Former baseball coach excited about new facilities, competition
When Ray Tanner left the baseball diamond to take over the South Carolina athletics program in August of 2012, USC’s athletic teams were experiencing one their the most successful streaks in school history.
Now, with a year as athletic director under his belt and the Gamecock athletic programs continuing to excel, it’s understandable why Tanner feels like he’s landed the ideal coaching job.
“I feel kind of like a coach who went into a new job, but had a lot of great players and a great staff,” Tanner said. “I inherited a situation with a great core of coaches, not just coaches who do a good job, but men and women who are at the top of their profession. I inherited administrators with a tremendous number of years in the business. That made it as seamless a transition as possible for me.”
While Tanner is in his first stint as an athletic director, the former coach has plenty of experience with the administration aspect of college sports. Tanner, who began his coaching career as an assistant coach with N.C. State in 1980, took on several administrative duties during his time with the Wolfpack.
“When I started as an assistant baseball coach,” Tanner said, “I had to do other duties. I worked in game operations, I worked in the ticket office, I traveled with the football and basketball teams, I took care of complimentary tickets for parents, I ran the athletic dorm, so I knew a little bit about what the other side was like. I was always intrigued by the operation,”
After spending more than three decades working primarily with baseball programs, first at N.C. State and then at South Carolina, Tanner now finds himself directing 19 different varsity sports at USC. Tanner equated his new responsibilities to leading a large corporate merger.
“When I was a coach, baseball was a small business and everyone else had a business,” he said. “Now, I’m overseeing everybody’s business.”
For Tanner, overseeing the football “business” also means dealing with the attention that surrounds one of the most hyped athletes to ever wear the garnet and black: Jadeveon Clowney. The defensive end has constantly been in the media spotlight during the off-season, but Tanner says he has no complaints about how the Heisman Trophy candidate has handled himself.
“I think he’s done a great job,” Tanner said. “Just watching him at practice, he’s smiling, he’s happy. I think Jadeveon is all about the team. He wants to win and be very successful. I’m certainly proud of him and the way he’s represented our school.”
Clowney and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel have been two of the more scrutinized college athletes in recent memory. Coincidentally, former USC athletic director Eric Hyman is now serving as the AD at Texas A&M. Hyman is currently dealing with an NCAA investigation into whether Manziel profited from autographs he signed. With his former boss dealing with a probe into the activities of an athlete, Tanner admits that he has had conversations about how USC would handle a similar situation, if it ever arose.
“We’re dealing with young people and they’re not perfect,” said Tanner. “We’ve got 550 athletes and things happen. I think what’s happening down at Texas A&M is certainly unique, but we would deal with it.”
Although working with one of college football’s superstars is certainly a unique situation, Tanner also faced a new challenge last spring, when the Gamecock baseball team took the field without him for the first time since 1996. South Carolina advanced to the Super Regionals under first-year head coach and former Gamecock assistant Chad Holbrook, who Tanner promoted three days after taking the job as athletic director. While South Carolina had another successful season on the diamond, Tanner says watching from afar was difficult.
“At times, I got a little fidgety,” Tanner said. “Something would happen, a play or a swing of the bat, and I would catch myself flinching a little bit trying to help make that play or get that ball to stay fair.”
Tanner says that he and Holbrook talked often, which helped ease the transition away from the field.
“Coach Holbrook and I had dialogue on a regular basis and he shared with me what was going on,” Tanner said. “He gave me my baseball fix. I stayed close enough to it that my withdrawals were minor.”
As for the future, Tanner says there are several projects in the works. Construction has already begun for the new sand volleyball program and Tanner hopes the team will be able to practice at the new facility by October. A locker room for the tennis program, a new football indoor practice field and a new practice facility for men’s and women’s basketball are all part of Tanner’s plans.
Tanner also said that after a year on the job he’s started to be comfortable wearing a suit and tie on a daily basis.
“I’ve gotten used to it,” he said. “I’ve finally gotten used to the new uniform.”
Ultimately, South Carolina’s athletic director believes that the program can continue to move forward and that he is in a position to help with that process.
“We can be more successful than we’ve been across the board,” Tanner said. “We have room to grow and I believe our growth can be significant. I believe that’s one of my major responsibilities. People say to me ‘well, you’re not competing anymore, what’s that like?’ I am competing. This is a league that’s very difficult to be successful in. Fourteen prominent schools and everybody wants to be on top.”
“It’s great. It’s athletics. It’s a great thing to be a part of.”