CLEMSON – In the lead of my Dan Radakovich story, I passed along a reader e-mail that he received a few weeks into the job, and was so struck by the message – “BE your own man,” it opened – he printed it out and tacked it to the wall behind his computer. It’s one of only four items on a mostly-blank wall.
Later down in the e-mail are the following suggestions:
- “Don’t allow yourself to be assimilated into the present culture. We need fresh air in the department.”
- “Don’t hire someone just because you can hire them cheap. The key to your success will depend on the quality of those you hire.”
- “Tell us what you honestly believe about our programs, not just what sounds good. Leave out the BS that has been given to us in the past.”
It brings a smile to Radakovich’s face.
Seven other tidbits from my 45-minute conversation with Radakovich, on Monday morning, Nov. 4:
1) The coaching carousel has spun slowly so far in December, but it’s only a matter of time before it cranks into fifth gear.
Much as Clemson fans are upset that Dabo Swinney and company haven’t beaten South Carolina in their last five tries, Swinney could end up being one of those underrated names tossed around for marquee coaching jobs. Like, you know, if Florida or Texas A&M or – dare we say it – Alabama, his alma mater, ever came open.
So I asked Radakovich if he worries about other universities chatting with Swinney in the offseason, and if he had a plan in place if he considered leaving.
“You always worry about people looking at your good people,” Radakovich said. “Whether that’s in the coaching ranks or administratively, you have to make sure you know how you would handle those things. As far as Dabo into our future, I want Dabo to be our head coach here for an awful long time, and we’re going to work towards making that happen.”
Louisville had a bidding-war situation with Charlie Strong. Not unlike Clemson, Louisville’s a big-budget athletic program run by a smaller university in terms of graduates (and in turn, donors and fundraising.)
“I think they’re different circumstances. We want to do everything that we can to make sure Dabo and his family know Clemson wants him here, and wants him here for a long time. We’ll move down that path at the proper time.”
Perhaps the brightest sign of Swinney’s future at Clemson has been how he, his wife Kathleen, their three boys and their foundation has shown his faith in the school and the area.
“Yeah. He’s very invested here. I think that’s Dabo and Kathleen. That’s just the kind of people they are. They are very genuine individuals,” Radakovich said. “That’s one of the things I really like about Dabo, is what you see is what you get. That’s a real positive. That’s another reason he recruits so well, is because of his genuineness.”
2) Clemson pays its assistants top-dollar. (In 2012, Dabo Swinney commanded the No. 38 highest head coaching salary, but the entire staff combined was No. 8 nationally.) Has that been smart?
“I think that was something Dabo certainly looked at when he became a head coach, and saw that was a good recipe as it relates to that particular point in his career,” Radakovich said. “I think Dabo now has become an accomplished head coach. Whether that formula stays the same into the future, there’s a lot of factors outside of our control as to whether or not that stays the way it is.”
3) Radakovich will be on the College Football Playoff committee starting next season, for at least the next four years. The human element will finally play a much larger role in determining who plays for a national championship than the computers, a long-awaited change from the BCS.
“You’re going to find great teams at the beginning, or maybe there are teams who didn’t hit their stride until the end of the year,” Radakovich said. “You have to be able to recognize that, and I think that human element is going to be welcomed.
“That’s going to be as much debate as maybe … there’s going to be years when maybe those first four teams are pretty easy. Now the debate will be, how are these other teams placed in these other bowl games? Other years it might be vice versa. It’s going to be interesting being on that committee and something I’m really looking forward to.”
4) If Radakovich could accomplish one goal here, what would it be?
“Wow … Our job here is kind of like a cut stone. There’s so many different facets to it,” Radakovich said. “I think that continuing to make a positive impact on the lives of young people, through the work that’s done here, is a very, very good goal to have. That positiveness can come in a lot of different ways. Whether it’s giving that student-athlete the ability to train and perform and ready themselves for a career, maybe professionally within their sport. But more than likely, it’s giving them the opportunity at a great education so they can leave here and become very productive citizens of our state and our region.”
5) I asked Radakovich why he values the idea of being transparent with fans so highly. The word I used was whether it “humanized” the athletic director of a major program.
“I don’t know if it’s humanizing it – that’s a nice way to put it – I think it’s recognition,” he said. “If you as a consumer go to a vendor for whatever service you’re looking for, or any product that you’re buying and you’re not satisfied with it, you may take the time and let them know about it. If people do that, I think it’s just important from a customer relationship perspective that you acknowledge those things. Certainly we can get better, in parts of what we do.”
Along those lines, fans always ask for more, more, more. How does Radakovich handle that?
“Fans want everything. And they should,” Radakovich responded. “That’s why they pour their heart and soul into their rooting for their team. The folks at Clemson have been absolutely incredible. They’ve listened, they’ve come forward with really constructive and great ideas that we can look at. Some, we can implement. Some, we can’t. But I think that just understand that they’re being heard is really important. That transparency of some of other decision making is important.”
Which is why Radakovich is working to create detailed financial statements and publicize how the booster club (IPTAY) is utilizing donations.
“We’re looking at putting together an annual report for our fans and our contributors. Inside there will be not just the regular annual report type of information, but really letting folks know where some of the monies that come into our department, where they land and what they’re utilized for,” Radakovich said. “We’re always striving here to make our processes more effective and efficient. I think that’s important for people who invest in a program that they know that’s part of what we do each and every day.”
6) The soccer stadium could get a facelift soon.
“Historic Riggs Field is a wonderful facility and what we need to do now is look at some of those impact type projects, those projects that aren’t of a bonded level that is high, but will still have a great impact on recruiting and our ability to be competitive in some of our Olympic sports. Certainly a new playing surface on our soccer field would be something along those lines.”
7) My final question was for Radakovich to name one cherished memory from his first year on campus.
“Well, you’re moved during the Georgia game. When Coach (Danny) Ford and Coach (Bill) Wilhelm were presented on the field, I mean, the ovation that those two gentlemen received that evening, Coach Wilhelm’s family and Coach Ford himself, that was …. I’ve been in a lot of stadiums. That was right there, the love that Clemson people had for Coach Ford, was palatable. That was moving. It really was, because that just showed the passion that you always hear is there, but then you’re able to actually feel it. I had the good fortune of being on the field that day, and experiencing that.”