Scott Woodward Could Learn A Thing or Two (Or Maybe Just One) from Todd Turner

Back when I was an undergrad at Washington, our athletic director was a guy by the name of Todd Turner. Skinny dude, glasses, kinda poindexterish. You may remember him.

Anyway, Turner resigned (read: got canned) in January, 2008 after four years on the job. He had presided over the worst era of Husky football in the program’s storied lineage, and as we all know, football drives the ship at most D-I schools.

When it came to the gridiron, Turner’s tenure was an epic failure for two big reasons.

One, he had hired Tyrone Willingham — who will arguably go down as one of the great pariahs in Seattle sports history — only to see his highly-paid employee fail to produce a winning record in three tries. (Willingham would coach one final season after Turner’s dismissal, leading the Huskies to an 0-12 finish in the process.)

Two, he could never get enough money raised to launch the Husky Stadium renovation. He was close, but close doesn’t count. Only when Turner’s successor, Scott Woodward, stepped in did the project get off the ground. And as a result, Woodward, not Turner, reaped the benefits of the previous regime’s initial efforts.

As we all know now, Husky Stadium will be getting an expensive and expansive makeover in 2012. Among other major changes, perhaps the most notable is the relocation of the student section, an alteration that was discussed at length by ESPN’s Jim Caple.

In one of the more ill-advised decisions of the Woodward Dynasty, students will be moved from their seating along the north end of the field to a more distant location against the end zone. We could talk about all the reasons this is stupid, but I implore you to read Caple’s piece for that analysis. He does a great job summing it up.

Fact is, Woodward’s verdict on the student section is flat-out dumb. And it underscores his ability (or lack thereof) to relate to the common fan.

Where Woodward excels is as a master businessman. He’s a professional when it comes to raising money, building a brand, and selling a product. He glad-hands the boosters, gets them to open their checkbooks, and makes sure that the high rollers are taken care of. Not coincidentally, these are traits that Turner failed to possess.

Where Woodward suffers, however, is in getting the Average Joe (and more specifically, the young Average Joe) to feel welcome inside his circle of elitism. Think of it this way. Woodward is the owner of the swank night club that you can’t get into. He’s making loads of money off his existing customers, while alienating a much larger group of potential customers. His weakness is in engaging the students and recent college grads who will one day become not-so-recent grads with checkbooks of their own.

But where Woodward is weak, Turner was strong.

Under Turner’s direction, the athletic department strove to build a family atmosphere. This may not have been all that evident on the football field, where the head coach did his very best to neutralize Turner’s gregariousness with dickish behavior, but it was certainly apparent inside the friendly confines of Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

As Dawg Pack members from 2003 through 2007, my friends and I were treated to first-class hospitality from Turner and his staff. We were afforded luxuries that many future alums will never enjoy, such as “students only” open practices with the basketball team, and question-and-answer sessions with the A.D., himself.

Give Turner credit. Where many student fan bases are viewed as little more than rowdy kids, Turner not only welcomed the matriculation into his world, he made himself accountable to us, as well. When was the last time you saw Scott Woodward holding himself accountable to the young adults on campus? It hasn’t happened yet, and it may not ever occur.

More than that, however, Turner built a staff within the athletic department that reverberated his congenial vibe. Top to bottom, everyone working in the Graves Building was a pleasure to encounter. Not that a positive attitude wins ballgames, or anything. But I’d wager that most students my age felt similarly about the group in power back then.

So why does this all matter? Good question.

To answer that, I encourage you to look no further than the upper rafters of the building they’ve dubbed Alaska Airlines Arena. Here you’ll find hundreds of twenty-somethings perched high above a basketball court home to the Washington Huskies. These are the fruits of Turner’s labor, a group of dedicated alumni fanatical about a hoop squad that, not too long ago, couldn’t fill half of the 10,000 seats in this very building.

With his Q-and-A get-togethers, his open-door approach, and a strong belief in the student body (it was Turner, remember, who adamantly fought to keep the Dawg Pack situated directly behind the bench of the visiting opponent during basketball games), Turner cultivated a seed that is already starting to blossom financially and otherwise for the school and the athletic department.

You see, while Woodward is content going solely after old money — and you can’t blame him for that, since a steady cash flow is imperative to the lifeblood of a university athletic program — Turner realized the importance of new money, namely that of the students who have already started to grow into altruistic alumni. As a result, he treated everyone with a great deal of care. Simultaneously, and in spite of his two gridiron gaffes, Turner came across to many of us as a well-meaning guy whose performance results couldn’t back up the big smile. It was an unfortunate turn of events that led to his demise, but that’s business.

Turner’s way of dealing with the youth of America ensured long-term success for the athletic department. Woodward’s method? It will work for a while, but with each subsequent concession the students must make for their elderly brethren, the more likely it becomes that the next generation will run this A.D. right out of town.

Perhaps it won’t matter. Woodward has the opportunity in the near-term to do great things, no matter where he happens to quarantine his students. But as far as the university is concerned, this should be a situation worth monitoring. Because a pissed off constituency today, means a dwindling constituency tomorrow. And by moving the dorm dwellers from the sidelines of their football field, in their stadium, this is the very scene Scott Woodward has set for sunrise.

7 responses

  1. Thank you for discussing this topic. I understand that Turner’s on-field/court performance of his coaches (Willingham and Tia Jackson were the big flops) left enough to be desired that it made sense to make a change.

    However, as a Dawg Pack member in the time frame you pointed out above, Todd Turner was so easy to approach and have useful discussions with. It was great feeling like the AD actually cared what you thought as a student and while not every idea was implemented, many student ideas were.

    Thanks Todd.

  2. I agree.

  3. Moving the students is all about money and ticket prices. Freeing up prime seating to generate extra revenue in the new stadium may work on a spreadsheet, but the change in atmosphere will be detrimental to the overall experience of going to a Husky game. The GO-HUSKIES chant back and forth from the student section to the Tyee Club is a staple of what it means to attend a game on Montlake. I don’t like the decision either.

  4. Alex, first of all Caple has a few blaring mistakes–namely that the students will be in the West end zone, not the East. Second, we NEED that money to renovate the stadium because as of now, Husky Stadium is severlely outdated and (if I’m not mistaken) in violation of several safety codes. So yes, I’d say that the need for $ FAR exceeds the need to make a bunch of students happy.

    Also, speaking from someone who has sat in the husky student section, most of the students are absolutely shit-house drunk (myself included) and it’s not going to matter to them if they’re at the 50 or in the end zone.

    Third, having the students about 10 feet from the WEST end zone (like EVERY other student section in the country) will create some awesome red-zone moments where the crazy-loud-students will be right on top of a Dawg defense trying to make a goal line stand.

    These days, money is tight for everyone. Most people don’t want to pay more taxes to renovate a football stadium (which NEEDS to happen), so if they’ve got to move students who barely pay shit to be at the game in order to generate more $, so be it.

  5. Alex,

    I’d argue that Woodward is to blame for the relocation because he failed to raise enough money for the stadium remodel. This whole thing is being done on the fly: a $250 million renovation and they’ve raised less than $50 million so far??? The only way they pay the bill is to sell “premium” seating. Loge boxes, luxury suites, etc. And regular ticket prices will increase as well, especially if they can’t boost the number of season ticket holders. Even with a 3-1 team, we are 15-20k short of a sellout most games. All the alumni from the 90s talk about how there was a waiting list for season tickets back in the day. Now they can’t give them away. That is the price of hiring Tyrone Willingham. That is what happens when you take a successful program and run it into the ground.

    Turner might have been a friendly guy to the Dawg Pack, but he failed as an AD. Hec-Ed isn’t sold out because he was nice to college kids who are now old enough to buy season tickets. It’s sold out because Romar has a winning program. Turner didn’t hire Romar. He just rode his success to save his own ass (“We’re a basketball school now!!!”) while his hire ruined football. It’s great having a good basketball program, but not at the expense of football.

    Woodward might have avoided some of our current financial issues if he had simply stood up to Mark Emmert and fired Ty before 0-12 happened. Instead, he was Emmert’s yes man and the rest is history. We the fans are STILL paying for Emmert, Turner and Woodward’s inept leadership.

  6. Completely agree with this article. It makes me wonder how many of us are going to end up remembering how stingy Woodward was and where the athletic dept. is going to be sitting in 30 years when we are the big boosters.

    Frankly, I hope my generation of big boosters demands that the student section returns to the 50 yard line. The students do pay a lot for tickets; it’s called tuition, and it’s called you can’t have a college football team without the students that attend the university. Crazy concept.

  7. [...] of Washington’s Athletic Department has done some stupid shit. I’ve alluded to this once before, but it’s a discussion that deserves to be brought up again. Because no one wants their [...]

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