bond of trust has been broken, and USF needs to earn it back before the damage is irreparable.
Finally, we can't be afraid to take a chance. If we're going to go down, let's go down swinging. Mark Hollis was one of the four finalists last time USF hired an athletic director, but he was considered "too radical" because he told the committee he wanted to do things like play a basketball game on an aircraft carrier in Tampa Bay. He ended up doing it (at Michigan State no less), was named the Athletic Director of the Year in 2012, and is currently designing his Rose Bowl ring to go with his basketball national championship ones. He's a rock star in the profession, and we let him pass. We absolutely cannot make the same mistake again.
We played it too close to the vest for too long, and we're out of currency with our community. When you're low on chips, sometimes you have to move all-in. This is USF's all-in moment.