Friday, July 13, 2012

Rich's Blog: Tanner's move to AD

For 13 years, I've been doing Gamecocks highlights and stories from 2 hours and 15 minutes away in Conway. I'm not on the inside, and my "sources" are much like every USC fan as we hear what's going on from our media partners in the Midlands. Ray Tanner probably couldn't pick me in a lineup, but I've seen enough to know that the Gamecocks made the right choice for its next athletic director.
The athletic director is almost like a CEO of a University's sports brand. The CEO part is thanks to the huge revenue pool that is part of the modern day big conference sports. An athletic director needs to raise money, organize an entire department and be able to relate to the coaches in every sport.
Tanner's tremendous track record on the diamond translates to every sport the Gamecocks play. Any coach in any sport can marvel at what the skipper has done in his sixteen years guiding USC (14 NCAA appearances, 10 Super Regional appearances and 6 CWS trips highlighted by back to back national titles). It certainly will be tough for Tanner to walk away from the dugout, but he built the South Carolina program into one of college baseball's truly elite. With Carolina Stadium and one of the most loyal fan bases in all of the NCAA, he's leaving at the very top of the game.
Every year, without fail, Coach Tanner would make an annual trip to the Florence Country Club for a dinner with Gamecock fans just before the start of the season. My guess is that he'll still make that trip with new baseball coach Chad Holbrook. You could tell that Tanner was loyal to relationships and the Pee Dee should know that most of all.
Dr. Eddie Floyd, a prominent USC booster, helped play a role in having the Gamecocks come to Florence to help Francis Marion open its new baseball stadium. This was an absolutely nothing to gain proposition from a USC baseball standpoint. A midweek road trip against a Division II team was not good for the RPI no matter what the result was. Tanner knew it would be a special night for the Patriots and he showed great class in giving FMU a true showcase to open its new stadium.
It was supposed to be a Gamecocks rout, but the Patriots pulled off a shocker beating the two time Division I national champs 5-4. This was one of those true upset moments in Palmetto state sports (think Chaminade beating Virginia). I was expecting a little anger and some serious frustration from Tanner. After all, a Wednesday loss to a Division II school is not a good precursor for a weekend trip to Mississippi. What I saw instead was a leader who showed his true colors when things weren't going his way.
He did nothing but praise Francis Marion for delivering on a big stage. It was the Patriots moment, one that they'll talk about for generations and he didn't take away from that. At the same time, he was calm when talking to reporters despite suffering a midweek Division II loss.
"We'll respond. Our guys are resilient," Tanner said after the game. "We play in a league where we don't win all the time. Our guys understand that Francis Marion is good and we respect them, We knew that it was extremely possible that we could get beat here tonight if we didn't play as good as we needed to, but we'll bounce back."
They sure did bounce back. The Gamecocks closed out the season 15-5 and got back to Omaha for a third straight year. You'll hear from every corner of the state that Ray Tanner is a class act. I witnessed it first hand when things weren't rosy. You could sense that what he said to the media was the same message he gave to the team and any Gamecock fan who might have wanted to push the panic button. I came away from that game thinking that is the mindset of a champion.
Bunting the runner over and getting the right matchup out of the bullpen will not translate to Ray Tanner's new job, but leadership does. Ray Tanner will bring that single greatest attribute to his new job and lead the Gamecock Nation in a different but still very important way.