This was a job and a place that more than piqued Dan Radakovich’s interest.
On Monday, he made it his home as Clemson’s 13th athletics director.
Raised in the Rust Belt of western Pennsylvania, he first heard of Clemson when boyhood idol and family friend Butch Zatezalo enrolled on a basketball scholarship and became the leading scorer in school history.
As a graduate student at Miami, Radakovich was in the stands at the Orange Bowl when Clemson beat Nebraska to win the national championship. And he first saw Death Valley from the ground floor in 1990 as a member of the Long Beach State staff in Ken Hatfield’s first game as Clemson coach.
He recalled thinking, “this is a place that I want to be.”
Radakovich kept an eye on Clemson while serving on the athletic staffs at South Carolina, LSU and Georgia Tech. Upon learning Terry Don Phillips would retire as Clemson athletics director, Radakovich recalled telling his wife, “There could be an incredible opportunity just a couple hours up the road.”
Seizing the initiative, Radakovich let Clemson know through Phillips that he wanted an opportunity to discuss the job. After a national search, it became apparent to president Jim Barker that Radakovich was Clemson’s best choice.
“We were just beginning the process when we learned of Dan’s interest,” Barker said. “After our first round of interviews, it was clear that we had several very strong candidates, and this candidate might be the strongest of all.
“In our second round of interviews it was clear to all of us (he) was the right choice.”
Radakovich spent six years as Georgia Tech athletics director following five years as senior associate athletics director at LSU. On his watch, Georgia Tech won 23 ACC championships and a national championship in women’s tennis.
Radakovich comes with baggage. Last year, the NCAA forced Georgia Tech to vacate victories in the final three games of the 2009 football season, including the ACC championship win over Clemson, for using an ineligible player. The NCAA also cited the school for basketball violations that led to the dismissal of coach Paul Hewitt.
The NCAA found that Tech “failed to cooperate and failed to fulfill its obligations as an NCAA member,” when Radakovich alerted coach Paul Johnson and two players of the investigation.
Barker said he read the NCAA report twice and framed questions during the interview that satisfied him and the search committee or “we wouldn’t be here today.”
The experience was sobering, Radakovich said, calling it “life altering.” He promised transparency and a pursuit of excellence.
“There were some great lessons learned,” he said. “There were mistakes made that I guarantee will not be made again. I bring to the table having been in the trenches there and never wanting to return.”
With a 5½-year agreement in principle and a compensation package of $750,000 annually, Barker said Radakovich would transition from Georgia Tech quickly and likely be in place no later than Dec. 1. Phillips would continue in a role as an advisor to the president until his contract expires after June 30.