Nothing has been decided yet, but by all accounts, Ray Tanner is the frontrunner for the AD position at South Carolina. Although Carolina fans are supportive of Tanner, many understandably wonder if a baseball coach with no experience as an athletic director is the right choice for taking the reins for a major college college athletics program, particularly one that has made major strides in recent years and needs to make sure that it continues to make the right moves. It used to be fairly common for former successful coaches to move behind the desk. This still happens quite often, but these days, more and more big-time programs are run by career administrators, guys or gals who may have had some playing / coaching experience but who moved into administration relatively early in their careers. Is that who Caroline should go for, or are we right to tab Tanner?
No one can know for sure; we'll only be able to know in hindsight. That said, I thought it might be interesting to compare Tanner to the most comparable case I've read about: former LSU baseball coach and AD Skip Bertman. Bertman is one of college baseball's most famous figures. Bertman was a dominant high-school coach in Florida during the 1980s who won three state titles; won a national title as an associate head coach at the University of Miami; and, of course, engineered one of the most dominant stretches in college baseball history when he won seven SEC and five national championships during his tenure in Baton Rouge. Only Rod Dedeaux of Southern California and Augie Garrido of Texas have accomplished anything comparable on the college diamond.
In 2001, Bertman was hired as LSU's atheltics director, a position he held until 2007-2008. He has continued to serve in a fund-raising role since then. The list of on-field accomplishments that Bertman achieved at LSU; indeed, although a program that has an overall history that South Carolina fans can be jealous of, enjoyed what was perhaps its most successful period of all-time under Bertman's directorship. The baseball team may not have been quite as dominant, but Bertman did hire Paul Mainieri, who won the school's sixth championship and currently has it positioned to continue its winning ways. Bertman also oversaw LSU's return to grace on the gridiron. He didn't hire Nick Saban, but he was the athletics director during Saban's entire tenure in Baton Rouge. He did hire Les Miles, and love or hate his style, it would be hard to argue with the results Miles has gotten on the field. LSU is one of the top two or three football programs in the nation, and Bertman has a lot to do with that. He has also overseen success in men's basketball, women's basketball, and the non-revenue sports.
Bertman has, relatedly, also made a number of excellent financial- and facilities-related decisions for LSU. Many years before Eric Hyman oversaw the same for South Carolina, Bertman saw the importance of the facilities arm race in the modern-day SEC and made sure that LSU wouldn't fall behind in that race on his watch. He also, again before Carolina, oversaw the restructuring of LSU's ticketing policies in order to fund the needed facilities improvements. Bertman also has a reputation as a strong fundraiser who has overseen increasing giving to the athletics department.
None of this is to say that Carolina will experience comparable success with Tanner at the helm, but it is to say that it can be done. LSU is the definition of a high-profile program, and it has been just fine with a former baseball coach at the helm, and one with less administrative experience than Tanner, at that. Bertman did have the benefit of taking over a program with a history of success, but many of you probably remember that, outside of Bertman's success on the diamond, the 1990s were not the golden years for LSU. During Bertman's tenure, though, LSU rose to the top of the SEC. In that sense, although Carolina lacks LSU's history, Tanner would be starting a bit ahead in some respects of where Bertman started. Carolina has made major strides across the board in recent years; Tanner's job would be to maintain that direction, not to start from scratch. Bertman's success suggests that there is a precedent for what Tanner would be doing, and it's a bit more evidence in favor of Tanner getting the job.