Ranking the best USC AD options

South Carolina coach Ray Tanner smiles during a news conference Saturday, June 23, 2012, ahead of the NCAA College World Series baseball finals at TD Ameritrade Pard in Omaha, Neb. South Carolina and Arizona will play starting Sunday in the best-of-three games championship series. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Eric Hyman caught that perfect wave, riding a gnarley garnet break all the way to College Station, Texas. It probably won't get better at South Carolina over any 25-month stretch.

The Gamecocks baseball team made three College World Series finals in a row and won two national championships, Steve Spurrier followed South Carolina's first SEC East football title with its first 11-win season and Hyman surprisingly snagged Frank Martin as basketball coach.

With Hyman gone to Texas A&M, a South Carolina search committee is looking for a new athletic director.

It can save time and money by limiting the list to three excellent candidates.

Ray Tanner, head baseball coach at South Carolina.

Craig Littlepage, athletic director at Virginia.

Chris Massaro, athletic director at Middle Tennessee.

In order of preference:

Ray Tanner

He could run for governor and win. Some Clemson fans would vote for Tanner just to get him out of the dugout. Tanner has indicated interest, even if Hyman threw a cautionary blanket on the idea on his way to Texas A&M.

“Being an athletic director is a very complicated, complex job with a lot of moving parts and whereas in baseball there is more black and white,” Hyman told South Carolina's SportsTalk Radio Network. “As a coach there is more black and white, and as an administrator you have a lot more gray so you really have got to be able to change your mindset a little bit and be able to adapt and adjust to it. It is not as rigid as a coach and sometimes people have a difficult time making that transition from a coaching profession to the administration.”

Hyman is right; the days of the “ol' coach” sliding into the AD chair are gone. But Tanner is the exception, surely capable of surrounding himself with a sharp staff. It helps that he and his wife Karen have experience running The Ray Tanner Foundation, which helps seriously ill children, homeless folks and others. And that Chad Holbrook is ready to take over as head baseball coach.

This might make for a nice AD rivalry as Texas A&M becomes South Carolina's SEC cross-division rival.

Unless Hyman lures Tanner away with big Lone Star State bucks (Hyman reportedly gets a raise from a $500,000 base salary at USC to nearly $1 million per year at Texas A&M).

Craig Littlepage

Remember, Gamecocks head basketball coach Dawn Staley is on the search committee and her jersey is retired at Virginia. If South Carolina President Harris Pastides and Co. go the practicing AD route, Littlepage is a home run. As Virginia's AD, he has presided over a baseball boom and made good hires in football (Mike London) and basketball (Tony Bennett).

Littlepage, 60, is a Penn grad, was chairman of the NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee and the ACC's first African-American athletic director.

At $350,000, according to USA Today's AD salary database, he's affordable. Quick: Call now with an offer to double his salary.

Academic awards, a facility improvement track record, it's all good.

Littlepage was not the AD when Staley played at UVa. But he did ask Hyman for permission to talk to her last year when seeking a replacement for longtime Virginia head coach Debbie Ryan. Now the interview request is likely reversed.

Chris Massaro

Massaro, who spent 20 years in the South Carolina athletic department, trumps another former USC staffer, partly because Georgia Tech's Dan Radakovich was directly implicated when the NCAA stripped the Yellow Jackets of their 2009 ACC football championship game victory over Clemson. True, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas received only $312 worth of clothing, but it was the cover-up that got Georgia Tech a four-year NCAA probation.

Massaro learned from South Carolina's best athletic director; Mike McGee hired Tanner, Spurrier, Lou Holtz, Bobby Cremins, Eddie Fogler and Dave Odom and kick-started Carolina Stadium. Massaro doesn't have the credentials McGee had when he arrived at South Carolina but he is friendlier, played college football (Northern Colorado '83) and has done a thoroughly good job in seven years as AD at Middle Tennessee.

The Blue Raiders on Massaro's watch have built a new baseball stadium, gone to three bowl games, won four all-sports Sun Belt titles and made academic progress.

Perhaps the true tribute to Hyman's watch is that he leaves an athletic director's job that comes with a very cushy chair.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or Twitter @sapakoff