That is to say, we shouldn’t begin or end our search for our next athletics director by saying a person must have connections to South Carolina. A person with South Carolina connections is not going to be necessarily more qualified than someone who is not. In fact, if we allow this minor aspect of a candidate’s resume to play any significant role in the selection process, we will certainly undervalue the more important qualifications and unnecessarily limit our search, which will cost us in the long run.
Nonetheless, there are many fans and supporters who will champion one candidate over another because the former went to USC or worked here in the past. Eighty years ago that might have been a consideration. When travel was more difficult and people didn’t move as often or as far, it would probably be helpful to have candidates who had lived in Columbia before, but that is not the way it is now. I can think of two reasons why this criterion continues to come up so frequently. One is because of insecurity, and the other is because of ego.
Keep reading; I’ll explain.
First to insecurity. Some people want a Carolina man or a person from the Carolina family because they fear outsiders won’t really want to come to Columbia. They are worried that any outsider who is qualified will want to go elsewhere, now or in the future. Their reasoning suggests any outsider who does come here is either waiting to go somewhere bigger or isn’t talented enough to go anywhere else right now.
None of that is true. Many, many people are going to want to come to Columbia and lead the Gamecocks. The simplest reason is the number 80 million. $80,000,000.00 is roughly the size of the USC athletics budget. It’s one of the Top 25 biggest budgets in the country, and it may be ranked even higher.
Another reason is the SEC. The Southeastern Conference is the premier athletic conference in the country. Any AD who wants to move to the top wants to be at a school in the best league. It doesn’t hurt that the SEC is swimming in cash and primed to make even more when Project X, the code name for the SEC Network, becomes a reality.
South Carolina has a massive and supportive fanbase and a stable of the best major sports coaches around. Few people can match Steve Spurrier, Frank Martin, Ray Tanner and Dawn Staley. Athletic Directors who are good are winners and want to be around other winners. You have that here, and you don’t have to be a South Carolina alumnus or alumna to see that.
The second reason why people insist a connection to the school is necessary is ego; people think South Carolina is so amazing and unique that only someone who understands it will be able to lead it. Certainly people with a strong connection understand it, but what makes South Carolina special can be learned and understood by almost anyone we bring in. Freshmen learn it within 4 years, and most much quicker than that.
The Gamecocks sports empire is in as strong a position as it has ever been. It is the envy of many schools, locally and nationwide. The future for every major program looks great, and the whole department is stable. The next athletics director will be charged with maintaining the progress that has been made and then building upon that.
Many of our conference rivals are also enjoying similarly prosperous times. We have lessened the gap with several of them and are competitive with all of them. They will continue to prosper and move forward, and we must continue to as well. Our competitors’ success is what makes this hire so important. If we fail to hire someone who can guide the university where it needs to go, we will be left behind.
It is imperative that we get the best, most qualified individual we can find to do the job. Of course we cannot predict the future and we can’t know for certain how someone is going to work out, but if we choose to take a parochial and short-sighted approach to hiring our next AD and place familiarity or ties to the University over any of the qualities we truly need the candidate to possess, we are risking everything that has been gained from our recent prosperity.