Outgoing Gameock A.D. Eric Hyman gave an interview with Phil Kornblut on Sports Talk Radio yesterday. He confirmed that he'll be officially departing effective August 1, but his last real day on the job will be July 21 before he takes some time off to be with his family - which means that he will have only a few days to enjoy his new office in the brand new Coaches Support Building and then he's "off to the races at College Station."
Interestingly, Hyman confirmed that he is not involved with the search for his successor - at least directly, that is (he repeatedly said that it's "a University decision") - which makes sense in light of the circumstances. President Pastides and the Board of Trustees need to take complete ownership of this hiring decision and so far they've given every indication that they're doing just that.
Nevertheless, at the 6:45 mark, Kornblut came out and directly asked Hyman if he endorsed USC baseball coach Ray Tanner for the post. My expectation was that Hyman would lavish praise on Tanner for his achievements in the dugout [which he did - warmly] but then to fall back on the old "it's out of my hands; I know the University will do the right thing; but I shouldn't comment on that; I'm looking forward to working with whoever is chosen," etc. That's why I expected. But that's not what happened.
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Bluntly, I found Hyman's response a bit surprising:
"If Ray's it, he's certainly capable. And - he's a very, very talented baseball coach. He's got talent [but] its going to be a learning curve for him. So what's he's going to need is to have a strong staff to be able to support and assist. 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. As a coach there is more black and white and as an administrator you have a lot more gray so you really got to be able to change you 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 into the administration. Some of them do a phenomenal job. Some of them it is a little bit of a struggle. Because it is different. And the responsibilities you have are totally different than what you had as a head coach. But there are some similarities, too (emphasis added)."
That's hardly what I would call a glowing endorsement . If anything, I'd characterize Hyman's thoughts on Tanner as highly qualified. Sure - he's not attacking Tanner in any way. He's certainly not saying he's unqualified. He's not even damning Tanner with faint praise. He concedes from the outset that Tanner is "capable" of doing the job and later says he completely understands why some people have Tanner's name penciled in as the next guy.
But delving into the sub-text, you see that Hyman (a) emphasizes flexibility and adaptability as key attributes to the job; and (b) says that the qualities that make a great head coach don't necessarily translate into administration. In other words, it's not so important if an A.D. candidate is a finance guy, or a personnel wiz - he says any A.D. has to surround himself with a great staff - but that the critical component is being able to process the moving parts and the complexity. In other words, you have to have the right mentality and personality for the job.
Since Hyman never comes out and expressly articulates whether Tanner possesses that flexibility - and Phil doesn't press him on the point - one is left to wonder if Hyman doesn't have serious reservations that Tanner can make the transition. Hyman says he has always been philosophically in favor of a national search to "validate" a candidacy for the coaches he hires; thus, if it were it up to him, USC would do the same thing in this case. In other words, he wouldn't crown Tanner without vetting him against other candidates.
Hyman definitely agreed it would "be a logical decision" for the University to consider or even hire Ray. So please don't think I'm saying that Hyman is opposed to Tanner's candidacy. I don't think he is - necessarily. But Hyman was about to make what seemed to be an important contrast ("but then again ...") when Phil cut him off for a break at the 9:20 mark. Listen for yourself and see if you agree that Hyman was on the verge of drawing an important distinction before Phil interrupted him. When they came back on the air (9:40) the thread was unfortunately lost. Ultimately, Hyman concluded along the vein that "[the candidates] out there have certain strengths and certain weaknesses and the University has to decide what they're looking for in terms of that." However- since Tanner is the only public candidate, one is left with the impression that Hyman thinks Tanner does possess weaknesses.
For years, we've heard the stories that Hyman and Tanner - if not clashing outright - have rubbed each other the wrong way during their respective tenures in Columbia, despite the fact that both have played a big role in the other's success (Tanner in giving Hyman two baseball national championships on his resume; Hyman in giving Carolina Stadium to Tanner which undoubtedly played a big part in those championship runs). There's certainly a lot of mutual respect there, even if there is no love lost, either.
Still - should Hyman have avoided comment on a topic where anything less than unqualified praise is tantamount to oblique criticism? Is he giving us the straight dope - for which we should be thankful - or was he improperly and unnecessarily inserting himself, albeit subtly, into the hiring decision? That's a hard one for me to quantify - and there may be strong, divergent opinion in the commentariat. But since I've begged my own question, I'll own up and answer it.
I think Hyman makes a good point. I don't think he's interfering. The A.D.'s office at South Carolina is in good shape and Tanner is a worthy candidate. But a national search is a good idea - practically and philosophically. For all of Tanner's strengths, there are some weaknesses - even during this past season there were reports that Tanner was extremely rigid with the team in the early going; to Ray's credit, he realized his error and corrected it. Will that same rigidity rear its head again - especially in a new setting with different problems and different management demands? There's no guarantee that Tanner can make the transition. Do we want to take a risk that he won't, when we can hire someone from the outside who's already battle-tested as an A.D.? Don't we owe it to ourselves to at least study other possibilities? Personally, I don't think we diminish Tanner in any way, or dishonor what he has done for USC sports, if he is not the next A.D. However, do we diminish him if we don't let him compete for the opening? Should the search be the functional equivalent of a no-bid contract? I would argue "no."
I can't stress enough how important this hire is to the future of all Gamecock sports - especially football. Barring a short tenure, the next Athletic Director hires the next head football coach, which will be undoubtedly the most monumental hire in the 120+ years of the program. Not only that, but the next A.D. has to keep us on the straight and narrow during our three year NCAA probation (where most of the problems arose out of poor compliance oversight by Hyman's staff - or at least where better compliance could have nipped the problems in the bud before they grew into a full-blown NCAA investigation) and also complete the last, tricky portions of the mind-boggling expensive facilities upgrade. It's a tall task. Maybe Tanner can do at USC what former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman has done in Baton Rouge as the Bayou Bengals' A.D. But maybe he can't.
USC President Dr. Harris Pastides is on record saying that there is no timetable for hiring the next A.D. I think that's a good thing. We'll have to hope he and the BOT make the right choice.
A lot is riding on it. And Eric Hyman knows it.