Paul Hoolahan Announces Retirement
NEW ORLEANS (November 2, 2018) – Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan, who oversaw one of the most successful periods in the Bowl’s history, has announced that the January 1, 2019 Allstate Sugar Bowl will be his final game as head of the organization. This will mark the 25th game for which he has overseen its operation.
Hoolahan’s official retirement date is set for June 30, 2019. His successor will be the Bowl’s long-time Chief Operating Officer, Jeff Hundley.
“It really has been my good fortune to serve the Sugar Bowl Committee for all these years,” Hoolahan said. “Together we’ve overcome some major obstacles, experienced some of the best moments in the organization’s history and all the while maintained a leadership position in postseason college football. For that, I’ll be forever grateful to the members of the Committee.”
Hoolahan, who became the Sugar Bowl’s sixth executive director in 1996, has directed Sugar Bowl operations for five national championship games: Florida’s 1997 win over Florida State; the 2000 win for Florida State over Virginia Tech; LSU’s 2004 national title victory over Oklahoma; LSU’s defeat of Ohio State in the 2008 title game; and the 2012 victory for Alabama over LSU – considered by many to have been the largest sporting event in the history of the South.
“Paul’s term as CEO has been marked by success at every turn,” said Sugar Bowl President Rod West. “His vision and expertise are respected not only here but in elite college football circles around the country. Certainly, the membership of the Sugar Bowl Committee has valued his strong leadership over the years and will miss Paul as he moves on to the next chapter in his life.”
In addition to hosting multiple national championships, Hoolahan’s tenure with the Sugar Bowl has been defined by financial success and by the bowl’s ongoing status as one of the premier organizations in the country. While engineering a business plan that led the Bowl to financial stability, Hoolahan spearheaded several major initiatives. Most recently, he steered the New Orleans Host Committee’s successful bid for the right to host the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship.
“Paul has been a remarkable leader in college football, a regular Yoda in the boardroom,” said Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff. “His intuition and judgement have served our industry well. We will miss him.”
“Paul Hoolahan has been a dedicated leader at the forefront of the college football and bowl landscape for many years,” said Burke Magnus, executive vice president for ESPN. “His innovative spirit, creativity and determination have led to many meaningful contributions to the sport and for the betterment of countless student-athletes. He has been a fantastic friend and partner to ESPN and we wish him the best in all future endeavors. I am certain we will see him again in the great city of New Orleans.”
Hoolahan also worked in conjunction with the Sugar Bowl’s executive committee to finalize a landmark arrangement with the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 Conference to host the best available teams from each league eight times over a 12-year period (2013-2025 seasons). At the same time, Hoolahan and the Sugar Bowl locked itself into four College Football Playoff semifinal games (2015, ’18, ’21 and ’24). All these agreements assure that the Bowl will remain at the pinnacle of college football for years to come.
“The Sugar Bowl is woven deeply into the lore of college football and Paul Hoolahan has served as a great steward of this revered bowl game,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “Paul has played a crucial role in strengthening the Southeastern Conference’s relationship with the Sugar Bowl during the transitional times of the Bowl Championship Series and College Football Playoff era. We have been fortunate to have his leadership serving at the helm of the Sugar Bowl during this time.”
“Paul has done it all – college football player, strength and conditioning coach, academic advisor, athletic director, high school football coach, and for the past 25 years, chief executive officer of the Allstate Sugar Bowl,” commented Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “He has been an integral part of the college football landscape, and a great friend of the game we all love. The Big 12 Conference and its member institutions have been honored to be partnered with Paul, and the outstanding organization he oversees at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Enjoy retirement my friend. You have certainly earned it!”
Early in his tenure in New Orleans, Hoolahan helped the Sugar Bowl secure a spot in the prestigious Bowl Championship Series, a four-way rotation of college football’s National Championship Game. In successfully doing so, he established a business model that was marked by significant increases to the organization’s budget as well as healthy contributions to its bottom line. Additionally, he engineered a program that placed renewed emphasis on financial accountability.
In over two decades with the Sugar Bowl, Hoolahan has directed organizational efforts which have generated well over $3 billion for the local economy.
“There are very few people in New Orleans history who have had a greater impact on our sports landscape than Paul,” said Doug Thornton, the executive vice president of SMG, the management company for the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. “Throughout his career, he has always been a person who can get things done, which is one of the character traits that I admire most about him. His thoughtful insights and ability to anticipate change have preserved the Sugar Bowl’s standing as a ‘top-tier’ bowl game. We are all so very grateful for his efforts and hard work through the years and wish him the best in his retirement.”
While the annual college football game is the crown jewel of the Allstate Sugar Bowl’s efforts, Hoolahan and the bowl’s volunteer membership are involved with competitions at both the prep and intercollegiate level; including basketball, lacrosse, sailing (regatta), soccer, volleyball and track and field. During his tenure, the bowl has nearly tripled its number of ancillary community events to its current level of nearly 60 annual competitions and ceremonies. In 2014, Hoolahan directed the Bowl’s efforts to land title sponsorship to all Louisiana High School Athletic Association state championship events and, in 2012, the Bowl added the prestigious Crescent City Classic road race to its portfolio. Furthermore, he played an important role in the Sugar Bowl’s involvement with New Orleans’ successful hosting of the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four and the 2013 NCAA Women’s Final Four. He also played a pivotal role in landing the rights for New Orleans to host the Women’s Final Four again in 2020.
“It has been a distinct privilege and honor to learn from and gain the respect of Mr. Hoolahan,” said LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine. “Through Paul’s leadership, the Sugar Bowl Committee has been a tremendous supporter and partner of high school sports in Louisiana. In addition to being a good colleague and friend, Paul truly believes in providing competitive opportunities for youth and amateur athletes. This is most evident in the 93,000-plus high school participants in our state with the LHSAA.”
In addition to its wide array of sporting events, the Allstate Sugar Bowl sponsors the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame; The Manning Award, given to the nation’s best college quarterback; the local chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame, which awards over $60,000 in scholarships annually; and the Eddie Robinson National Collegiate Coach of the Year Award, presented by the Football Writers Association of America.
Hoolahan’s involvement in college football at the highest level dates to his playing days at the University of North Carolina where he was an All-ACC lineman paving the way for Hall of Fame tailback Don McCauley, who achieved consensus All-America status while breaking O.J. Simpson’s single-season rushing record in 1970.
“How does one even begin to appropriately recognize all that Paul has given throughout his career to the sport of college football?” asked John Swofford, the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference. “From the days when we were teammates at the University of North Carolina, there was little doubt that Paul would be a leader professionally in the sport of football. He’s set an incredible standard of excellence and his contributions to the sport and city of New Orleans are immeasurable. Congratulations Paul, and as you look ahead to this next chapter, I wish you, Katherine and your entire family nothing but health and happiness.”
Following his collegiate career, the native New Yorker returned to coach high school football at his alma mater, St. Francis Prep, a perennial power and one-time home to the late Vince Lombardi. In 2014, Hoolahan was enshrined as an inaugural member of St. Francis Prep’s Athletics Ring of Honor. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2016.
In the mid-70s, Hoolahan returned to UNC to serve as strength and conditioning coach and academic advisor for the Tar Heels program. He quickly expanded his responsibilities as assistant athletic director to include overseeing the business, ticket and facility operations before being named associate athletic director in the mid-80s.
In 1990, Hoolahan was named Director of Athletics at Vanderbilt University, following former director Roy Kramer, who went on to become commissioner of the Southeastern Conference that year. Hoolahan’s tenure at Vanderbilt was marked by significant improvements to the department’s business operation, considerable expansion of its fund-raising efforts, improvement in athletic facilities and the hiring of top-caliber coaches.
“I’ve known Paul personally and professionally for over twenty years and before that by professional reputation,” said Wright Waters, the executive director of the Football Bowl Association. “We have been on the same side of issues and occasionally on different sides but he has always been a man of vision and commitment to college football and always to the Sugar Bowl. I treasure his friendship and often seek his counsel. His quiet leadership style of not seeking recognition in the spotlight but always focusing on the product will be missed. His ability to lead, to communicate his vision, to put together consortiums of people of different temperaments for a single purpose is unique. He will be missed.”
Hoolahan, who was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, has long been involved with the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame and recently served as President of the Football Bowl Association. He is married to former Nashville television reporter Katherine Walters and they have three daughters: Kate, Molly and Megan.
“I’m particularly proud of the way this organization’s volunteer membership and professional staff have consistently put their best foot forward to make the Sugar Bowl experience second to none,” said Hoolahan. “Working year by year with top-notch people has been one of the most rewarding parts of this job, and I’m certainly going to miss that.”
The Allstate Sugar Bowl has established itself as one of the premier college football bowl games, having hosted 28 national champions, 93 Hall of Fame players, 49 Hall of Fame coaches and 18 Heisman Trophy winners in its 84-year history. The 85th Allstate Sugar Bowl Football Classic, featuring top teams from the Big 12 and the SEC, will be played on January 1, 2019. In addition to football, the Sugar Bowl Committee annually invests over $1.6 million into the community through the hosting and sponsorship of sporting events, awards and clinics. Through these efforts, the organization supports and honors nearly 100,000 student-athletes each year, while injecting over $2.5 billion into the local economy in the last decade.