Job: South Carolina Athletic Director
Hometown: Smithfield, N.C.
College: N.C. State
Background: Played college baseball and served as head coach at N.C. State; led South Carolina to six College World Series appearances, including 2010 and 2011 national championships
Family: Wife Karen, daughters Gracie and Maggie, son Luke
Ray Tanner always figured he would wind up in administration. He liked his part-time role as an assistant athletic director at N.C. State, was always deeply interested in various sports and rarely missed a chance to pick the brain of a successful executive. Having coached the Gamecocks to back-to-back College World Series titles and guided a younger South Carolina team to the brink of a third national championship in 2012, Tanner knew the timing was ideal when Eric Hyman left his athletic director post for Texas A&M last summer. Looking comfortable but still learning on the job, Tanner sat down in his office with the Post and Courier's Gene Sapakoff to discuss facilities, Steve Spurrier, Clemson, baseball and his new favorite movie.
What has been the biggest adjustment going from head baseball coach to AD?
Trying to get my arms around the entire operation and balancing my time. I want to do everything. But not as a micro-manager; that's not my style. I've spread myself a little thin at times, but this is very exciting. Being the baseball coach was like running a business, and now it's like I just acquired 20 more businesses and now have 21 instead of one. But it's really great. As I felt as baseball coach at the University of South Carolina, I feel about this: there isn't a better job. I'm humbled by the opportunity and I'm passionate about trying to sustain the success that we're having across the board.
Ray, your office looks like a museum of cool sports stuff. If for some reason you had to run out of here with only one thing, what would it be?
I'd probably grab my football that Coach Spurrier gave me at our first football game after I was named athletic director, a win at Vanderbilt. He gave me a game ball and I was honestly just overwhelmed. I have my World Series rings over there and I'd probably try to grab at least one of those, too.
How would you describe your management style?
There is no “I” in team. And I have a great team, just as I did with baseball. My senior staff of Kevin O'Connell, Charles Waddell, Judy Van Horn, Jeff Tallant, Jeff Crane, Charles Bloom … It's a wonderful staff. We all have different missions but ultimately it's about the student-athlete and I want all of our resources to go that way.
If I were to quiz you on the batting averages and earned run averages of the 2013 Gamecock baseball team, would you pass that test?
If you gave me that test, I might not get an A. But I would pass it. I pay attention but I also pay attention to our other sports as well. I can tell you a lot about all of our sports.
Your thoughts about the 2013 baseball team?
Teams have injuries, although Coach (Chad) Holbrook has had more than his share. If you look at the 2012 team and this one, there's no Christian Walker, no Michael Roth, no Matt Price, no Adam Matthews, no Evan Marzilli. The transition is not an easy thing, and yet I'm ecstatic with what our baseball team has been able to do this spring.
Chad Holbrook was saying the other day that he embraces high expectations and that he learned from you that the worst thing is a place where fans don't care. I'm sure you get a lot of unsolicited advice, but I'm guessing you think that's ultimately a good thing?
Yes, and I got some of that as a baseball coach. We weren't always winning as much as we would have liked. I would get people yelling out of the stands. For me, that's a compliment turned inside out. What's wrong with that? Don't listen to the delivery, listen to the message, which is, 'We support you and we want you to do well.' And even already in this office, I've received some letters and phone calls. That doesn't fall on deaf ears; we've made some changes.”
Now that the indoor football building and new practice fields are on track, what are South Carolina's most pressing facilities needs?
Eric Hyman deserves a lot of credit for getting our facilities moving forward but we still have a long way to go. We have a nice tennis complex but they don't have a lockerroom; we're putting one in. We're building a men's and women's soccer complex that gives them a weight room, a lockerroom and allows them to run out the back door onto the field. We need to build a practice facility for men's and women's basketball. Our women's track team won a national championship in 2002, but it's the same track. We're building a brand new track, plus an indoor track facility in our field house. We want to build an indoor tennis center. The Williams-Brice plaza is going to go around the stadium to give fans the same feel they get in the Farmer's Market. A lot of things need to be done.
Do you get involved with non-conference football scheduling or do you leave that to Steve Spurrier?
I was very much involved in doing the deal with North Carolina for the 2015 opener in Charlotte. That being said, I just went back to Coach Spurrier with another suggestion. Make no mistake, he is very much involved in what we do in non-conference scheduling.
Steve Spurrier, obviously, has been very successful and has quite a big personality. Have you clashed at all or had any disagreements with him?
I really haven't. The admiration that people have for Coach Spurrier and his decision to come to South Carolina are things our fans will always cherish. He didn't have to come here, and his intentions are to remain here. He and I have been friends. You hear people say, 'We're family' in athletic departments and a lot of times it's rhetoric. It's really true here.
Still, family or not, at some point you're going to have to fire a coach, right? How difficult will that be?
It won't be easy for me. I'm a coach, and I always will be a coach. Winning and losing is very difficult. I've been on that side. But, yes, I know that time will come and it will not be easy. It's going to happen, for sure. It's the arena we live in. Very few coaches in any sport go out on their own terms.
Right now your rivalry with Clemson includes almost unprecedented success in football and a big chunk of your great baseball success has come at Clemson's expense in post-season play. Do you feel like you're at the helm of a yacht?
Oh, no. If you look at the records against Clemson in all the sports, especially in the last 15 or 20 years, they're pretty similar. But it's a great rivalry. We've had some good fortune. It's hard to sustain it but we're enjoying the upside and it's a tremendous challenge to stay there.
You worked with Clemson's new athletic director Dan Radakovich when he was an associate athletic director here at South Carolina. Tell me something about Dan most people don't know.
Dan Radakovich cared so much about our team when he was here. Anytime I went to see him about anything related to baseball, he cared about trying to make things better for us. He was a confidant and a great balance for me when I was a little fiery in my younger years. Clemson is very fortunate to have him.
Frank Martin got a little frustrated with his basketball team this year, comparing the players to middle schoolers and the like. Do you think he crossed the line and did you ever say anything to him about that?
No. I would never criticize him, because I know him and I know where his heart is and I know how much he cares. I did say to him one time, 'Don't be so hard on yourself.' He is so passionate that sometimes it gets the best of him. But that's his passion.
What is the last good book you read?
David Halberstam's book about the Red Sox teammates (Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio) driving down to Florida to visit Ted Williams, “The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship.” It was so much more than a baseball book.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff