National champions, famous entertainers, star athletes.
Choosing and ranking the 25 most powerful people in South Carolina sports isn’t easy any year, certainly not one in which fresh national title signs have gone up as interstate welcome mats.
Criteria: Impact and influence, now and beyond. Candidates must also spend most of the year in South Carolina, thus disqualifying for these purposes Jadeveon Clowney, Matt Wieters, Khris Middleton and the many prominent professional athletes with Palmetto State ties.
Judges: Post and Courier staff, after lots of consultation.
Last four out: Clemson head basketball coach Brad Brownell, College of Charleston head basketball coach Earl Grant, foundation director and high school football coach Marcus Lattimore and NCAA basketball referee Teddy Valentine.
The top 25:
1. Dawn Staley
Head coach of the national champion South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball team, and that counts plenty. But Staley’s reach is global; she will coach Team USA in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. At 47, she eventually is a possible heir to Geno Auriemma’s role as unofficial women’s basketball spokesperson. And Staley’s graceful handling of Confederate flag issues transcends basketball in this state and nationally.
2. Dabo Swinney
There are only three other active major college football coaches with national championships and Swinney trumped that trio – Jimbo Fisher, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban – on the way to Clemson’s College Football Playoff crown won in January. Few people doubt more ultimate glory is in store for a 47-year-old coach. He also shares Staley’s ability to articulate on social issues.
3. Dustin Johnson
The Columbia native and former Coastal Carolina golfer broke through with his first major in 2016 (U.S. Open at Oakmont). Johnson, 32, rose to No. 1 in 2017. He has made strides off the course, too, with a successful golf school in Murrells Inlet and the Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship in Myrtle Beach.
4. Ray Tanner
In the last few months, South Carolina’s athletic director has crisscrossed the country following a pair of Final Four basketball teams and fired his successor as baseball coach. Oh, and Tanner watches over an SEC football program that carries half the hearts in the state into battle each autumn Saturday. A major decision is always just around the corner.
5. Bill Murray
The Lowcountry-based comic actor steals the spotlight if he shows up as the guest picker on ESPN “GameDay.” If he shows up at your event, it’s suddenly a thing. Murray’s “Caddyshack” and “Space Jam” bits lend to national fame as a sports fan (Cubs, Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Xavier basketball, etc. …). There is also a serious business side: As a Charleston RiverDogs co-owner, Murray influences a fun marketing approach copied throughout pro and college sports.
6. Dan Radakovich
Clemson’s athletic director is ranked below Tanner because Swinney has the Tiger faithful unusually serene. But a men’s basketball slump, rising fan costs and constant facility upgrades keep Radakovich busy. He’s also a member of the College Football Playoff committee.
7. Will Muschamp
Muschamp did well in his first season on the job to get the South Carolina football program from three wins to a bowl game (6-7). Clearly, he has enhanced relationships with high school coaches across the state. Now comes the hard part.
8. Frank Martin
What a basketball year. First NCAA Tournament appearance for South Carolina since 2004, first March Madness win since 1973, first Final Four. Plus, Martin at podiums in Greenville, New York and Glendale became an eloquent national spokesman on parenting and race relations, work ethic and loyalty.
9. Chris Singleton
A lofty spot for a Charleston Southern outfielder who hit .276 for a mediocre team in a lousy baseball conference. But Singleton didn’t have to get drafted by the Chicago Cubs to make a difference, and he doesn’t have to make the majors to be one of the great stories in South Carolina sports history. His steady grace after his mother Sharonda Coleman-Singleton was murdered in the Emaunel AME shootings will have an everlasting impact.
10. Jake Bentley
No pressure, kid. But here is a good rising sophomore quarterback on a generally average South Carolina team, which means Bentley likely will move the needle one way or the other during a 2017 season in which bowl eligibility might come down to a game or two.
11. Darius Rucker
No. 1 country single, No. 1 Gamecock fan. Rucker moonlights as lead singer at the Hootie & the Blowfish’s popular Monday After the Masters charity golf event. For many sports fans, he is the No. 1 choice to sing the National Anthem. In any or all of these roles, the cross-over artist crosses barriers and represents as consistently well as any South Carolinian.
12. Bill Golden
As president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, Golden presides over the sport’s largest non-profit marketing cooperative. For many tourists and locals, it’s the entry point to the 86 golf courses on the Grand Strand, from Georgetown County to Brunswick County, N.C. MBGH also runs seven tournaments and has enough clout to influence airline schedules into Myrtle Beach.
13. Brent Venables
Not only is Venables as good as they come among college football defensive coordinators, he is oddly uninterested in leaving Clemson to chase head coach gigs. That’s good for the Tigers and a key to Clemson’s rise from pretty good to elite.
14. Kerry Tharp
“The Track Too Tough To Tame” needs a wily president during a time of NASCAR shuffling, TV market shrinkage and brutal competition for entertainment dollars. Darlington Raceway has a good one in Tharp, who has kept a big track in a small town relevant. Up next: Bojangles Southern 500 fun on Labor Day weekend.
15. Zion Williamson
At 16, the rising senior at Spartanburg Day School is the youngest member of our list. The 6-7 power dunker is coveted by Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Roy Williams and most other top coaches in college basketball. If ESPN’s No. 2 ranked prospect in the Class of 2018 defies odds and picks Clemson or South Carolina, Williamson – even if he remains only one season before bolting for the NBA – probably becomes a program game-changer.
16. A’ja Wilson
The best player on the South Carolina women’s basketball team is a leading 2018 national player of the year candidate. Fearless, versatile and personable, Wilson as a senior has the goods to carry the Gamecocks to a third Final Four in her four years on campus.
17. Jerome Singleton
Singleton (no relation to Chris) has been commissioner of the South Carolina High School League – the state’s ruling body of public school athletics – since 2005. A former Burke High School coach, Singleton is on a bunch of national committees.
18. Monte Lee
In charge of Clemson’s rebuilding baseball program, and off to a good start with two seasons in which the Tigers overachieved and hosted NCAA Tournament regionals.
19. Joe Moglia
His success and financial contributions as Coastal Carolina’s head football coach are among the reasons the school decided to leave the FCS Big South Conference and step up to a major college conference, the Sun Belt. Moglia is more than just your typical multi-millionaire former CEO of TD Ameritrade-turned-coach; he’s good at it (51-15 record).
20. John Iamarino
Now in his 11th year as commissioner of the Spartanburg-based Southern Conference, Iamarino has had to get creative in a shifting landscape. To contrast the loss of such members as the College of Charleston, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Davidson, the SoCon has been innovative in multi-platform marketing while adding the likes of East Tennessee State, Mercer and VMI.
21. Bob Moran
Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki take his calls. Moran as longtime tournament director for the Volvo Car Open (formerly Family Circle Cup) is responsible for recruiting the player field, and has a shiny record of coming through.
22. USC's next baseball coach
It’s a high profile for the lead guy in the Founder’s Park dugout, no matter if it’s coming off a trip to Omaha or replacing someone who did not make the NCAA Tournament two of the last three seasons.
23. Buddy Pough
Pough has won or shared first place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference six times in his 15 years as head football coach at S.C. State, a job that holds great sway with alumni, fans and recruits of the state’s flagship historically black university.
24. Debbie Antonelli
TV analyst on 80 or so college basketball broadcasts per year and a nationally respected authority on the women’s game. Antonelli, a Mount Pleasant resident, last March became the first woman in 22 years to work the TV side of men’s NCAA Tournament coverage.
25. Bobby Johnson
The former Furman and Vanderbilt head coach is an East Cooper resident and one of 13 members of the College Football Playoff committee.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff