Start of a new era

One era at South Carolina ended Friday afternoon and a new one started when former baseball coach Ray Tanner was named Athletic Director after leading the baseball team for the past 16 years. Tanner replaces Eric Hyman, who left two weeks ago to take over the same role at Texas A&M.

On Friday afternoon a great era in South Carolina athletics ended. It was also the beginning of another one.

University of South Carolina President Dr. Harris Pastides announced the hiring of the new athletics director at South Carolina, two weeks after Eric Hyman announced that he was leaving to take on the same role at Texas A&M.

"This is a very happy occasion, but I did not take this decision lightly," Pastides said. "The athletics enterprise at USC affects 550 student-athletes, commands an annual budget of $81 million and is a division that employs about 200 individuals. What happens on the fields and on the courts of play impacts the reputation of our university on a daily basis."

Pastides put together an advisory committee that included women's basketball coach Dawn Staley and former Gamecock football great Tommy Suggs. After arriving back in town earlier this week, Pastides and the committee wasted little time in proposing an offer that was voted on by the Board of Trustees prior to the press conference.

"Sometimes you can search the world over for the perfect candidate and sometimes you know have the right leader right within your own bullpen," Pastides said. "This time around, I knew we had the right person on our team already.

"So after a great career as a coach and an assistant athletics director at NC State, possessing an outstanding record of community engagement and philanthropy through his family foundation that has brought relief and happiness to South Carolina organizations and families in need, and with huge amounts of national media exposure, speaking engagements, and with the personality to inspire and to lead, I am pleased to share with you that effective August 2nd, the University of South Carolina's Athletics Director will be Ray Tanner."

The move for Tanner ends a 25-year coaching career in which he amassed an impressive 1,033 wins with just 489 losses and three ties. In his 16 years in Columbia, Tanner moved from being an up-and-coming coach to one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport. Tanner went 738-316 as the head coach of the Gamecocks, a winning percentage of over .700 in arguable the toughest conference in the country year in and year out. He won two national championships and played in the CWS Finals four times while guiding the Gamecocks. Now Tanner will set aside his baseball uniform for a suit and tie.

"It's kind of funny how you change one uniform for another, and this one makes you more nervous," Tanner said. "I want to thank Dr. Pastides very, very much, with a special thanks to his advisory board and our USC Board of Trustees. I want to thank our coaches and current administration in the athletics department who has already shown great support as we enter into a new era together. I want to thank my wife, Karen, and our children, who have unwavering love and support. As is often the case in our business, our jobs impact our families, and my family, just like yours, handles it with a wonderful spirit, which I truly appreciate."

While it will take a lot of adjusting for his family, it wasn't even the main topic in the Tanner household Friday morning. Instead, the attention was focused on the passing of third baseman LB Dantzler's pet fish, Reptar.

"Today is a little bitter-sweet for my children, not because of me leaving baseball, but this morning the State newspaper notified them that Reptar had gone to the big fishbowl in the sky," Tanner joked. "So that was the tone of conversation in our house this morning. Gracie, Maggie, and Luke, if I had to guess, in 2013 Reptar II will probably be on the scene."

From the beginning, it was obvious that Tanner had great interest in taking over the position, even joking that he called President Pastides "every 30 minutes" to see what direction the search was heading.

"Today I am honored and humbled to become athletics director of this great university," Tanner said. "I've had an interest in returning to athletic administration once my coaching career was over… Two weeks ago when Eric made the decision to go to A&M, I immediately approached Dr. Pastides to inform him of my sincere interest and desire to serve our student athletes and coaches."

As could be expected, when Hyman left to head to Texas A&M, some of the support staff within the department left with him. However, a vast majority of the department chose to stay and continue to help build the programs across the board and was thrilled with the opportunity to work alongside Tanner and help him adjust to his new job.

"We currently have tremendous momentum in our department," Tanner said. "I'm very excited to begin my new role as we continue on our path to give Carolina forward momentum. It is imperative that we stay on track as we compete in the SEC and nationally. As you all know, we have tremendous coaches across all sports, and we have a great administrative staff here in place."

One of the first decisions Tanner will have to make is to name his own replacement as baseball head coach. That will likely end up being one of the easiest decisions he will have to make as athletics director, as assistant head coach Chad Holbrook is expected to be promoted as the new head coach late Monday morning in an 11 a.m. press conference.

"I think that if you have an opportunity to make plans for a press conference Monday, it will be a short search," Tanner joked.

Some questioned if it was time for Tanner to make the move with the baseball program being one of the elite programs in all of college sports. After two consecutive national championships and runner-up this past season, it was as good a time as any for Tanner to step aside.

"I was at a point in my coaching career that I loved it and I was having fun, even moreso the last 10 years than the previous 15," Tanner said. "I've never been a coach that wanted to stay until it was too late; I always wanted to get out when it was great. I'm not burned out and I'm not going anywhere.

"I will miss putting the uniform on, but you can be rest-assured that I will be coaching where I will be sitting, maybe a little bit arm-chair style," Tanner joked.

Tanner has exemplified what being a Gamecock coach is for the past 16 years, playing a large role in turning around an athletics department that had been mired in mediocrity its entire existence as a program into a department that expects success at the highest level.

"Lastly, I would like to thank Dr. Mike McGee," An emotional Tanner said. "In the summer of 1996 he took a chance in bringing me here to Carolina, 16 years ago. He tells people to this day that he was so impressed with Karen that he allowed me to come along. That's okay with me because I still got the job. We've had 16 wonderful years in Columbia and we look forward to many, many more at the University of South Carolina.

"I'm not just at the collegiate level; I'm at the University of South Carolina. I'm a Gamecock and I bleed Garnet and Black."


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