South Carolina and its athletics program have absorbed many blows over the years, none bigger than Eric Hymans departure to Texas A&M. Hyman will go down as the most progressive and successful athletics director in school history.
In seven years, Hyman moved USC athletics from a middle-of-the-pack, non-factor in the Southeastern Conference, to a formidable overall program with facilities, coaches and athletes on par with any league member.
Hyman possessed all the elements of a successful CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation. His management style combined tremendous vision, an ability to guide his staff away from the past and into the future, and a knack for knowing how to put his coaches in position to win.
He did it all with class and dignity.
Hyman showed his keen eye to the future best when he arrived from TCU, assessed USCs facilities and unveiled a $200 million plan for an athletics village. Previously, USC had used the band-aid method to patch facility problems, often covering one wound at a time.
Hyman also conducted USCs first athletics capital campaign and, in what might have been his grandest accomplishment, persuaded the S.C. Legislature to raise the ceiling on bond debt for both the USC and Clemson athletics departments.
As a result, Hyman positioned himself to orchestrate the construction of a $36 million baseball stadium that is one of the college games crown jewels. It was a stadium promised to coach Ray Tanner more than a decade earlier, but not completed until 2009.
The athletics village is well on its way to being the envy of other schools in the SEC with the completion of the Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center, a state-of-the-art tennis facility and, in a couple of weeks, a new athletics administration building. Much more is still to come.
He also pushed for an athletics training facility at Williams-Brice Stadium that is second to none in the country. He moved forward the purchase of the Farmers Market property that will push parking away from the stadium and allow for a beautification of the stadium entranceways. A new video board will bring USCs up to SEC standards.
Along the way, Hyman also made difficult decisions that flew in the face of an old guard of alumni and boosters who were troubled by what they perceived to be insensitivity to their past contributions. He instituted a seat-licensing program that had been implemented at most other SEC schools and restructured the way tickets were distributed, placing a higher premium on current donations rather than long-term donations.
Neither of those decisions sat well with longtime Gamecock Club members. Hyman occasionally was greeted by boos during public appearances. He was the subject of much ire on Internet chat room sites.
Yet Hyman held firm to his beliefs because as he often repeated decisions were made for what was right for the university and for the athletics department moving forward. He was willing to take personal criticism for the benefit of the department.
Some say an athletics director should be judged solely by the coaches he hires. Of the high-profile hires, Hyman gets a high mark for landing Dawn Staley in womens basketball and a low mark for bringing on Darrin Horn in mens basketball. The verdict is still out on whether Frank Martin will succeed as Horns replacement.
The better way to judge an athletics director is by how well he puts coaches in position to win. Hyman succeeded in that area by elevating coaches salaries to keep up with their market value, providing top-level facilities for their teams to compete, and offering administrative support across the board.
The result is that nearly every one of USCs 20 athletics programs has either experienced recent winning ways or is headed in the direction of sustained success. Baseball, of course, won national championships in 2010 and 2011, football posted its first 11-win season in 2011 and the 2011-12 womens basketball team advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.
These might be USCs glory days in athletics, and Hyman deserves much credit for positioning the program to where it no longer is considered a bottom feeder in SEC competition.
That success did not come without frustration for Hyman. He must have felt insulted a year ago when USC, responding to reports that Hyman might be in line to be North Carolinas next athletics director, offered a meager $75,000 raise. That brought his salary to ninth among SEC athletics directors.
Hyman also was stung a year ago by unwarranted fan criticism of his wife, Pauline, following an incident involving USC quarterback Stephen Garcia. Some fans believed Hymans wife was responsible for Garcias ejection from a life skills seminar, even though she had no involvement in the class.
Then there was the occasional maddening encounter with the USC Board of Trustees. Of late, some board members wanted a new indoor practice facility built for football when Hyman informed them that Title IX federal law mandated a new softball facility to balance against the construction of a new baseball stadium come first.
None of that was enough to drive Hyman from USC, and you have to believe the pull of moving closer to his son and daughter, both of whom live in Fort Worth, weighed heavily in his decision to take the Texas A&M job.
There should be no animosity from USCs side toward Hyman. Instead, administrators and fans should recognize and salute Hyman for a job well done, one in which he made USC athletics relevant for perhaps the first time in school history.
For that, a big thank you is in order for Hyman.
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