Flashback: 2014 Q&A with former Gamecocks AD Mike McGee
With the news of former University of South Carolina athletics director Mike McGee's passing, GamecockCentral.com is republishing its multi-part interview with McGee that was conducted and originally published in July of 2014.
Below is an unedited copy of part one of the story.
Mike McGee served as Athletics Director at the University of South Carolina from 1993 until 2005. He played college football at Duke University, winning the 1959 Outland Trophy. After spending time with the St. Louis Cardinals, he then was head football coach at East Carolina and Duke. His career as an athletics director began at Cincinnati in 1979. From 1984 until 1993, McGee worked as the AD at Southern California.
McGee, now 75, spoke at length with Chris Clark of GamecockCentral.com about his career and specifically his time in Columbia. Following is an edited transcript of our conversation with him, exclusively for members of GamecockCentral.com. This is part one of a two-part feature:
GCC: "I want to ask about the transition from Southern Cal to South Carolina. I know that in the past, you said that you wanted to make the move because of the challenge. Was that the primary reason that you made the decision?"
Mike McGee: "That's pretty easy. We were at Southern Cal for eight and a half years. When I got there, believe it or not, they had just had their first losing season and were in the midst of a scandal. We kind of came through that and got to a point where football was back winning. It was a wonderful experience, a wonderful university. I loved the campus. Having basically been raised in the south, it was a real different challenge out there. So, South Carolina called and it was interesting. I got permission to talk and it was another challenge is one way to put it. We had gone to Cincinnati when they won one game in two years prior to my going there. The last season I was there (1983), we ended up beating Penn State at College Station. They were defending national champion. With a lot of people working on it, I strongly emphasize that, not just Mike McGee, that football program did something I don't think some thought was possible. I had gone into situations like that. I replaced a fired coach at Duke when I was coaching. As an administrator at Cincinnati we were there four years and had a really good time. I went to Southern Cal for those years and each time was a bit of a challenge. It was time to move on. Ginger (wife) is from Charlotte and I'm from North Carolina so it was good to be back in the south. I took some board members on trips the first year I was there (at South Carolina) because I wanted them to be introduced to what it was really like in the SEC. I think they understood it was going to be a challenge too after going through that. The experiences of going around the SEC, we said we have a real challenge on our hands. It all worked out."
GCC: "I have to ask about the hiring of Steve Spurrier. What was the process like and how did you initially reach out to him?"
MM: "We had been working on it for a bit and I was aware that Steve was available. They were living just outside Washington. I flew up and spent close to part of a day and night with him and his wife. It was obvious that it was a neat match, kind of what he was interested in and things South Carolina hadn't done. Steve, when he became available, it was clear he was very much interested in getting in and building and those kinds of things he does so well. It was a great day for the university when he decided that he and Jerri were coming to South Carolina.
GCC: "I remember talking to one of USC's trustees recently and he was recalling the time around when Spurrier to South Carolina was being talked about as a possibility. He basically said that when it was brought up to him, he dismissed it and didn't believe it because he just didn't think it was possible. Do you remember what some people thought when learning that you were going after Steve Spurrier to be head coach at South Carolina?"
MM: "Probably a reach, most people would think. When I went up, it was clear. It was obvious that the fire was still burning brightly. Steve and I had a background. He had been head coach at Duke and I had been head coach at Duke. There was a report that we knew mutual people. We talked about them before we started talking about South Carolina. It wasn't really negotiations, more discussions. It was obvious that the good Lord was looking out for South Carolina. It's been a great union, the university and Steve. We're happy for him and all those folks who so love the university."
GCC: "How about when those discussions turned into negotiations? Do you recall when Coach Spurrier informed you that he and Jerri would be heading to South Carolina?"
MM: "I want to say close to the first time. Because then we were talking about things things that were possible, about why we needed a strong leader and a great football mind. We didn't buy him. Money wasn't the issue. The tools were there or we could get them there, like a strong staff, a good offensive line. That's what I used to kid Coach Spurrier about. When we talk on the phone from time to time, somehow the topic of offensive line tends to come up in conversation."
GCC: "I want to pose a hypothetical question. Let's say for some reason Coach Spurrier wasn't available or wasn't interested. Who would your other call or calls have gone to or who else was involved?
MM: "I'm kind of fussy on that part of it. There are certain things you need to do and go by the book when you're in a search like that where you have to cover those bases. That really didn't involve Steve in any way. I did interview another coach and was just honest with him. He said you need Steve Spurrier and if you can do it, I would do it right away."
GCC: "In our initial conversation discussing doing this, you mentioned that you knew Ray Tanner wanted to eventually get into administration. Of course, he had great success as a coach at South Carolina as well. Tell me about hiring him."
MM: "I called a coach out at Southern Cal who I'd hired (Mike Gillespie). He's now the coach at Irvine. They've been in the World Series twice. I called him and asked if he was interested. I said 'tell me about Ray Tanner'. When I was out there (at Southern Cal), they came back every year to a tournament in Raleigh and played at State. Coach (Gillespie) said, I'll be derned if I can beat him. Guess what I did next? Focused on none other than Ray Tanner. His wife had been at South Carolina for a time and I started recruiting her. She was an easier recruit. We all got together in Tennessee, he was out there at a camp and we spent quality time. He had a good job, so it took a conversation or two but when I talked to his wife it was all over. He's such an easy guy to like and easy to respect; a good leader. My last two years at South Carolina, he had talked about his interest in administration. I rarely met a person who was as honest. He's a real competitor, a bright guy. He has a wonderful family, and just obvious that he had leadership qualities. He does it kind of from the quiet side. Far be it from me to say what a good baseball mind is, but what my idea of it is, he would fit that perfectly."
In part two, McGee talks about former USC head football coach Lou Holtz, track and field's Curtis Frye, the Colonial Life Arena, and answers the question of what he is most proud of during his time at South Carolina.