CLEMSON —When Dan Radakovich first took occupancy of his new office as Clemson’s athletic director last month, he looked around and immediately wanted changes.
Chick-fil-A Bowl glance
No. 8 LSU (10-2) vs. No. 14 Clemson (10-2) What: Chick-fil-A Bowl When: Monday, 7:30 p.m. Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta Television: ESPN
The office sits in the corner of the McFadden Building, which previously served as the head football coach’s quarters prior to the construction of the West Zone. The office is designed for seclusion and isolation. It even has a backdoor with which to make clandestine escapes.
Radakovich does not want to be isolated. He wants to be among the staff and student athletes. He wants to be in the middle of the action, in the middle of conversations. That’s how it was at LSU where Radakovich was a senior associate AD from 2001-06, where most of the athletic staff and administrators were in the same building. They were always bumping into one and other, sharing ideas, sharing concerns.
There was something else he noticed immediately. His new office was too dark. Radakovich, citing a study that found factory workers performed more efficiently in well-lit factories, had full fluorescent panels installed right away.
These anecdotal stories reveal something about Radakovich. He believes the culture created by the athletic director is critical.
At his introductory press conference in October, Radakovich said it was the culture at football-first LSU that is most applicable to his undertakings at Clemson. He witnessed LSU go from good to great. He intends to do the same at Clemson.
Working with Saban
Perhaps the most important thing Radakovich took from his LSU experience was working closely with one of college football’s most successful head coaches. Radakovich said Nick Saban changed the football culture at LSU.
Clemson president James Barker said Radakovich’s experience with Saban was a factor.
“We got some very positive responses from his time at LSU,” Barker said. “His relationship with Nick Saban for example, they worked well together.”
Former LSU athletic director Skip Bertman hired Radakovich from South Carolina in 2001 to be his senior associate AD. He gave him control of the day-to-day operations and credited Radakovich for being innovative in his dealings with Saban.
“I always told Dan ‘whatever Nick needs, let’s try to find a way to get it to him,’” Bertman said. “There are times we couldn’t give Nick all the things he wanted at the same time, so what (Radakovich) will do, he’ll investigate the other (conference) schools and see what everyone’s paid, see what everyone has, and see what everyone doesn’t have.
“In my opinion. it’s the AD’s job to give the coaches a competitive chance.”
Radakovich came up with creative solutions to problems. For instance, one year Saban wanted a team dropped from the next year’s schedule because he did not want to play a particular spread offense.
“Nick said ‘I don’t want to have to prepare a week for this kind of stuff, which I’ll never see again,’ ” Bertman said.
Radakovich came up with a plan that would fulfill Saban’s request and save money: play in-state, non-BCS schools.
“LSU had never really played in-state schools before,” Bertman said. “Instead of bringing in out-of-state schools for $500,000, we brought in in-state schools for $400,000.
“He’s very innovative. He follows through. The chances of him going upside down in a particular budget is very low. He’s a very good business man.”
LSU won national football championships in 2003 and 2007.
Making the unpopular popular
When Radakovich arrived at LSU in 2001, the Tigers were behind other Southeastern Conference programs in creating new revenue streams. They lacked a premium seating program like the majority of other SEC programs, according to Bertman. LSU’s stadium needed upgrades.
Barker said creating new revenue streams is also critical at Clemson.
“(Radakovich) was at LSU at a time when we were changing the program.” Bertman said
Bertman and Radakovich had to persuade boosters and ticket holders to pump more money into the program. Radakovich has been praised for his people skills. But Radakovich was also able to watch and learn from a master salesperson in Bertman.
“As the leader of the department, he was seen as very much an advocate for the ticket holder and the donor,” Radakovich said. “He was able to motivate players, coaches and fans. He had that gift.”
Radakovich was also influenced by athletic director Mike McGee at South Carolina, where Radakovich worked from 1994-2000. McGee demonstrated the importance of explaining ‘why’ to the fan base when making decisions. At his introductory press conference at Clemson, Radakovich sounded much like Bertman and McGee. He referred to ticket holders as “investors.” He promised to be “transparent” and to explain his decisions.
At Clemson he recently sent a letter to season ticket holders explaining why it was important to buy bowl tickets from Clemson’s allotment and not the secondary ticket market. Clemson has to buy unsold tickets, he explained, and those are hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be spent on facilities or coaches.
Bertman said Radakovich will talk to every coach and every administrator to get their ideas of what works and what does not. He wants more sharing at Clemson.
“Everyone thinks a football coach has to be a good person. To be honest with you, he doesn’t. All he has to do is win,” Bertman said.
“If you are the AD, I think it’s more important to be a very good person at the athletic administration building, at the athletic venues. You have to be a super star and (Clemson) just hired a super star. I’d say he’s a new breed of athletic director.”