COLUMBIA — The fond memories still flood back to him, even four years into retirement. Skip Bertman will always cherish his five national championships as LSU’s baseball coach, will always talk proudly of rescuing the school’s athletic department when he served as its director, from his retirement as a coach in 2001 until 2008.
NEXT GAMEWHO: No. 9 South Carolina (1-0) vs. East Carolina (1-0)WHEN: Today, 12:21 p.m.WHERE: ColumbiaTV: WMMPLINE: South Carolina by 21INSIDE THE GAME Here’s a look at what could make the difference when No. 9 South Carolina hosts East Carolina today at 12:21 p.m. on WMMP-TV: CONNOR SHAW’S SHOULDERMaybe you’ve heard about this: USC’s quarterback is dealing with a bruised right (throwing) shoulder. He will be a game-time decision, but even if he plays, there is a chance he could aggravate the injury. USC’s offensive line must protect Shaw, since his understudy, Dylan Thompson, is unproven. OPEN-FIELD TACKLINGEast Carolina’s offense aims to spread the field, run plays in furious succession and put defenders in one-on-one matchups in the open field. This game, more than most, puts a premium on the open-field tackling that the Gamecocks’ defensive backs focused on so heavily since spring practices. TALL DEFENSIVE ENDS ECU quarterback Rio Johnson will get rid of the ball quickly, so it’ll be hard for USC to sack him. But defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor hope to use their length to deflect Johnson’s passes to the flats at the line of scrimmage. OUTLOOKIt’s difficult to completely shut down East Carolina’s offense, but USC clearly has superior talent, and the Pirates have shown little ability to play defense in the past two seasons. Even if Shaw plays, expect lots of carries for tailback Marcus Lattimore, who ECU will struggle to stop. PREDICTION South Carolina 38, East Carolina 17 --- Darryl Slater
He does not, however, miss the emails. And if there is one piece of advice he could offer his friend Ray Tanner as Tanner transitions from South Carolina’s baseball coach to its athletic director, it is this: Get ready for a full inbox.
“He’ll have to understand when South Carolina loses (in football), there will be a tremendous amount of emails that did not appear in baseball when he lost,” Bertman said. “The emails will say something like: ‘I know you know baseball, but I know football, and (Steve) Spurrier did this wrong or that wrong.’ And of course, they don’t (know football), but they do go to lots of games.
“They’ll chastise the athletic director because somebody fumbled and lost the game. On the other hand, they’ll not ever write in saying ‘great job.’ The athletic director is there to take the brunt of every fumble, error in baseball, parking problem, food at the ball game, some kind of arrest or fight. He’s going to go through that, and he’s going to be surprised.”
Today is the Gamecocks’ first home football game with Tanner as athletic director. They play East Carolina, whose athletic director, Terry Holland, made the coach-to-AD transition in 1990, after as successful 16-year run as Virginia’s basketball coach.
It was once common for prominent coaches to move straight to the athletic director’s chair. Frank Broyles did it at Arkansas in 1974, with a three-season overlap in his tenure as football coach. Vince Dooley had a similar career path at Georgia. Pat Dye coached Auburn football from 1981-92, and spent all but the final year doubling as athletic director.
Such arrangements at major conference schools rarely happen now. ADs usually rise through the administrative side of a department. Tanner is currently the only athletic director in the Southeastern Conference who assumed that role immediately after being a coach.
When Holland left Virginia to become AD at Davidson, his alma mater, he felt fortunate that assistant ADs from the previous regime stuck around. Holland said his business operations man, Bob Price, “was a tremendous asset to me.” Two of Eric Hyman’s top lieutenants, Kevin O’Connell and Charles Waddell, remain on Tanner’s staff.
“I think the real key is admitting your weaknesses and be willing to find the best person you can to fill those holes,” said Holland.
Tanner seems a natural mayoral type and is one of the most recognizable men in the state — a potential advantage over a faceless AD who rose through the administrative or business side of an athletic department.
“That’s a really important thing, for the AD to be popular,” said Bertman. “(Tanner) can see the athletics from the fans’ viewpoint, which attorneys and accountants can’t.”
Tanner is also fortunate to take over USC’s athletic department during a golden age of financial stability, facility improvements and unprecedented winning in football and baseball.
Bertman knows how challenging the alternative is. LSU was floundering when he took over in 2001, he said. He had to fire eight coaches, create a personal seat license program for football games to raise money and replace Nick Saban, the national championship football coach who arrived a year before Bertman became AD. His hire, Les Miles, worked out just fine.
“He won’t have to go through what I did,” Bertman said. “South Carolina is way ahead of where LSU was. I took it over at the bottom.”
Truth be told, Bertman never aspired to be an AD, like Tanner did. Bertman was set to retire and make money as a public speaker when chancellor Mark Emmert, now the NCAA’s president, convinced him to accept the AD job. Bertman weathered the tough parts — including firing his successor, Smoke Laval — and now LSU’s athletic department is “flush,” as Bertman put it.
With years of perspective on both jobs, Bertman and Holland understand better than most the differing challenges of coaching and directing that Tanner now faces.
“Coaching is a series of sprints, and being an AD is a marathon,” Holland said. “There’s no offseason and it goes on forever. It’s a different grind, but it’s still a grind. It’s one that, as you get older, you don’t sprint as well as you did, but you can probably hang in there on the distance runs.”