Before Eric Hyman left his post as athletics director at the University of South Carolina to take the same position at Texas A&M, he sat down with The State newspaper’s sports columnist Ron Morris for a question-and-answer session.
In reflecting on your seven years at USC, what would you say was your single biggest accomplishment?
I don’t necessarily think it is something I have done, but I think the accomplishment that I think has taken place in the athletic department is that people really believe success can be obtained now. If you think you can, you can. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome here was the confidence people have, and I’m talking about student-athletes, coaches and Gamecock nation. I almost sense when we would go to a competition, people would wring their hands and say, “What are we going to do to keep from losing?” I’ve just been a big believer that if you think you can, you can. It’s 70 percent of the battle. I think our student-athletes today, our coaches today and Gamecock nation today feel that when we step out into the field of competition that we’ve got a great chance of being successful. It’s a matter of believing in yourself. Athletes, coaches, across the board, believe we can be successful, and that has shown up with the results.
Your biggest frustration at USC?
The politics, the political part. I’ve been told before about it and didn’t understand it until I got immersed in it. The political part of it is a very difficult challenge.
Are you talking about the politics of dealing with the USC Board of Trustees?
I’ve talked to other athletic directors, and they don’t have some of the challenges that we have here. It’s the political nature of our system here in South Carolina. It is what it is. It’s been that way for a long time and it’s going to be that way for a long time in the future. … Politics is part of everything, but not to the extent it is here. If there was a frustration or difficulty, that was it.
What was your single best decision?
The best thing we’ve done is develop a blueprint. We tried to determine the desired outcomes, and then determine a blueprint to get there. Everybody wanted us to do it overnight, but it just doesn’t work that way. There was a high level of frustration at the beginning and there were some tough decisions that had to be made, and I think in time people recognized why we ended up doing what we had to do. It wasn’t easy, but sometimes things aren’t easy. I think developing a plan and putting it in place will help lead South Carolina athletics for many years to come. Part of that plan was the Dodie (Academic Center), part of that plan was the athletic village, some of the things we’ve done for football and baseball and all other sports, the fruits of the labor is in all of those.
Your worst single decision?
(Laughing). In people’s mind, they think the worst thing was not sending the pep band to the NIT (in 2006). I thought it was the right thing to do, considering the circumstances.
Seriously? The worst single decision?
In retrospect, I would have put equal value into prioritizing getting the coaches’ support building, soon to be dedicated as the Rice Athletic Center (RAC), as I did the Dodie Academic Enrichment Center. It was unfair (to ask ) these people to remain in such squalor … for seven more years before finally moving last week to the RAC. It hurt their recruiting as well as the recruiting of staff and assistant coaches. Now that we have moved in the new facilities, it is just overwhelming that we remained so long in what was not only the greatest eyesore on campus, but inefficient and unsanitary conditions. So to go back in time, I would have moved the RAC up the priority list and worked to get the money for it over some of our other projects.
So, it wasn’t the decision to institute seat-licensing for season-ticket holders at Williams-Brice Stadium?
No. You had to do it. You want to always replace the person who puts the YES program in. You want to replace that person. … because the heavy lifting is already done.
What are the two ingredients it takes to be successful? It takes good coaching and it takes a sincere commitment. I was good news, bad news coming in here. The good news is I brought a different perspective. The bad news is that I didn’t know the history and traditions of South Carolina. When I came here, I don’t think people really understood the sincere commitment that it took. In time, I think, people got a better grasp of it. Initially, I didn’t sense that. So there was a lot of heavy lifting in the beginning to get to that point. Now I think the university has a grasp of the significance of what a viable athletic program can do for an entire school, not only athletically but perception-wise and all the other things that go along with it. There is more of a commitment than there used to be. To a certain extent, I don’t think they understood how.
Would you institute seat-licensing again, given the reaction to it?
Yes. You had to do it. It goes back to having a sincere commitment. It goes back to the first (board of trustees) meeting when I asked, “What do you want for your program?” They told me what they wanted. So, I tried to put a plan in place to get the department there.
You have to understand, it was not a popularity contest. Bill Cosby said, “I don’t know the formula for success, but I know the formula for failure is trying to please everybody.” I’ve always tried to do what is right, what is right for the student-athletes and what is right for the university. I didn’t do it trying to win a popularity contest.
I’ve had former athletes come back and say they didn’t like it and didn’t understand it when I told them something, but now they do. (Former USC football player) Eric Norwood didn’t want to do our etiquette dinner for student-athletes. Two years ago, we’re walking to the football stadium and this red flash comes out of nowhere and gives me a handshake and turns to (wife) Pauline and thanks her for the etiquette dinner because he has to go eat with his sponsors every Tuesday as a professional player.
I know sometimes people don’t understand why we did what we did (with the seat-licensing). I probably wasn’t the most popular person, but I did what I thought was right to get us to where people wanted us to be.
Since you brought up Pauline, how much did it sting to get her name dragged into the Stephen Garcia controversy?
She laughed. It was funny. We thought it was funny because we knew what the truth was. The truth was Pauline couldn’t stand up for two minutes, much less teach a class. She had just had back surgery and had a back brace on.
That’s the business. People were trying to put the blame on her, and really she had nothing to do with it. In reality, Stephen’s the one who ended up kicking himself off the team. It wasn’t Pauline. She had nothing to do with the class.
Is the athletics department at its debt limit?
Yes, it is at the debt limit I felt comfortable with, which is $130 million. Based on the revenue we had, I had reservations about going over that level. . . . Some others might feel we can spend more money, but that’s my comfort zone.
Is the proposed indoor practice facility for football still on the master plan for facilities improvements?
That’s part of the master plan, sure. We are doing a study on it right now, a program statement, to determine what could take place. We saved the money from the practice football fields. Next summer, we are going to be able to do those practice fields. I sat down with the National Guard a while back. Their vision is that in 2017, 2018, they are going to be using the practice football fields for something else. So we need to plan ahead.
It goes back to the Farmer’s Market. One of the ideas was to have a place in case you had to give up the practice football fields. Years and years ahead, if you had to give it up, what would you do? So, we have a place in the back of the Farmer’s Market to have football practice fields, and a place if you were to build an indoor practice facility.
Is it fair to judge an athletics director on his coaching hires?
I know some people do, but it’s not that simple a job. Hiring people is not an exact science. Personally, I think you look at the totality of it. You look at graduation rates, you look at finances, you look at facilities. Coaches are part of it. I think it’s a very, very narrow perspective for people to say you are a good AD or bad AD based on just the coaches you hire.
You have hired new coaches in women’s basketball, men’s basketball (twice), golf for men and women, tennis for men and women and softball. Is the jury still out on those hires?
It’s always going to be out on coaches hires. But now I can be blamed for them. Now (new athletics director Ray Tanner) can blame me on the hires. If they don’t work out, they were Hyman’s hires. That’s the luxury you get as a new AD.
How do you think you did as a fund raiser?
I don’t say it is just me. I’m part of the equation, but … we raised over $60 million in about a six-year period. We were here for seven years, but we didn’t get it going until the second year. That’s extraordinary compared to what had been done in the past. The 10 years prior to that it was a total of about $4 million or $5 million that was raised. But the emphasis wasn’t there. That surprised me when I got here. Look at N.C. State, they started many years ago. But they had never done it here. It put us in a pretty precarious position because there hadn’t been the focus on it. . . . Some of things we’ve done will pay off five, 10, 15, 20 years from now. So, we’ve been behind until now. But people have been so generous.
You had a scheduled retreat upcoming to discuss the athletics department’s five-year plan? It was canceled. What was in that plan?
We were goal-setting. It was put on hold for the new athletic director. What are the things we need to emphasize for the next five years? Let’s map out a strategy. I had already done a questionnaire with some of the people in the department. We were going to take that information and plug it in as we map out the next five years. What are the things we have to do to continue to maintain the success we’ve had?
I think we were sort of headed in the right direction.
You have to understand, it’s about the people. We have great people here. It’s not about one person. It’s not about one person here or one person there. It’s a team effort. I’ve always said teammates make team members better. That was our whole philosophy here, based on the principles that I learned as a football coach and as a young administrator.
Was there anything in particular that pushed you toward taking the Texas A&M job?
I just thought it was time. There are a lot of factors that go into it. In this business, there just comes a point where it’s time to move on.
Your son and your daughter are in Texas and you are expecting your first grandchild at the end of the year. Was that a factor?
It was a factor. But understand, I’ve never made a move for money. I had opportunities financially in the past. But it just comes time in your career, it’s just time to move on to where there is a round peg in a round hole.
So what was the difference between possibly taking the UNC job a year ago and accepting Texas A&M’s offer this year?
Part of it was timing. Part of it was family, and having a grandchild on the way. In the eyes of your children, in our generation, we didn’t have a lot of time. Now, I can see things through the eyes of my grandchild. That’s important to me. That’s a factor, but that wasn’t the overriding factor.
It was just a combination of things. There was not one particular thing. It was a combination of things. It was just the right time.
In closing, there has been some talk that the next logical step for you beyond Texas A&M would be to succeed Mike Slive as SEC Commissioner. True?
(Laughing). I don’t think so. You don’t want to replace Mike Slive. I’ve always committed to the job I’ve got. I’m not looking for anything beyond Texas A&M.
To a certain extent, I wasn’t looking to moving from here.