June 10, 2002 COLUMBIA Sixth-year baseball coach Ray Tanner isn't making friends among pro scouts, but he's awfully popular with the school's board of trustees and he's closing in on what could be the most lucrative season ever for a minor-sports college coach.
With a regional series conquest of Miami, Tanner's incentive-laced contract will earn him $165,000 this season. He'll earn $175,000 if the Gamecocks reach the College World
Series championship game, and $225,000 if his team wins the CWS. If he's named consensus national coach of the year by four specified groups, the athletic department owes Tanner another $25,000.
Even if Tanner's team doesn't win another game, the former N.C. State coach will make $155,000 this year, the most ever for a state employee coaching anything other than football or basketball.
The salary figures are part of a contract that gives Tanner a minimum of $125,000 annually, with additional $10,000 rewards each for winning the SEC East Division, for getting an NCAA Tournament bid, for a regional championship and for winning the super-regional. The contract, approved by the school's Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees in April, is good through the 2007 season.
For Tanner, who entered this season with the NCAA's seventh-highest winning percentage among active coaches, the latest regional championship came with some risk and controversy. To get it, Tanner allowed pitcher Blake Taylor to throw all 156 pitches in a 3-1 win over North Carolina. Unlike minor league baseball, where clubs protect young pitching arms with organization-wide pitch limits (usually about 100 throws), amateur coaches can use pitchers as long as desired.
"As a rule, I would never do that," Tanner said, defending his practice of overusing Taylor. "I know the pros don't like it, do they?"
Odom Survived Multiple Snafus
When he crossed the state line in April 2001 to become the basketball coach at South Carolina, Dave Odom probably heard some talk about fan interest in the sport being a little lower on the southern side of the Carolina border.
He probably understood the theory a little better after one season on the job. If not, two unrelated incidents in May might have convinced him.
In one, a press release from the school referred to him as "Odoms." A few weeks later, one of the state's largest newspapers carried a headline referring to the veteran coach as "Odum."
Such is life for a high-profile basketball coach in a football-crazed state. Unfortunately for the 61-year-old Odom, who seems to carry an unusual sense of urgency into next season, those were low on the list of his spring concerns.
Far more worrisome to the future of his program is the fact that Tim Pickett, the best perimeter shooter among the nine men who have signed scholarships offered by Odom's staff, was ruled ineligible by the SEC in May. The Southeastern Conference Executive Committee, in a ruling consistent with previous appeals, denied Carolina's appeal to grant Pickett eligibility.
USC athletic director Mike McGee had made the appeal to make Pickett eligible, even though he had attended Indian River (Fla.) Junior College for just two semesters. The 6-4 Pickett had played one season at Daytona Beach (Fla.) Community College, did not attend a school during the 2000-01 season, then averaged 19.5 points on an Indian River team that won 20 games during the past season.
The SEC rule, designed to prevent juco players from bouncing from one junior college to another in search of good grades, requires at least three semesters at one school, not counting summer classes. It is a rule that seemed to catch everyone on Odom's staff, and McGee, by surprise. And it is a rule that forced McGee into the embarrassing task of asking SEC officials for a waiver.
When the SEC refused, Odom's staff was on the spot. At that point, it had not found anyone likely to provide the most obvious recruiting need a shooting guard. It was a pressure situation for the coaching staff, but they may have found two gems.
Late Recruits Signs Of Urgency
The saving grace of the recruiting campaign came after someone convinced rising junior Greg Taylor and rising sophomore Issa Konare to throw away their scholarships. That enabled the Gamecocks to sign a slasher, 6-4 Marcus Morrison of state champion Lakewood High in St. Petersburg, Fla.; and a shooter, Kerbell Brown of Dodge City (Kan.) Community College.
Widely considered one of the top five high school players in Florida, Morrison was also considering offers from Tulane and Fresno State. He was initially offered a scholarship to Ohio State, but it was recinded as he was considering it, because Buckeyes coach Jim O'Brien needed the grant to make room for transfers Tony Stockman of Clemson and J.J. Sullinger of Arkansas.
Morrison averaged most of his 18 points per game by driving to the basket, as evidenced by seven dunks in one game. He won the slam-dunk competition at the Florida-Georgia All-Star basketball classic in April.
The most important signee might have been the last one Brown, who averaged 27 points a game as a New Orleans prep star in 2000-01. He sat out most of his freshman year at Dodge City to devote time to academics, then signed with Oregon State in November but asked for a release following a coaching change there. Although his natural position is forward, Brown was considered the most versatile player at Dodge City and hit six three-pointers in one game.
By adding four players to a team that lost only two seniors, it is apparent that Odom embraces next season with a sense of urgency. While that would not normally be the case for a second-year coach, the pressure on Odom is heightened considerably by the arrival of the new 19,000-seat arena.
The Gamecocks, who averaged 10,435 at 12,400-seat Carolina Coliseum during the past season, have a better chance of filling it now that Morrison and Brown are on scholarship.