AIKEN — Six days after making the leap from baseball coach to athletic director at the University of South Carolina, Ray Tanner was back on the diamond.
Coaching will always be in Tanner’s blood, but now his schedule is filled with appointments and meetings that require a coat and tie.
Tanner returned Thursday to a more comfortable uniform – shorts, T-shirt and garnet baseball cap – as he participated in the All-Carolina Baseball Camp at Citizens Park. Dozens of youth turned out for personalized instruction from Tanner and USC Aiken baseball coach Kenny Thomas.
Tanner won national titles at South Carolina in 2010 and 2011, and this year he led the Gamecocks to a runner-up finish at the College World Series. Last Friday, he was named the school’s new athletic director.
“When I came to the realization my schedule had changed from baseball to administration, I had a few things on my schedule that had to come off,” Tanner said.
“This was one I didn’t want to change. I enjoy coming down here and doing the camp and hanging out with coach Thomas. Sharing, talking baseball philosophy and that kind of thing, I was glad I was able to do that.”
There was no doubt Tanner would make it for the third consecutive year, Thomas said.
“He told the kids this morning that he would fulfill his commitment,” Thomas said. “We’ve built a great relationship.”
Tanner spent time talking to the campers and stressing the fundamentals of the game – bunting, baserunning and other basics – that made his teams a success.
Tanner can reel off the highlights achieved by the school’s athletic team in recent years – two national titles in baseball, 11 wins in football for the first time, a Sweet 16 appearance by the women’s basketball team, and conference titles won by both soccer teams – but he knows he must sustain it.
“The thing is we have to capture the momentum we have and move forward,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of positive things going on at Carolina. If you compete at the highest level in the SEC, that means you’ve been nationally competitive. There are great challenges, but there’s also great rewards.”
Tanner, 54, just completed his 25th year as a head coach, and his previous experiences in athletic administration led him to apply when Eric Hyman announced that he was stepping down in June.
“Back in the old days, you couldn’t just be an assistant coach. You had other duties,” Tanner said. “I’ve had experience with a lot of other duties: ticketing, game operation, bowl trips and all kind of different things I did coming through. I really liked it and eventually baseball became a full-time job. I always thought I’d want to get back into it.”
He’s already reaped one reward: one of the school’s boosters has invited him to attend next year’s Masters Tournament. That’s not something Tanner could do when he was coaching baseball.
Now he’ll oversee a department with a budget of more than $80 million, 200 employees and 550 student-athletes. But he’s not afraid of the new challenges.
“I know there’s going to be bumps in the road, but we’ll get over them,” he said.