Morris: Mungo took leading role in USC athletics

April 12, 2010 

There was no greater champion of athletics at the University of South Carolina than Mike Mungo. There also was no one who kept a closer eye on spending for USC athletics than Mungo.

Mungo, a USC board of trustees member for parts of six decades, died Sunday. He was 82.

Mungo was a member of the board during two of the most critical decisions in the history of the USC athletics department. He insisted, even late in life, that USC should not have seceded from the Atlantic Coast Conference, as it did in 1971. He also was instrumental in pushing USC to enter the Southeastern Conference in 1992.

Mungo was into his second year on the board in 1970 when USC began to consider its move out of the ACC, where it had been a charter member, since 1953. He said then, and repeated to anyone who would listen later, that the decision was short-sighted. He often said USC's decision to leave the league was one of the worst ever made by the university.

But Mungo remained on the board long enough for USC to correct the error, in his mind. By 1991, when USC first learned of a pending invitation to join the SEC, Mungo led the charge.

Mungo helped persuade the board of trustees to authorize interim USC president Art Smith to negotiate the deal with the SEC, according to Johnny Gregory, special assistant to the USC president. In so doing, the board did not have to approve either the move or any financial needs to make the move.

As it turned out, according to Gregory, the SEC charged USC only $50 to cover the cost of changing the league's charter.

"It was probably in the history of South Carolina athletics one of the most pivotal decisions ever made," said Eric Hyman, USC's director of athletics. "It was through his leadership and guidance that the University of South Carolina was able to get into the Southeastern Conference, which speaks volumes, and his legacy in that role will go for years and years and years."

When it came to the USC athletics department spending money, Mungo examined every dollar and made certain it was well spent. Hyman often asks his employees to spend the department's money as if it was their own. Mungo lived by that credo.

While supportive of such recent efforts as construction of Colonial Life Arena and the $136 million fundraising effort for athletics department improvements, Mungo served as the board's watchdog on all budget proposals for the projects.

"He was a dominant force on the board," Gregory said. "His opinion was taken very seriously on every subject. He was a good friend of athletics, but quite frankly he wanted things explained to him. He didn't totally accept everything athletics wanted. He wanted to know the numbers."

Aside from his overseeing finances on the board, there was another side of Mungo that few saw. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, when young football and basketball coaches moved to Columbia, Mungo often cut deals through his real estate development company for new homes at virtual cost.

One such beneficiary of a Mungo home was Lou Holtz when he was an assistant coach. Another was men's basketball coach Frank McGuire, who had his home built one block behind Mungo's home off Bush River Road.

Hyman said Mungo recently learned of a former USC athlete who had fallen on hard times.

The athlete was on the verge of eviction, along with his wife and baby, from a Columbia apartment, according to Hyman. Mungo cleared the athlete's family of its financial problems and continued to provide assistance.

"He was just that kind of a person. He had a good heart and was a solid person," Hyman said of Mungo. "He really cared about the university, and really he cared about people in the community who really struggled."

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