Q&A with Ray Tanner: Top facilities help USC win

jkendall@thestate.comMarch 23, 2013 

A conceptual rendering of the outdoor fields and the future indoor practice facility at South Carolina.

South Carolina’s athletics department is in a building boom.

At a board of trustees meeting earlier in March, the school gave final approval to the construction of new indoor and outdoor football practice facilities, five courts that will be home to the new women’s sand volleyball program and a tennis locker room.

Also, initial approval was given for construction of a plaza around Williams-Brice Stadium, a new track complex and a new soccer field house.

USC athletics director Ray Tanner says having top facilities are a key component in having winning teams.

“I am passionate about winning, and I’m a firm believer that you have to have outstanding coaches and student-athletes, but you need facilities to recruit the best,” Tanner said.

“Is it all about coaching? No. Is it all about recruiting? No. It’s a combination, but it’s important that the combination is satisfied. We are enjoying some success, but I think we have the opportunity to enjoy more success across the board.”

Tanner recently spent time with The State to explain the details of the new projects and why they are important to the Gamecocks.

Q: Can you talk about why the new indoor and outdoor football practice fields were an important project for you?

A: It’s important because it’s important to our student-athletes and it’s important to our coaches in recruiting. It’s a necessity when you talk about facilities as far as the ability to go indoors. Our (current) indoor facility is not even 100 yards long, that’s a 50-yard field, with the end zones 70 yards. We have been operating with an indoor facility that’s not even regulation. This new indoor facility will certainly give us the opportunity to do a lot more development with our football players. It gives them a better facility to train, and it gives our football team a better place to go in case of any type of weather, and it enhances recruiting. It’s something that we have been a little bit behind in. Is it a deal breaker sometimes in recruiting? I’d like to think it isn’t, but it is important.

Q: Will the indoor facility include a new weight room?

A: Not initially, no. It will just be a field initially. There is another phase where that is a possibility.

Q: When is the current phase expected to be ready?

A: Fall of 2014 for the outdoor fields. Then, hopefully by Christmas time the indoor facility will be finished, but that’s to be determined with weather and those types of things.

Q: When will the new plaza outside Williams-Brice be completed?

A: The plaza got Phase 1 approval. We will have to go through the state approval process, and then go back through the entire process for Phase 2, so Phase 1 has just begun. That being said, it’s hard to tell when that will be finished. Is the 2015 football season a possibility? Yes. It could be 2016, though.

Q: Is a George Rogers statue part of the planning for the stadium plaza?

A: It’s in a discussion phase right now. Anything that would happen would be approved by the board, but that would be my intention that that would be a reality when we get to the plaza that there would be recognition of George Rogers and his accomplishment of the Heisman Trophy. Whether it’s a statue or whatever we decide would be appropriate. Would that recommendation be there? I would think so.

Q: Are there any other people you have discussed honoring in that space, whether it be a player like Steve Wadiak or a coach like Steve Spurrier?

A: The initial discussion has been focused on George Rogers, but we’ll have some time between where we are right now and when we realize the completion. There may be some parts of the plaza that are not being discussed that could become reality at some point.

Q: Where will the sand volleyball facilities be?

A: We will start construction on those courts this summer. We will practice in the fall of 2013. We will compete in the spring of 2014. We are talking five courts and they will be between the practice soccer field and the tennis courts.

Q: Are track improvements and a new soccer field house in the pipeline?

A: They have also received Phase 1 approval. We are building a new track. Will it be on the same footprint? Yeah, it will be in the same vicinity. It will be an entirely new track complex, and the soccer building will be on the corner of Heyward and Marion streets. That will house men and women’s soccer locker rooms, a weight room and a video room. That gives them a recruiting asset in my estimation. That gives them the opportunity to certainly enhance their recruiting. They currently dress in the field house in adequate facilities at best.

Q: How much of your time are you spending on facility projects alone?

A: I’ve been on the job for eight months, and I would say that easily the last three months has been a daily focus on improving our facilities for our student-athletes and our coaches. Whether it’s been a donor meeting or meeting and discussing it with our board members or Dr. (Harris) Pastides, it’s been an ongoing process. Kevin O’Connell is the key person when it comes to facilities and projects. He’s on it daily, and he handles the execution of our projects and those types of things.

With sand volleyball, we will have 21 sports, 12 women’s sports and nine men’s sports. When it comes to overall success, you look at the major sports, it is pretty good, and I have great confidence that Coach (Frank) Martin and the men’s basketball program is going to make great progress in the next two or three years, but some of our Olympic sports have not done as well the last few years that I think they are capable of.

Part of the reason they haven’t is their resources have been lacking. The board gave us the opportunity to enhance men’s and women’s soccer and track and tennis and add sand volleyball. There is a locker room being added at tennis. They had a brand new facility, but didn’t have a locker room in the complex, and it has affected their recruiting. So we will remedy that situation.

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