In early August, when he learned that Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips planned to retire, Dan Radakovich believed he could be the right man to replace him. He went home and told his wife Marcie that “there could be an incredible opportunity just a couple hours down the road,” Radakovich recounted Monday.
Monday, the Radakoviches made that drive up I-85 to officially seize that opportunity. Radakovich resigned as Georgia Tech athletic director, a position he held for 6 1/2 years, to accept the same job at Clemson.
“It’s going to take a while for me to get used to seeing him in that purple and orange,” Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson said.
It was a surprise conclusion to a tenure marked by the completion of numerous athletic facilities, financial stabilization, incessant work and, hardly least, an NCAA investigation that resulted in probation.
“I’ve never witnessed anyone that worked harder and longer and more passionately to advance a program,” said Paul Griffin, Tech’s senior associate athletic director who will serve as acting athletic director until a replacement is hired.
Peterson had known about Radakovich’s interest since shortly after the Tech-Clemson football game Oct. 6, when Clemson president James Barker called to inform him that he wanted to talk with Radakovich, a gesture made out of courtesy rather than contractual necessity.
Radakovich called Peterson soon after to alert him of the interest. The process was already well underway, though. Radakovich had initiated it by calling Phillips.
“I said, ‘Terry, I would really like an opportunity to sit down and talk with the decision-makers for this job,’ and Terry Don was very helpful and instrumental in making that happen,” Radakovich said Monday.
It was not the first time Radakovich, 54, had considered leaving Tech. His name had been linked with AD jobs at Miami, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
“He’s kept me apprised of what he’s doing,” said Peterson in response to a question about past openings. “I don’t think I want to go there today.”
Clemson may have been different. Speaking at the introductory news conference wearing an orange tie and blazer, Radakovich spoke of his first visit to a Clemson football game, as an athletic administrator at Long Beach State in 1990.
“I distinctly remember the feeling, the atmosphere, the hospitality and the passion and, yes, the rock,” he said, referring to Howard’s Rock, the stone that players rub upon entering the stadium. “I remember thinking, ‘This is a place that I want to be.’”
He’ll reportedly be paid $725,000 annually on a five-year contract. At Tech, he was in the third year of a five-year agreement that averaged out to $640,000 per year.
Radakovich’s time at Tech makes a compelling case for his ambitiousness. In a weakened economy, he led construction projects for an indoor football practice facility, a softball stadium, a tennis complex, a basketball practice facility and the renovation of Alexander Memorial Coliseum, which will open Nov. 9 as McCamish Pavilion. The projects increased the athletic department’s debt load from $126 million at the time of his arrival from LSU to $226 million.
But the decision to build at a time when interest rates and construction costs were low appears now to have been a savvy move. Due to low-interest loans and Radakovich’s fundraising and development of revenue streams, the debt service is projected to rise to 18 percent of the fiscal year 2014 budget, but ultimately return to 14 percent, the amount it had been when he was hired.
“I really think one of his legacies here is he got the financial house in order and not only did he get it in order, but he’s left us with facilities that should keep us on par with our peers for the next 30 years,” associate athletic director and chief financial officer Frank Hardymon said.
He instituted the TECH Fund, which requires a donation to the department in order to purchase prime football and men’s basketball season tickets. The added costs irritated some alumni and fans, but they have helped the department balance its budgets. For the 2012 fiscal year, TECH Fund donations accounted for about $4 million of the $59 million in revenues.
To most fans, his most visible imprints were the hires of football coach Paul Johnson (after firing Chan Gailey) after the 2007 season and men’s basketball coach Brian Gregory (after firing Paul Hewitt) following the 2010-11 season. On message boards and Twitter Monday, the disappointment of Johnson’s team this season and Radakovich’s move to an ACC rival school seemed to color many fans’ opinion of Radakovich and his departure.
“Could he take Paul Johnson with him???? I used to like him but after this season … he needs to go,” one commenter wrote on the ajc.com Georgia Tech blog.
Undeniably Radakovich’s albatross will be the NCAA investigation into improper benefits to two football players. Had Radakovich led Tech’s participation differently, the penalty could have been a wrist slap. Instead, the NCAA found in 2011 that the school failed to cooperate in the investigation and failed to meet the conditions and obligations of membership, which resulted in four years of probation and the vacating of its 2009 ACC football championship.
Barker said that he and the search committee were satisfied by Radakovich’s explanation on the matter.
“There were mistakes that were made that I can guarantee will not be made again,” Radakovich said.
Radakovich’s final day at Tech will be Nov. 15 and he will begin working at Clemson at the end of November. Peterson said that the school will interview search firms and assemble a search committee. He told department staff Monday that he expects the process to take two to three months.
“This is a great position,” Peterson said. “It has a lot of opportunity for somebody and we’re excited.”
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog