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December 14, 2012

On the Record: Charles Waddell



When it comes to big men on campus, it's hard to get much bigger than Charles Waddell.

As a student at the University of North Carolina, he was a three-sport letterman in football, basketball and track (the last three-sport letterman the school has had) and earned both All-ACC and All-American honors as a tight end before going on to play in the NFL with Tampa Bay, Seattle and San Diego.

As Deputy Athletics Director at the University of South Carolina, the only administrator he looks up to (OK, down to) is his new boss Ray Tanner who, like himself, is a native North Carolinian.

It's safe to say that like E.F. Hutton (Google the ads if you're too young to remember them), when he talks, people listen. Find out what led him from the playing fields and front offices of the NFL to Columbia, his experience at UNC playing basketball with Eddie Fogler and lining up across from Eric Hyman on the football field and what he sees in store for an athletic department enjoying the greatest period of athletic and academic success in school history.

Gamecock Central: How was it that you were able to play not only football at a high level but also basketball at North Carolina on teams that were going to Final Fours?

Charles Waddell: At North Carolina I was on a football scholarship but was recruited in both, more so in football than basketball. I really only did it two years, not my freshman year, because back then I was in the last class where freshmen couldn't compete.

After that first year, my main focus was trying to make an impact on the varsity in football. Over that summer, because I'd gone to coach (Dean) Smith's basketball camp as a high schooler for one or two years, I worked the camp after my freshman year because if you were in another sport, you could work the camp at your school. So I worked the camp that summer after my freshman year and Eddie Fogler was my roommate. He graduated in 1970 and I was a freshman in 1971.

Eddie at that time was a coach at DeMatha High in Washington, prior to him coming back to be an assistant, so we played a lot of pickup games together. Now Eddie was a good ballplayer. Back when you could only play three years, he started at least two, if not three, which is impressive because there were three pretty good guards there in that graduating class of 1970, Eddie Fogler, Charlie Scott and Jim Delany, who is now the commissioner of the Big 10. All those guys played and contributed; that's a pretty good class.

What happened was Bob McAdoo, who had just finished his one and only year at North Carolina, said I needed to come out for the team, that I was just as good as the rest of them, so I did. My sophomore year we went to a bowl game in football, and it's not like it is today where when you get back you have offseason conditioning, lifting and is so structured. In football we had down time at that point. So I walked out for the JV team and started playing immediately. It was probably about three or four weeks before the football coaches even knew I was on the basketball team!

Throughout the recruiting process the football coaches had told me I could do both. They want you to focus on their sport, of course, and football was going to be my main sport as far as picking the one where I had the most upside. A 6-5 power forward is not as attractive as a 6-5 tight end in terms of potential and opportunity. It was just about managing time after that. The offseason expectations weren't as demanding as they are now.

GC: You mentioned Delany; I'm guessing he was your connection to serving in the Big 10 from 1990 to 1994 as assistant commissioner overseeing marketing and serving on the compliance committee?

Waddell: Yes. Jim and I knew each other, and what got that going was we were back in Chapel Hill for some kind of reunion. He was representing his class, 1970, and I was representing my class of 1975. At that time I was working in Charlotte with NCNB and he was the commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference. He asked what my interests were, and I told him initially my desire was to be in athletic administration. I'd gone back and gotten my M.B.A. and wanted to be an A.D. and that the right offer hadn't come my way.

It was a fun time to be in investment banking in the early and mid-80s, and I was doing what I was doing, but my heart was still in athletics.

GC: So Delany gave you a call when he had an opening, knowing what it was you really wanted to do?

Waddell: That's right. During that time in the early 90s, presidents were getting more involved in the athletic process. "Institutional control" was a big buzzword during that time, and we were telling people that just because you don't have any violations doesn't mean you are in compliance. A good compliance organization is one where you self-report, especially the secondary violations.

Showing that you had the manpower, that your coaches were educated where they understood and knew a violation had occurred was huge and was a new thing back then. We had to teach them that if it was secondary, just because there was no big gain and you didn't know at the time, you still had to report. That was difficult to sell. As things have evolved, you see where we are today where now that's the norm.

But then, the culture was, "No gain was made, so why report?" There was an example we used to use of a coach sitting in the stands watching a game and a man comes up and introduces himself. He says, "Hey coach, how you doing? I like what you're doing there at such-and-such a university, and oh, by the way, No. 25 is my son."

The coach would then stop him and say "I'm sorry, I can be here at the game but I can't have any contact with you. It's nothing personal, it's just the rules" and walks away. That's still a secondary violation, because contact had been made. That was tough to get coaches to do, to report that, but coaches starting doing it and it really changed over time for the better.

GC: After that you went to work in NFL handling advertising and corporate sponsorships with the Carolina Panthers from 1995 to 2002. What was that experience like?

Waddell: The NFL is tough. It's strictly business. It's, "What have you done for me lately?" It's not as personable. I was there nine seasons. I enjoyed it, met a lot of good people, loved the people I worked with, but it was time for me to move on. I'd tried to get a couple of A.D. jobs over the years, and my kids were in high school at the time, so I said, "Let me stay here until my kids are out of school," but what I found out was, with college athletics, "Out of sight, out of mind."

When I got out, I left the Panthers in 2002, and you just can't walk into a high-level position. So it took time. A job came open at Fayetteville State, which was close to my hometown - it was actually 38 miles from my parking space at work to my mother's driveway. I enjoyed those two years, and they got me back on a college campus and got me back into the academic side of athletics. It gave me a chance to do some fund raising, which is something that an athletics director needs.

GC: And of course the man who hired you here at South Carolina, Eric Hyman, you knew extremely well.

Waddell: That's true, though someone else here I've known was Curtis Frye. We competed against each other in high school, so we've known each other for quite a while.

But Eric and I were teammates at North Carolina. Eric was a defensive lineman, so I had to go up against him. We overlapped one year. He was a redshirt senior my sophomore year. We'd kind of kept up with each other's careers, so when he was announced for the position here I happened to be home for the weekend they were going to introduce him at the Spring Game, which was Spurrier's first Spring Game.

So I came down, saw Eric that day and said, "Hey, I'd love to work with you if anything comes up." He told me to stay in touch, I did, and in February of the following year I came on. He gave me the opportunity, which I appreciate very much.

GC: And what a time to be a part of the University of South Carolina with the success that's been going on over that time.

Waddell: Oh, no question, no question. I remember I had talked to some headhunters when I was looking to get back into administration after having been out nine years, Dave Parker out of Atlanta. We were talking one day and I mentioned the possibility of working at USC with Eric. His comment was, "If you can get on with Eric, who is one of the best in the business, run, don't walk, to Columbia."

Things worked out, and what a great time to be here. Eric's very good at what he does, but he also put together a very good team of people, and that, more than anything - and he'd be the first to tell you this - has made all these things happen.

GC: When he announced his decision to go to Texas A&M, what was that like for you personally?

Waddell: It was bittersweet. I know that in a lot of ways, Eric didn't want to leave. But it was a hell of an opportunity, Texas A&M. His kids, for the most part, grew up and went to college in Texas, love Texas, and I'd always envisioned Eric and Pauline going back to retire there, anyway. So it just happened to coincide with a new granddaughter, so things just fell into place for him. He'd been here, accomplished great things and knew we were in good hands as far as where we are right now with facilities, just everything.

There were some toes to step on early to get the facilities master plan rolling, but people came around quickly because their hearts were in the right place. They're Gamecocks. In development, you say over and over that people don't give money away, they invest it. First they had to buy into the vision and the plans of what we wanted to accomplish. Then when they began to see those things happening and that we were good stewards of the money, it came together. A lot of that was the credibility of Eric that people bought into, some of the big donors. So then it became an easier sell. It was obvious you were investing in something where the return on the investment was very, very good.

GC: Your last NFL season as a player was 1978. Was it difficult to leave the game?

Waddell: I played 1975, 76, 77 and 78. I think of those days occasionally, but my NFL career, the majority of things happened in training camp because I was hurt three of my four years. It was kind of where it wasn't very satisfying. I did get an opportunity, and I was fortunate that people gave me opportunities after injuries, because once you're hurt one or two times, a lot of times people won't even give you a chance to get back into the game. But I had three opportunities to get back and things just didn't work out for me physically.

I was fortunate enough to get vested. I got my pension, because it takes four seasons, and I figured I better go out there and start competing against the people I'm going to be competing with the rest of my life in the real world, so that's when I went back to North Carolina, worked and went to grad school.

GC: What's your NFL highlight?

Waddell: It has to be playing with some great guys; it wasn't a big play because I didn't play a whole hell of a lot. It was just the fact that I played with a lot of really good players, good enough to make teams, Dan Fouts was in his third year when I was a rookie at San Diego. Steve Largent and I came in together in the expansion draft in Seattle. Trying to block Lee Roy Selmon in Tampa Bay in practice was a difficult task, like hitting a brick wall. Ricky Bell was one of the finest people I've ever been around in sport - in a lot of ways he reminds me of Marcus Lattimore in his humility despite having achieved so much. I got a chance to get to know Ricky down at Tampa Bay. Things like that, the relationships I've built along the way, are what I think back about.

GC: Do you share much of that when you talk to student-athletes?

Waddell: We try to tell them about the importance of careers after sports all the time. A lot of them, though, they're just not at a place, as driven as they are to reach their dreams and goals, to listen. Even though I did a lot of the right things, went to school and got my grades and all of that, you still focus on trying to make it to the league. I gave good lip service to the other things, but deep down, it was "The NFL, that's where I'm going." I wasn't thinking about the first job.

GC: What's been your best moment here at USC?

Waddell: There's a variety, really, but my best moment, there are two: Coming and being able to stay. We've had great wins; Alabama, Kentucky, winning two national championships in baseball, there have been a lot of great things athletically. Being there when women's soccer won the SEC down in Alabama was great.

We've accomplished a lot and there have been a lot of highlights, but just being able to get here means so much to me. I have such an affinity for this place. It's been a great ride.

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- On the record: Steven Bondurant
- On the record: Kevin O'Connell
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