CLEMSON — 45 years ago, young Dan Radakovich got his first taste of Clemson athletics.
Clemson’s basketball program recruited a guard from Aliquippa, Pa., named Butch Zatezalo, who became the program’s all-time leading scorer.
“Suddenly, a team from the south had a patch of fans in the north,” Radakovich recalled Monday.
That began what Radakovich called a lifetime of admiration of Clemson athletics, which grew as he witnessed the 1982 Orange Bowl in person, watched Ken Hatfield and Clemson demolish Long Beach State 59-0 in 1990, and followed the Tigers during stops at LSU, South Carolina and Georgia Tech – where he has been the athletic director since 2006.
“I knew (attending Clemson events) that this was a place I wanted to be,” he said.
Monday, Radakovich took that admiration to a new level as he was introduced as Clemson’s 13th athletic director. He replaces Terry Don Phillips, who announced his retirement in August. Radakovich hopes to begin at Clemson by the end of November, and will make $725,000 annually over a 5.5-year contract – the No.2 highest-paid ACC athletic director behind Duke’s Kevin White.
“I couldn’t be more honored and proud to serve Clemson,” Radakovich said. “We seek to be a source of pride for the state of South Carolina, recognized as a nationally prominent program. I promise I’ll work hard to ensure the student-athletes, coaches and staff earn the pride of our state every day to pursue success in everything we do – not only to be recognized as a national program but to be envied by programs across the country.”
Radakovich was one of 30 candidates who applied for the position; Clemson president James Barker said he was one of four finalists, along with CU senior associate athletic director Bill D’Andrea, Georgia executive athletic director Dr. Carla Williams, and Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb.
While an associate AD at LSU, he helped supervise a $90 million expansion of Tiger Stadium and worked closely with then-coach Nick Saban. Over the last six years, Georgia Tech has had 13 ACC championships and 51 teams qualify for NCAA Tournament play or bowl games; six sports have made the postseason in all six full seasons he’s led the program.
Barker said Radakovich understands “the academic, business and competitive aspects of college athletics, knows what it takes to win championships, has a proven record in fundraising and revenue growth and is committed to compliance and student-athlete welfare.”
Radakovich said he admired the strong foundation that Phillips leaves behind, and Barker added that the program is “on an upward trajectory” thanks to his leadership.
He and Philips are friends, and when Phillips retired, he told his wife that “there could be an incredible opportunity a couple hours up the road.”
He approached the search committee about the position, and Barker said Radakovich emerged during the second round of interviews when “it was very clear to all of us that was the right choice.”
“Overall it was my impression that this guy knows what he’s doing,” Barker said. “He’s had the experiences, the challenges and he’s met them. There’s no substitute for being in that chair, living with those decisions on a daily basis and seeing the result of that in the presentations he made, the way he answered our questions.”
Radakovich said he’d produce an athletic department “report card” for Clemson’s board of trustees, much as Barker does for the board. He believes in a free exchange of information with fans, who he says are the program’s greatest investors, and said that forms the “backbone of support.”
“In today’s society with sports, people want information and they want it now, “ he said. “There has to be a type of transparency, financial and information about the athletic program. We have to keep people engaged with what we do in an athletic program.”
One of the biggest questions surrounding Radakovich was his involvement with Georgia Tech’s recent NCAA probation. In 2011, the Yellow Jackets were placed on four years probation, fined $100,000 and stripped of their 2009 ACC football championship win over Clemson.
The NCAA determined that Georgia Tech should have declared receiver Demaryius Thomas ineligible after he accepted $312 of clothing from former Tech QB Calvin Booker, who was working for a sports agent at the time.
The NCAA took a harder tack against Tech after learning Radakovich broke NCAA rules by alerting coach Paul Johnson that Thomas and safety Morgan Burnett would be interviewed by the NCAA; they prepared what the NCAA determined were clearly rehearsed remarks.
“It was a life-altering experience for me, going through that process,” he said. “There were great lessons learned. Sometimes you teach people through books, other materials. Until you go through something like that, it’s life’s best teacher. There were mistakes made that won’t be made again. I bring to the table having gone through the trenches and I never want to return.”
Clemson and Barker spoke with NCAA contacts, read the report thoroughly and was happy with Radakovich’s remarks.
“If I hadn’t been satisfied with the answers we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
Radakovich told Barker that the experience built his character, albeit in a far different way than Phillips, who led the NCAA’s committee on infractions while at Oklahoma State.
“Though I don’t write it in the job description, saying you’ve had an experience first-hand and saying I never want to go there again might be even better than someone who hasn’t had a problem,” Barker said.