John W. Woods has anointed a successor, one year to the month after he set up rival contenders for the post.

The 63-year-old chairman and chief executive of AmSouth Bancorp. on Thursday designated C. Dowd Ritter as the banking company's president, chief operating officer, and heir apparent.

Mr. Ritter, 46, had been one of AmSouth's two vice chairmen. The other is C. Stanley Bailey, 45.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Woods, who plans to retire in August 1996, said he faced a "hard decision" in choosing between the two men, but he believed it was necessary to remove the uncertainty hanging over AmSouth, which has $17.3 billion of assets.

Mr. Woods said Mr. Bailey will retain his vice chairman title and continue to oversee AmSouth's acquisition program, operations group, and mortgage subsidiary.

Mr. Ritter and Mr. Bailey had been appointed co-vice chairmen last August. At the time, Mr. Woods said he had not yet made a decision regarding a successor. Several outside observers were inclined to give the nod to Mr. Ritter because of his extensive retail banking experience.

An AmSouth employee for 25 years, Mr. Ritter has at various times headed branch administration, the bank's north-central Alabama region, and ultimately all retail operations.

"Mr. Ritter has spent more time actually lending money," said Morgan Keegan's Peter Tuz. "He looks like the kind of guy who can gracefully tell you 'no,' and still keep some of your business.

Mr. Bailey, by contrast, came up through the operations and finance side of the company. His most visible responsibility in recent years was directing AmSouth's ambitious expansion program which added more than $7 bil lion of assets to the company since 1992.

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