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Ray Tanner's legacy as athletic director rests on getting South Carolina head football coaching hire right

Tanner had a hand in the Gamecocks baseball program remaining a national power. He now faces his biggest challenge as South Carolina AD: finding the next head coach of the football program.

Ray Tanner (right) now faces his biggest challenge as South Carolina AD.
Ray Tanner (right) now faces his biggest challenge as South Carolina AD.
Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images

So, how do you feel about Ray Tanner, the baseball coach?

Ask that question of South Carolina Gamecocks fans, and the majority of them will tell you that he was one of the best in the country at what he did, a skilled mentor who led his program to back-to-back College World Series titles (and nearly three in a row) before stepping down and handing the keys to Chad Holbrook. The man won over 1100 games as a coach at N.C. State and South Carolina combined, a nearly 70% win total. That's impressive.

Now, here's another question. How do you feel about Ray Tanner, the athletic director? That might be a little tougher to answer.

Some will say that he's done well maintaining the South Carolina brand and connecting with students, alumni and donors alike. Others will say the jury's still out, that perhaps the university could have looked outside to replace Eric Hyman when the latter departed for Texas A&M, that they'll need to see more from him to make a decision.

Well, they'll get their wish soon. Because, if you haven't heard, there's a pretty big job vacancy in the football office that needs to be filled.

Let's add some perspective before we move on to the main point of the article. The most successful sport on campus right now is women's basketball. In an ideal world, it would be football, but it's hard to ignore the fact that Dawn Staley has built a middling, .500, perennial WNIT team into a national power that can and will contend for, at worst, Women's Final Four appearances year in and year out. She was hired not by Tanner, but by Hyman. The men's basketball program, despite struggling in Frank Martin's first three years as coach, are expected to break through in year four. Who hired him? Again, Hyman. Outside of Holbrook, who he handpicked himself, at the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year, none of the head coaches in charge of the "Big Four" programs at Carolina - football, men's and women's basketball, and baseball - were hired by Tanner.

Football could end up not being the last coaching search Tanner finds himself overseeing. Some Gamecocks fans may give him somewhat of a pass if Martin fails and he whiffs on his successor, because Carolina basketball has never been considered among the Dukes and Kentuckys of the landscape and likely might not for a while. They may be a bit more vocal if the Holbrook situation doesn't turn out either, given the prestige of the baseball program. But if Tanner wants to raise his profile from merely former legendary college baseball coach-turned athletic director to the man who had a hand in helping a once-successful football team return to the top of the SEC, there's no doubt he absolutely has to get this hiring right. It might not matter if the men's basketball program gets back to the NCAA tournament consistently or if the hand-wringing about Holbrook turns out to be moot. Football has been, is, and always will be king at the University of South Carolina. That's where the money is. Underachieving in one of the country's most elite athletic conferences will be deemed unacceptable, no matter how many people compare Steve Spurrier's successor to him and no matter how much he raised the stakes. And if the next head football coach doesn't get it done, then the boosters will make their voices heard. You know how that story will ultimately end - likely with more than a football coach being replaced.

So, again, how do you feel about Ray Tanner, the athletic director?

I have a feeling that an answer to that question will be easier to come by in the next few years.