When Ray Tanner strolled to the podium after being introduced as South Carolina's new athletic director on Friday in front of a large crowd consisting mostly of family, friends, media and university employees, the comparisons with his predecessor were inevitable.
Outgoing AD Eric Hyman's strength as an administrator wasn't his attention to microscopic detail, USC president Dr. Harris Pastides maintained. Instead, Hyman built a solid team of trusted associates around him and gave them the freedom to do their jobs with minimal interference.
In that sense, he acted like a chief executive officer of an $80 million corporation. He established the plan and then stepped back as his talented and loyal subordinates executed it, usually flawlessly.
"Eric Hyman was a great leader, but his administrative prowess was far secondary," Pastides said Friday following the press conference in The Zone. "When I would ask Eric a technical question about facilities, the budget, planning, his most common answer was 'I'll get back to you.' He knew he had those answers. Eric Hyman's legacy will not be the scoreboard or the baseball stadium or 11 wins, it will be the great team he put into place."
Will Tanner take the same approach as Hyman or will he become more hands-on in his new job?
Either way, Pastides insisted USC's soon-to-be former baseball coach (Chad Holbrook is expected to be named head coach at a press conference today at 11 a.m.) was ultimately the best candidate for the job and very capable of guiding an organization as complex as most athletic departments within the Southeastern Conference.
"I disagree that he (Tanner) has no administrative experience," Pastides said. "Ray Tanner is a great manager and a leader of people. A lot of things have changed in the last 20 years, including the president's job. There are a lot of complexities and the challenges are very different today."
His decision to offer the $675,000 per year job to Tanner occurred after Pastides consulted with a five-person advisory committee consisting of a Board of Trustees member (William Hubbard), current USC head coach (Dawn Staley), former Gamecock quarterback (Tommy Suggs), prominent Columbia attorney (I.S. Leevy Johnson) and a USC assistant professor (Charles Adams).
Pastides contended the final decision to hire Tanner rested with him.
"We have a strong Board (of Trustees), but if anybody is wondering if I was told what to do or who to hire, that's absolutely not true," Pastides said. "There was no undue influence. A president does need to listen to his Board and to individual members of the Board. When they call, you can not say I'm not going to talk with you right now. You do need to listen.
"I was away for part of the time, so I was a little away from the action. Ultimately, I started going to the advisory committee. I told them what I thought and asked for their response. Slowly, we built momentum. But this is a presidential decision. I'm not trying to say that if things don't go well, you can blame somebody else. This one is on me. They know that and I know that."
Pastides handled the process for selecting a new AD differently than the late Andrew Sorensen, who essentially served as a one-man search committee when Hyman was hired in 2005. The method chosen by Pastides was more democratic.
By deciding to rely on an advisory committee of people connected to the university, Pastides rejected the overtures of more than 20 headhunter firms that contacted him to express their interest in being retained by the university to help find a new AD.
By patiently permitting numerous voices to be heard during the search process, Pastides acknowledged not everyone he dealt with while the search was ongoing agreed with the ultimate decision to hire Tanner.
But he added very few of his decisions as president have met with 'universal endorsement.' In short, someone in a powerful position is usually going to disagree with you no matter what decision you make.
"Ray had a huge amount of external support from the fan base, but there were a lot of people who will not find this a popular decision," Pastides said. "Some of those people are important to me and to the university. They could be in the donor community or the political community. I had to do in this case what I felt to be best."
By convincing most of Hyman's top associates and assistants to stay at USC, Pastides and Tanner have started on the right foot. Pastides described the triumvirate of Tanner, new Chief Operating Officer Kevin O'Connell and new Deputy Athletics Director Charles Waddell as his 'dream team.'
Right now, the structure of the USC athletics department underneath the 'Big Three' features six Associate ADs, including senior associate AD and senior women's administrator Judy Van Horn and Associate AD for Football Operations Jamie Speronis.
Another key athletics department employee who has decided to remain at USC rather than join Hyman at Texas A&M is media relations director Steve Fink, who first started working with Hyman in 2000 at TCU.
Fink, promoted to Assistant AD/Media Relations in March, will have a different boss than Hyman for the first time in 12 years.
"Obviously, we've built up a good relationship over the years and I appreciate him giving me an opportunity at TCU in the first place and then giving me a chance to come along with him here," Fink said. "It's been 12 great years and I enjoyed working for Eric. I wanted to remain a part of the positive momentum we've built here. We've worked hard the past seven years to get it to this point. Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going. I think Ray is the right guy for the job."
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