When Sean Woods resigned as head coach at Morehead State two months into the 2016-17 season under a cloud of an assault charge leveled by two of his players, it looked as if his coaching career would be over.
But the friends he has made over the years have helped him get back into the game, and Thursday, Woods was announced as the new head coach of the Southern Jaguars in Baton Rouge, La.
“God is good. My faith has been tested,” Woods said after donning an SU hat as his first news conference. “I’m sure you have read some things about me, and you don’t know exactly what has gone down. …
“And one thing I’ve learned is that God don’t make mistakes. He puts you in a place where you need to be and also where he feels like you need it and also where they need you.”
Woods talked of his 20-year friendship with Southern Athletics Director Roman Banks and their days on the road as assistant coaches. Banks came to prominence at Southern after Woods’ ascension from Southwestern Athletic Conference rival Mississippi Valley State to Morehead. Banks led Southern to two NCAA Tournaments before he was promoted to A.D. last year.
Woods, who played in college for the University of Kentucky, spent this past season as an assistant at Stetson. It was another friend, Stetson head coach Corey Williams, who brought Woods back into basketball after his fall at Morehead. Woods thanked Stetson and Morehead as well as Mississippi Valley State for the opportunities he’s had and said they all led to this point.
“I just turned 48 two weeks ago, and in my 48 years of living, today is probably the best day of my life because I’m at a place where I feel content. I feel like I’m needed and also a place where I need to be.”
The move to Southern returns Woods to the Southwestern Athletic Conference where he began his head coaching career with Mississippi Valley. In Woods’ four seasons with the Delta Devils (2008-12), he improved them from seven wins in his first season to 21 victories and an NCAA Tournament berth in his final season. He was named SWAC Coach of the year in 2012. It was that experience, coaching and recruiting in a conference where funding is tight, that helped Woods become the lead candidate for the job, Banks said.
In five seasons at Morehead from 2012 to 2016, Woods was 77-70. Woods led the Eagles to a pair of 20-win seasons, including a 23-win campaign and a runner-up finish in the College Basketball Invitational tournament in 2015-16.
But his tenure with the Eagles ended in controversy. Woods resigned amid a suspension for his actions during a November road game at Evansville. From that incident, he faced a misdemeanor charge of battery after two players accused the coach of assaulting them during the game. He later entered a six-month court-ordered diversion diversion program and also had to pay $1,080 in court costs. By completing the program, the charges against him were dismissed.
Woods had already become known for his fiery sideline demeanor and it had gotten him into trouble once before at Morehead. He was suspended for one game by the university for a televised incident in 2012 in his first season with the Eagles. Woods appeared to shove one of his players, point guard, Devon Atkinson, after Atkinson fouled out. He shouted at the senior as he walked toward the bench, then continued yelling at him during the timeout.
“That’s something that’s totally behind me now,” Woods said of his past troubles. “You live and you learn, and, you know, you just move on and you become better. Like I told you before, God had a plan. And his plan for some odd reason the way he did it was to make sure I became Southern University’s basketball coach. And that’s all I’m thinking about right now.”
A member of the the University of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, Woods played at UK from 1988 to 1992, appearing in 91 total games. Woods is best known as one of the “Unforgettables” from Kentucky’s 1992 East Regional finals team.
Southern finished fifth in the SWAC this past season with a 15-18 record under interim coach Morris Scott, who took over the program when Banks was promoted to A.D.
The Jaguars have made nine NCAA Tournament appearances in program history, most recently in 2016. Woods said Southern’s tradition of success means he’s ready to hit the ground running.
“Really, it’s not that big of a challenge because they’ve won here and they’ve been winning,” Woods said. “It’s not like my other schools I worked for where there was nothing there. The cupboard was bare. The cupboard’s not bare here. I’ve just got to get these guys to understand my way of doing things.
“I’m not here to rebuild. I’m here to reload.”