Then & Now: Wood’s winding road leads him to Louisiana
Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
On Oct. 23 last year, Louisiana Tech University introduced Dr. Eric Wood as vice president and athletics director. He is the first AD in the university’s history to also have the vice president title.
It’s been an eventful 10 months for Wood. He’s been getting used to a new job — and all that entails — while leading the athletics department through a pretty impactful time. Generational issues like a global pandemic, social justice conversations, new NCAA policies for athletes’ name, image and likeness (NIL) and conference realignment have been front and center.
“Sometimes, I ask my mentors why they encouraged me to become an AD during a pandemic,” he said. “I joke about the timing [because of] COVID and social justice and NIL and those things. But this feels to me like it was the absolute right move at the right time.”
Wood, 44, is in charge of a college athletic department’s day-to-day operations for the first time, but he has nearly 25 years of experience behind him. A native of the Bronx, Wood worked at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville from 2009 to 2016. The university promoted him in 2011 from assistant AD to associate AD for student-athlete services, tasked with overseeing the Office of Student-Athlete Success. The office’s primary responsibility is to empower student-athletes with guidance, resources and support, developing them academically and personally.
Before arriving in Fayetteville, Wood cultivated his passion for mentoring by working in various roles with the Atlantic Coast Conference and the athletic departments of Wake Forest University and the University of New Haven. He also served as a graduate assistant at the NCAA national office in Indianapolis and Clemson University early in his career.
The Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named Wood to its 2015 Forty Under 40 class. Less than a year later, he accepted a job offer to be the new senior associate AD for academic services at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He earned a promotion after one year to become deputy AD for competitive excellence.
At Louisiana Tech, Wood oversees a department with an annual operating budget of about $24 million that supports 16 sports and 350 athletes. Wood centers his philosophy and leadership style on three principles — culture, class and competitive excellence.
“The people here, our fans and constituents, they have heard that from me at every town hall meeting, on social media; every chance I have to get in front of people,” Wood joked. “Hopefully, I sound like a broken record, but more importantly, I hope they see it play out, and it’s not just words.”
Wood envisions Louisiana Tech competing nationally in everything that has a score or a ranking. That includes academics.
As for athletics?
“We should be able to compete for top 25 rankings in our programs,” Wood said. “That’s because of the recruiting and the coaches my predecessor [Tommy McClelland] hired. That is the goal. We do that with fewer resources, but I love the challenge. We have the DNA here to do it. We’re in a talent-rich state and have good people running our programs.”
Regarding the NIL debate in college athletics — which gives athletes new protections and opportunities to make money by selling their name, image and likeness rights — Wood said, for the most part, the pros outweigh the cons.
“Every other college student can do that and not be penalized,” he said. “I don’t spend much time on the negatives. I try to invest my time in preparing our students and our coaches and staff not to fall behind.”
Wood said he follows the Razorbacks every day. He and his wife Celia have four children under the age of 10. Three of them were born during the seven years they lived in Fayetteville.
“Those [years] were some of the greatest times in our lives,” he said.
Wood, who has a master’s degree in counseling and guidance services from Clemson, earned his doctorate of education in sports management from the UA in December 2016.
Last summer, Wood’s alma mater — Sacred Heart University — picked him to join its board of trustees. This summer, the NCAA appointed Wood a member of the Division I Football Oversight Committee. His tenure begins immediately and will run through June of 2022. He will serve as the Conference USA representative on the committee, taking over for former Marshall AD Mike Hamrick.