CLEMSON, SC — DAN RADAKOVICH and Ray Tanner got to know each other well when Radakovich served as an associate athletics director at South Carolina and Tanner coached that Gamecocks baseball team.
A little more than a decade later, and the two men are heads of athletics departments. Tanner took over at USC three months ago, and Radakovich was introduced Monday at Clemson.
Beyond both being 54 years old (they were born 73 days apart in 1958), the two now share one other quality: They both inherited athletics departments on solid footing and now are charged with steering the course.
I told each of these candidates that we interviewed that this is one of the best jobs in America, Clemson president James Barker said in introducing Radakovich. We have a strong athletic department thats financially healthy, committed to winning with integrity. We have outstanding facilities and coaches and staff, and one of the best fiscal organizations in America.
In crediting current athletics director Terry Don Phillips for building a solid foundation, Baker sounded much like Harris Pastides when he hired Tanner to follow Eric Hyman, who had transformed USC athletics from a program in dire financial straits to one that should sustain success for years to come.
Radakovich said having a solid base was a big part of why he showed interest in the job and why he left the same position at Georgia Tech.
Whenever you come into a place like this, sometimes there is a burning issue that is sitting there waiting for you to come in and take hold of it, Radakovich said. The great thing about Clemson right now is there is no burning issue.
This is a very solid athletic program that has had great leadership for a number of years, very, very good coaches, a passionate fan base. Its going to be nice to be able to come in and see how you can make it better and know that you dont have to do that two or three days from now.
Radakovich said he began developing respect and admiration for Clemson athletics from the time he was 9 while growing up outside Pittsburgh in Aliquippa, Pa. That was the same hometown of one-time Clemson basketball great Butch Zatezalo.
Because of Zatezalo, Clemson developed a fan base in the rural community. By the time Radakovich advanced to Center High, he walked daily past the trophy case that housed Zatezalos jersey and assorted trophies.
Radakovichs affection for Clemson continued when he was seeking a masters degree in business administration from Miami in 1981. On a whim, Radakovich and three of his buddies secured tickets outside the Orange Bowl and watched from end-zone seats as Clemson defeated Nebraska for the national championship.
Nine years later, Radakovich was an assistant athletics director at Long Beach State when he traveled to Clemson with the football team. Radakovich does not remember much about Clemsons 59-0 victory, but he was left with other impressions.
I distinctly remember the feeling, the atmosphere, the hospitality and the passion, and, yes, (Howards) rock, Radakovich said. I remember thinking this is a place I want to be.
To get there, Radakovich first had to go through USC. He was working at Long Beach State when he made acquaintances with Mike McGee, then the athletics director at Southern California. When he needed a business manager in 1994, McGee called on Radakovich.
In addition to his business responsibilities, McGee allowed Radakovichs involvement in facilities management, coaching searches and personnel issues. It prepared Radakovich to be an athletics director, and he accepted that position in 2000 at American University.
After one year at American, Radakovich was a senior associate athletics director at LSU for five years, then the athletics director at Georgia Tech the past six years. At Georgia Tech, Radakovich hired Paul Johnson as its football coach, and spearheaded the construction of a new football practice facility and tennis facilities as well as the remodeling of the basketball arena.
Radakovich also sat in ACC meetings of athletics directors and kept a particularly close eye on how Phillips ran things at Clemson. He came to recognize the accomplishments of Phillips.
It was a place I watched for a lot of years, Radakovich said, and watched with admiration.
Now it is his job to steer the Clemson athletics ship forward.