The 38-year-old has agreed a three-year contract, ending weeks of speculation following Woolmer's decision to stand down after the World Cup in England ends in June.
"He is youthful, enthusiastic and committed," Ali Bacher, the United Cricket Board of South Africa's managing director, said yesterday. "He is a good organiser, has good people skills and has a professional approach."
Ford captained Natal B for several seasons in the 1980s but never played in top flight South African cricket. His record as a coach, however, has been outstanding. He guided Natal to a rare South African league and cup double in 1995-96 and has twice coached the South African A side on tour. He also proved popular with the players when he was assistant to Woolmer for the recent tour of New Zealand. Woolmer, a former England Test opener, has been linked with the job as England coach in succession to David Lloyd who has also said he will step down after the World Cup.
"I'm honoured to be following in Bob's shoes and continuing the good work he has done, although it is a huge challenge," Ford said.
Shaun Pollock, South Africa's vice-captain and fast bowler, has played most of his first-class career at Natal under Ford's guidance and the captaincy for some years of the West Indian, Malcolm Marhall. "Fordy and Malcolm took a young, inexperienced team and turned us into something special," Pollock said. "He did a brilliant job and I'm pretty certain he'll do an excellent job in charge of the national team."
The Western Province coach, Duncan Fletcher, who has a three-year contract with Glamorgan, was believed to be the UCB's first choice, but his County Championship commitments ruled him out. The former South African players, Hylton Ackerman and Peter Kirsten, both coaching at provincial level, were also considered for a post which Ford had initially said he did not want as he feared it would take him away from his family too frequently.
"We are only out of the country for five months in the next two years and the schedule isn't as bad as I thought," said Ford.
Pollock said: "Because he never played Test cricket he doesn't have any ideas that are set in stone. He listens to every problem with an open mind."
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