South Carolinas search for a new athletics director was a sham, designed solely to make certain control of the athletics department returned to its rightful place with the university president and board of trustees.
Unfortunately, we do not know if Ray Tanner was the best candidate for the athletics director job. We do not know that because USC president Harris Pastides never conducted a search for candidates. He talked to Tanner the day Eric Hyman announced he was leaving for Texas A&M and essentially hired Tanner on the spot.
Do not mistake any criticism of the search process as criticism of Tanners hiring. Tanner could prove an outstanding leader of the athletics department, and anyone with ties to USC hopes that will ring true.
All you need to know about the search is that Pastides took off on a European junket for much of the two weeks between Hymans resignation and the official naming Friday of Tanner as the athletics director. From Europe, Pastides ran up a phone bill making certain everyone back home was on board with the Tanner hiring.
Ray had huge support externally and from the fan base, Pastides said. But there are a lot of people who will not find this a popular decision, and some of those people are important to me and to the university. They could be in the donor community and they could be in the political community. So, I had to do what I felt was best.
From those comments, it is clear Pastides does not understand that it was not the decision that deserves criticism, but rather the process.
To understand why Pastides hired Tanner, you need a little background.
Hyman was an athletics director of great vision. Under his direction for seven years, USC went from being simply a member of the Southeastern Conference to being an active participant in SEC athletics.
Hyman formed a tremendous leadership team, brought USCs athletic facilities from the bottom of the SEC ranks to among the best, and shored up an academic support system for athletes that was nothing short of abysmal when he took the job.
Yet the further Hyman moved the athletics department along, the more he found some members of the USC Board of Trustees did not share his vision. Hyman consistently made decisions based on what was best for USC and the athletics department. Some members of the board of trustees have not always done the same, occasionally putting their personal agendas ahead of all else.
From the outside, it appeared Hyman might have been the first athletics director to wrest control of the athletics department from the board. It was quite a feat. Perhaps not coincidentally, USC enjoyed its greatest athletics prosperity under Hyman.
Even with that success, Hyman continued to fight the backroom politics of the board of trustees. That kind of politics should come as no surprise to South Carolinians who watch helplessly as their state government consistently makes decisions based not on what is best for its citizens, but on what will bring the greatest personal gain.
How else to explain why Pastides would not conduct a national search for a new athletics director? By hand-picking Tanner, Pastides and, presumably, the board of trustees can regain more control of the athletics department.
To not conduct a national search for an athletics director speaks volumes to that matter. Hyman had made the USC athletics director position one of national prominence. He left a position that likely would have drawn interest from a large pool of qualified candidates.
A national search in which several candidates were interviewed for the job would have lent further validity to Tanners hiring. Or, it could have resulted in another candidate who clearly emerged as the best for the job.
But that is not what Pastides and the board of trustees wanted. They wanted an athletics director they could better control. Who better than a baseball coach the university president boasts publicly as being a text buddy of his?
Now USC has lost one of the nations best athletics directors and top baseball coaches, replaced by two men who have not one day of experience in their new positions. We do not know if either Tanner or new baseball coach Chad Holbrook were the best candidates for their respective positions.
It all seems like a huge gamble on the part of USC and Pastides. But at least we will know who controls the power and who is making the decisions about the USC athletics department.
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