Radakovich talks deals, Dabo and about baseball

File/AP Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney (right) and athletic director Dan Radakovich

Mark Crammer

Dan Radakovich was hired as Clemson athletic director in December with the reputation of a persistent, innovative fundraiser. Fans expect him to see to it that Clemson improves on football and baseball success by turning the tables on recent South Carolina dominance, while making strides in basketball and other areas. The grandson of Serbian immigrants, Radakovich grew up in Pennsylvania and learned about management from mentor Mike McGee while working at South Carolina from 1994-2000. He moved on to LSU and then to Georgia Tech, where he served as athletic director.

The SEC recently had 63 players picked in the NFL draft, more than twice as many as the next closest conference, the ACC. And the SEC just unveiled its new TV network. Is this a scary time for a school trying to compete?

“There are probably three questions there. From a draft standpoint, those things run in cycles. The SEC, along with the ACC, has been able to sign far and away the most ESPN top 300 prospects. So it comes as no surprise that they have been able to continue to move forward and have some great NFL prospects. But I think the ACC has that opportunity moving forward. With the new demographic, we have an incredibly large footprint within the United States. We will — now that we have our new grant-of-rights has occurred — begin substantive conversations with our partner, ESPN, on a potential ACC network. It took about three years for the SEC and ESPN to pull this off. Hopefully, it won’t take the ACC that long. As we look forward, we’re going to be in a very good place.”

What is Clemson’s most pressing facilities need?

“The biggest ticket item is dealing with the future of Littlejohn Coliseum, whether that goes through a renovation or we build new. We now have some data and have had conversations with members of the community, the board of trustees and our IPTAY (booster group) people to really see what might be the next best step.”

What is that?

“There are only two answers. Well, I guess three: New, rebuild or do nothing. Not real sure that “do nothing” is an option.”

Your resume suggests you’re in the “build new” camp. Correct?

“I’m not ready to say yet. There are some really, really positive things about building new. But there are questions that need to be answered. For example, what happens to Littlejohn Coliseum? It’s a very valuable asset for the campus. We have to make sure that asset doesn’t just sit idle.”

This is an odd time in Clemson’s rivalry with South Carolina with a four-game losing streak in football and their great baseball run, a large part of which came directly at Clemson’s expense. Does that make it harder for you to raise money, or easier?

“I have not encountered it being harder. Clemson has great pride in its athletic programs and the fans are very passionate and want to see success. I’ve heard very loud and clear how important it is for Clemson to win those games, and so have our coaches and our student-athletes. Ray (Tanner) and Coach Spurrier and Chad Holbrook have done some really good things; we just have to get better. I have no fear that we are going to continue to compete at a high level and we’re going to continue to knock on that door until we break it down.”

How about the contrast of Dabo Swinney as the rival from Georgia Tech days and all those close games and now as your head coach?

“You always knew you had to come with your ‘A’ game to play Clemson’s football team because Dabo would have them prepared and Clemson would play hard for 60 minutes. I love his competitiveness. I love the way he pulls his team together and has a singular focus. I’m glad I’m on their side now.”

Jack Leggett has set such a high standard for Clemson baseball that not hosting a regional last year was seen as slippage. What do see as the Clemson baseball standard?

“When you look beneath the surface of baseball, schools are not on a level playing field. Private schools, for instance, with the 11.7 scholarships may be able to give more non-athletic aid. Some states, like Georgia, have better in-state tuition programs for student-athletes. That’s why I look at what Jack has done and say he is a great competitor who puts a phenomenal baseball team out on the field.”

Brad Brownell is known as a good floor coach and a great guy. But Rick Barnes and Oliver Purnell before him had programs that gradually improved, Brad’s record is going in the opposite direction. Are you concerned about that going into a bigger, better ACC with Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh coming in?

“Not at all. You have to look at where everyone started. Brad came in and had a roster that wasn’t set up very well for the next few years. After that first year, some of that began to catch up. What we see with a team with 11 freshmen and sophomores is a really good base that may not manifest itself in 2013-14 but may in 2014-15. Look at Tom Crean at Indiana. They moved backward and now they’re moving forward. I believe in Brad. I believe he’s a very good coach and he does it the right way. I think we have to give, him the tools. We have to say, ‘Basketball is important at Clemson.’ ”

At Georgia Tech you raised student athletic fees, which was quite unpopular given rising tuition costs. Any plans to do that at Clemson?

“At Georgia Tech they had gone an awful long time without an increase in student fees. We met with student leadership at the graduate and undergraduate level and had support of the administration and made our case. I met with students and did a lot of town halls, and it was almost like a political campaign. Here, I think it’s a little different. We’re still looking at different alternatives about how to raise revenues. A fee, or finding out how students are engaged in our football program, is certainly something we need to study. But we’re nowhere near the point where we would be able to make that recommendation.”

Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff