A former standout student-athlete and veteran of 22 years of collegiate athletic administration, Dr. Eric Wood was introduced in late October as Louisiana Tech’s newest Vice President and Director of Athletics.
The Bronx, New York, native has served in a variety of roles within athletics administration at the University of Arkansas, the Atlantic Coast Conference, Wake Forest University, and the University of New Haven. He also served as a graduate assistant at both the NCAA national office and Clemson University early in his career and comes to Ruston from the University of Central Florida, where he spent the past four years as the Deputy AD for Competitive Excellence.
Wood and his wife Celia have four children – Eliana (10), Nia (8), Alyssa (6), and Elijah (4).
Malcolm Butler, Associate AD for Athletic Communications, visited with Wood immediately after his hiring to talk about what led him and his family to Ruston, his passion for guiding student-athletes to excellence, and his vision for Tech athletics.
Q: What are a couple of the most impactful ways you were affected by your experiences as a student-athlete at Sacred Heart?
Wood: With most incoming freshmen, once you arrive on campus or even during the recruiting visit, you’re measuring yourself against the competition. Often, you’re in for a rude awakening, like when I arrived on campus and didn’t play at all. I mean, maybe some special teams, if I can recall back to the Fall of 1994; I just didn’t play a whole lot. But it showed me that the coaches were always recruiting your position to find people better than you to play there. And so, I had to learn the value of competition. That’s why you’ll hear throughout my time and my tenure here at Louisiana Tech, you’re going to hear about competing in everything we do. Because from my experience, I didn’t play a whole lot my freshman year and then had the ability, the opportunity, after accepting and understanding the challenge, to start at cornerback the remainder of my time at Sacred Heart.
I learned so much during that time about being a team player. I learned so much about the discipline it takes to get a class assignment completed before I get out to practice, or how to manage your time and be a good teammate. I never became a captain, but I think my teammates would have still viewed me as a leader during my time there.
Q: How did you move from your time as a student-athlete to athletics administration?
Wood: The initial thought was to be a school teacher. Maybe a PE teacher and a football coach, but I really just had a great experience in college and wanted to stay at the higher education level and work in college sports. One thing that happened was two coaches during my time at Sacred Heart got fired. And that’s really what made me increase my level of respect for coaches. It can be a very volatile atmosphere, a very volatile profession to be in. I knew I wanted to stick by the game, but I didn’t know if I wanted to be a coach necessarily. But how can I do that? That’s when my mentors really steered me toward college athletics and led me toward wanting to have a career in athletics administration.
Q: You and Celia have four children age 10 and under; how did you tell them they were about to move from Orlando and Disney World and Mickey Mouse and all of that to Ruston, Louisiana?
Wood: Yeah you named it. That was the lure when we moved from Arkansas, where they were born, to Florida. Disney World is all they knew about Orlando, so we used that as lever to come to UCF, but this move was going to be a little harder because they’d established some friendships over the last few years growing up. So my wife and I decided we’d look at a puppy; we lost our puppy a couple of years ago, so getting a puppy was going to be the ace in our back pocket if we got offered the job. That’s what we did.
But one other thing. The kids have been asking me what I wanted to do, what I wanted “to be” when I grow up. They’d say, “Do you want to be Mr. Danny one day (Danny White, Vice President and AD at UCF)? And I’d say, “Yes, I’d like to be Mr. Danny someday, somewhere.” So we were able to explain to them that this was finally the chance to get an opportunity to be Mr. Danny, but at Louisiana Tech. And oh, by the way, we’re getting a new puppy so they’re all on board. (The newest member of the Wood Family turned out to be a standard chocolate poodle named Beaux Tech Wood.)
Q: I think there was another dog involved who also helped them get really excited about the move, right?
Wood: It’s what sealed the deal — dinner with Champ at the hotel. It was the night we arrived in Ruston; I’d accepted the job and this was their first time in Ruston. Champ knocked on the door, hugged them, gave them hoodies to put on and some miniature Champs. Sealed the deal. So I’ll forever be indebted to Champ.
Q: Champ is one of the best recruiters we have at Louisiana Tech.
Wood: Good to know. Good to know, because he was able to help my little ones fall in love with him and with the idea of being here.
Q: How much did you know about Louisiana Tech even before this job came open? What was your perception?
Wood: Living in the region, you definitely hear about Tech. And obviously the connection with Arkansas was more of our planning to play LSU for “The Boot” initially, but that was just my introduction to learning about Louisiana. Also we recruited some of the same student-athletes as Tech, just from Ruston being in close proximity to Fayetteville. Really, you can’t work in college athletics administration and not know the Louisiana Tech brand and its history of athletic success. I came to learn about the mission of the University, all of the national championships with the Lady Techsters, the small college championships in football in the early ’70s. Then I researched the University and found out about some of our notable alums, both inside and outside the professional sports world.
Q: What are some other things you discovered about Tech in your research and through talking with your friends in the business?
Wood: It’s an unbelievable conference for recruiting; there are fertile recruiting grounds for every sport. That’s what I love. I didn’t want to go to a school that was a one-trick pony, right? I wanted to go to a place where we could have a chance to win across the board and pursue earning a spot in the Top 25 in every sport. Of course I already knew about Tech shutting out Miami in the Independence Bowl, and I knew about Skip Holtz. The job was awfully attractive to us when it became available; and then the more you dig into it to prepare for the interview, you think, “Oh my goodness; if I can get this, I’ll be at a gold mine that’s going to explode. I want to be a part of writing what’s next.”
Q: Besides your time with Champ, what was the experience like for you and Celia and the kids in the 72 hours your family was here for their first visit back in November?
Q: Every school talks about, “Welcome to the Family.” I would put this place up against any other campus or conference office that I’ve been a part of when people use that term “family.” The people immediately embraced us. They embraced my wife. They figured out how to help us find schools and doctors and just put their arms around us and fed us and escorted us to places to see and helped us get around town. From (Tech) President (Les) Guice to (Vice President for University Advancement) Brooks Hull to all the coaches and the athletics department staff that reached out via text to just say, “Welcome; can’t wait for you to be here,” we knew this was the real deal. This is Year 22 for me in athletics administration, and I’ve never felt anything like it. And what that did, it let me know, professionally, that this is a good move. It told my wife and kids that, I mean, I breathed a sigh of relief when they said, “Why do we have to go back (to Orlando)? Can’t we just stay here?” I heard that and thought, “Let’s do this. We’re going to be here a long time and they’re going to love it.” So man, yes, I’m fired up. I can’t wait to get going.
Q: What was your initial impression of the new facilities of baseball and softball and soccer?
Wood: So game changers, right? After I toured through the facilities, I came back to my athletics director at UCF and told him these facilities would compete with those of any school in our conference. And with many P5 schools. Of those campuses I’ve been on — and I’ve been around, have been at Clemson and have been at Arkansas, and as part of the ACC office when there were 12 schools, and I’ve been on all those — our softball, soccer, and baseball facilities will compete with any of those or anybody’s in the country. I’m really excited about that for our current student-athletes; I kind of can’t wait for them to see what they’re going to be working with and playing in. I’m pumped for our student-athletes, and I’m pumped for our coaches. If you’re a recruit out there and you get a chance to see that, I don’t know how you don’t come here to play and become a Bulldog or Lady Techster.
Q: I know the week you were named VP and AD, you got the chance to talk briefly with the football team and say hi to them, and you got to talk to both basketball teams briefly during practice, and before practice you went out to talk to the baseball and softball teams. How important was that for you to go out and say hello to those student-athletes and to continue to do that with the rest of our teams?
Wood: I’m actually getting the chance to speak with our bowling team tonight, and I’m speaking to our tennis team tomorrow. I’m going to try to get around to volleyball and soccer and track and catch the rest of them when I’m back in town and on the job. No. 1, I wanted to make sure while I was here, as soon as I could after being named VP and AD, that I shared with our teams my fire and passion for being here. Because, as I’ve heard coaches say in the past, they didn’t choose me, I chose them. And I wanted to earn trust. I want them to see that I’m fired up, that I feel fortunate to be here, and I wanted them to hear that and see that. Hey, they’re the reason we do this.