Ray Tanner didn't look any different this week while speaking at a baseball camp during a steamy morning at Citizens Park in thoroughly friendly Aiken. Same affable, approachable guy.
Except that more kids than usual approached the head coach of the national champion South Carolina Gamecocks.
"When did you finally come down to earth?" I asked a man two weeks removed from Whit Merrifield's magical College World Series- winning hit against UCLA.
Tanner grinned an Omaha grin.
"Still haven't," he said.
There are stars of Gamecocks sports history past and present, and there are superstars. Then there is Ray Tanner.
The achievement speaks for itself.
No. 1. In Nebraska. In Los Angeles. In Aiken.
That Tanner should be rewarded with a raise and perks is more obvious than walking Henry Aaron with a base open. But in the competitive, fragile college baseball biz, this is a great time to add creativity to Tanner's new deal.
Taking care of associate head coach Chad Holbrook should be part of the plan.
Even if it means making Holbrook the Gamecocks' designated next coach (sounds so much better than "head coach in waiting") if Tanner likes the idea.
Holbrook on deck
He probably will, for two reasons:
--Tanner has indicated in the past he is more likely to opt for administrative work rather than coaching longer than Florida State's Mike Martin and other gray-bearded guys in cleats.
--He thinks Holbrook is the most valuable assistant baseball coach on any campus.
As an assistant coach and chief recruiter who helped North Carolina get to the College World Series three years in a row, Holbrook in two full seasons at South Carolina has landed many of the young players responsible for The Championship.
No rushing Tanner out of the dugout. He should stay as long as he wants.
Holbrook, knowing he is heir to a program with a new stadium and growing fan base, will be patient.
This is also a great way to stop the turnover of top assistant coaches, a recent trend costing South Car-olina both Jim Toman (Liberty head coach) and Monte Lee (College of Charleston head coach).
So locking up Tanner and Holbrook is a double-play that makes sense.
And will cost dollars.
Tanner made a base salary of $500,000 in 2010, fifth in the Southeastern Conference.
Alex Sanders, the extraordinarily wise former College of Charleston president, came to fully and publicly appreciate his head basketball coach as John Kresse was leading the Cougars to regular NCAA tournament appearances. Exposure in the New York Times and Washington Post and on ESPN was very good for school business.
Same for the prime-time College World Series show starring Michael Roth, Jackie Bradley Jr., Matt Price, Christian Walker and other marquee players signed by the recruiting firm of Tanner and Holbrook, LLC.
The Designated Coach concept comes with some icing. Holbrook is very loyal to Columbia (wife Jennifer is a native).
Of course, Tanner has proven his loyalty, too.
If not now, when does a head coach get leverage?
Tanner deserves anything reasonable, and Chad Holbrook locked up with extra dollars hardly is the craziest thing you have heard of lately in college athletics.
Generally, stability is a good thing.
Nationally successful stability is better.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or (843) 937-5593.
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