David Cloninger

There’s no questioning Ray Tanner after Holbrook decision

The qualities Ray Tanner seeks in USC's new baseball coach

South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner discusses what he's looking for as he seeks to fill the Gamecocks' baseball head coaching job.
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South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner discusses what he's looking for as he seeks to fill the Gamecocks' baseball head coaching job.

Ray Tanner didn’t answer a lot of questions about the particulars of Chad Holbrook’s resignation.

He did answer the only one he needed to.

If anybody still doubts whether Tanner is the man to lead South Carolina’s athletics department, the proof was Wednesday. Making coaching changes is part of the job; making coaching changes when the coach is a close personal friend is another.

Tanner didn’t hesitate. Methodical as always, he talked with Holbrook, talked some more and decided Gamecock baseball would be better off with a new leader. The statement says Holbrook resigned and Tanner wouldn’t address whether there was an alternative, but rest assured, if Tanner wanted Holbrook here, he’d still be here.

Holbrook was a friend, a confidante and a guy Tanner tried to hire once before he actually did, because he knew how valuable Holbrook would be for his program. It didn’t take long for that value to shine when he finally lured him to Columbia; within two years, the Gamecocks were national champions thanks in large part to players Holbrook recruited.

It was the right call to get him, the right call to promote him as AD Tanner’s first coaching hire. It didn’t work out, obviously, but it wasn’t so obvious what Tanner would do about it.

Throughout the past five years, and it’s only a fraction of the fans, Tanner would be called out any time those fans felt slighted. Have to pay more for tickets? Blame Tanner. Football team plummeted from 11 to three wins? Blame Tanner. Basketball team didn’t make the NCAA tournament? Blame Tanner (“He didn’t fight hard enough for us!!!!”).

Criticism’s part of the gig, and nobody pointed out what an amazing job Tanner did handling his employees (coaches), the Board of Trustees and continuing facility improvements. Fans wondered what would “Uncle Ray” (a nickname I’m pretty sure wasn’t complimentary) do when it came time to make a tough decision?

The Gamecocks needed a new football coach. Tanner had a head start on just about everybody, yet got only his third choice in a search that was nationally labeled a fiasco. That certainly wasn’t confidence-inspiring, but Tanner declared he had his man in Will Muschamp.

After one year, the return on investment is solid – Muschamp did more with less than any coach in the SEC last year. He’s also recruited like a maniac, which is something the last staff, um, didn’t.

The book on Muschamp has many more chapters before it’s judged a bestseller or found on the $1 rack outside Barnes and Noble, and Tanner’s other hires have had extenuating circumstances. He hired Holbrook, but it’s not like he searched far and wide. He hired Moritz Moritz to lead the beach volleyball team but Moritz was already on staff with the indoor volleyball team.

Now there’s a baseball hire. Tanner’s connections in the game run so deep that there will be no shortage of suitors, and Tanner will, depending on finances, be able to cherry-pick who he wants. That’s another hire that will be judged years from now, if and when the Gamecocks restore their luster of being a yearly postseason team, with some seasons ending in Omaha.

But don’t lose sight of what Tanner had to do to get to this point. He had to dismiss someone who was like a brother to him and not take the easy way out. He couldn’t be pleasant in a situation that demanded blunt action.

A baseball man if there ever was one, Tanner surely knows of Leo Durocher. As athletics director, more than he did as coach, he had to adopt Durocher’s favorite expression.

“Nice guys finish last.”

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