Ray Tanner built a baseball dynasty at South Carolina. Can it ever be revived?

The greatest baseball coach in South Carolina Gamecocks history has been out of the dugout for a dozen years now. He turned over the keys to a sparkling Ferrari and now has to remind people of what the rusty garnet car in the driveway used to look like.

In the next week or two, Ray Tanner will hire his third baseball coach since he became the Gamecocks’ athletic director in 2012. Not many coaches get to choose their heir. Even fewer are afforded three tries.

But, after Chad Holbrook and Mark Kingston didn’t work out, Tanner now gets another chance to find someone who can make reaching Omaha look as easy as he did. Someone who can do that as Tanner and his national titles from three U.S. presidents ago loom over the program. Someone who possesses the sort of armadillo shell necessary for the sky-high expectations and criticism that USC baseball coaches face.

“Anywhere else, going to regionals is fine. If you just go to regionals at South Carolina, it’ll get you fired eventually — and I think that’s what happened to Chad and Mark,” Jim Toman, who was an assistant coach at USC under Tanner from 1997 to 2007, told The State. “(Tanner) set the bar so high.”

In the 16 seasons of the Tanner era, South Carolina’s baseball program was other-worldly. Fourteen trips to the NCAA Tournament. Ten super regionals. A half-dozen appearances in Omaha. Two national titles. An average of 46 wins a season. And in Tanner’s final three postseasons (2010-12), the Gamecocks at one point won 22-straight postseason games and had 12-straight College World Series victories.

It’s all remarkable. It also occurred a very long time ago.

Think about this: The final Gamecock to throw a pitch in the Kingston era was an uber-confident freshman named Parker Marlatt. And, well, the last time South Carolina played a game in Omaha, he had just celebrated his 8th birthday.

In a few years, South Carolina will begin recruiting kids who were not alive when Tanner was the Gamecocks’ coach. Recruits who have never known a time when South Carolina was the baddest baseball team in the land.

That’s the thing about dynasties. They become obsolete a lot quicker than many want to believe.

And now, the task of resurrection is much tougher. Today’s college coaches — in baseball and all sports — have more on their plates than ever before.

Tanner didn’t have to deal with the transfer portal, of the possibility that Whit Merrifield or Christian Walker came to him after a strong season saying, “Uh, Texas A&M just called and, well ...“

Tanner also did not have to deal with NIL and the new arms race that places much less of an emphasis on your draft picks history, top-notch facilities or desirable weather.

Recruiting to South Carolina in the program’s heyday wasn’t super tough, Toman admitted.

Before Toman took the job as Liberty’s head coach in 2008, he got an infielder from California named James Darnell to commit in one phone call.

Per Toman’s recollection, the call went like this:

Darnell: “Hey, I know you guys have been to Omaha a couple years in a row, have had three first-round shortstops in a row. I wanna be another shortstop drafted out of your program. And I also like the Darla Moore School of Business.”

Toman: “All right, let’s go.”

Darnell: “I’m in.”

“That’s how easy it was to recruit when we had it going,” Toman said Tuesday.

Times have changed, but there’s still plenty going for South Carolina. It plays in the best conference in America. It plays in a beautiful ballpark. It does have NIL resources, though it’s unclear where the Gamecocks stack up nationally or even in the SEC. There’s plenty of high-school talent in the Carolinas. And, to be frank, there are a bunch of great small schools to poach players from through the transfer portal.

The history also doesn’t hurt. To today’s top recruits, what South Carolina did in the Tanner days likely wasn’t memorable, but it is at least precedent — and you can sell precedent.

Now the question turns to who exactly will be selling it.

There seems to be a short list of candidates South Carolina will go after, starting with East Carolina’s Cliff Godwin, Duke’s Chris Pollard, USC assistant Monte Lee and Tennessee assistant Josh Elander. And, regardless of the hire, it might take a few years before anyone can tell if it’s a success. South Carolina might have a new AD by that point. (Tanner’s contract runs until 2026.)

But, to Toman, a coach needs a few things to succeed in Columbia.

“Well, you’ve got to have thick skin because of the fans and the expectations. You have to be very confident in yourself,” he said. “And you have to have the work ethic. There’s a lot of good coaches in the SEC and a lot of good facilities.

“And they probably need more NIL money — and I don’t even know how much they have,” he continued. “It helps when you have that.”