Darrin Horn, the youthful basketball coach who like the pair of veterans before him could not make South Carolina basketball into a consistent winner, was fired Tuesday, a source close to the situation told The State.
Athletic director Eric Hyman showed supported for the coach he hired in 2008 through SEC play, but the Gamecocks won one of their last 12 games to finish with their third-straight losing season -- the program’s worst stretch in 18 years.
Hyman will speak at a 1:30 p.m. news conference.
Combined tumbling attendance and little sign of improvement for next season, Hyman was left with little choice despite support from university leadership.
Horn was 60-63 in four seasons at USC. The Gamecocks’ 21 losses this season, including to mid-majors Elon and Tennessee State, tied a school record. South Carolina also posted a school-worst 2-14 record in the SEC.
Horn is scheduled to receive $2.4 million to buyout the final three years of his contract.
Potential replacements include Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, a Greenwood native and former coach at Winthrop, and Duke assistant Jeff Capel, a former Oklahoma coach whom Hyman pursued after Odom left.
The new coach will inherit a program losing its leading scorer and with few All-SEC caliber players. The SEC schedule increases by two games to 18 with the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M.
The team got some good news Monday when its best all-around player and top returning scorer, Bruce Ellington, decided he would punt football and play basketball only. Ellington missed months of practice and seven games this season as a receiver and kick returner.
USC has one recruit arriving next season, an unranked 6-foot-10 forward, with two more scholarships available.
Horn, 39, was unable to repeat the success of his Sweet 16 NCAA run from his final season at Western Kentucky or even the winning record of his first season at South Carolina after replacing Dave Odom. The Gamecocks went 21-10 that season, won a share of the SEC Eastern division title and earned a NIT bid.
But as Odom’s players left the program or graduated, including three-time first-team All-SEC guard Devan Downey, Horn’s team got younger and wins dwindled from 15 to 14 to 10.
He fared worse in the SEC where his was 23-41. The Gamecocks won just seven league contests in the past two seasons. Horn never won a SEC tournament game and dropped his only postseason appearance, a first-round NIT game against Davidson.
He also failed to beat four teams from the weaker Southern Conference on the road in each of his four seasons -- College of Charleston, Wofford, Furman and Elon.
Horn had some successes after his first season. He beat undefeated Kentucky at Colonial Life Arena in 2010, the first time South Carolina defeated a top-ranked team. USC has bested Clemson two years running -- after a six-year slide against the in-state rivals. South Carolina won at Florida in 2011. He also got South Carolina out of the academic danger zone with the NCAA.
But those successes were too few.
His recruiting was marginal. Only one player, former starter Lakeem Jackson, remains from Horn’s first class of recruits from three years ago, His second class of six high schoolers was ranked in the top 25 but has produced just two consistent contributors, Ellington and forward Damontre Harris, who was named to the SEC’s All-Defensive team this season.
Some of Horn’s recent decisions backfired.
Irmo native Murphy Holloway was expected to be a centerpiece on the team this year after transferring from Mississippi to be closer to his family. But he never played a game before going back to Oxford, leaving a void in the post as South Carolina averaged its fewest rebounds a game in more than 20 years.
He did not replace recruiting specialist Orlando Early, who left last year after a season to join the staff of his former boss Mark Gottfried at N.C. State. Instead, Horn elevated a former assistant Cypheus Bunton to the opening. Early had more years of coaching experience that Horn’s three assistants combined.
Guard Ramon Galloway, who left the program last year after being told his playing time would diminish, averaged 14 points a game and shot 44 percent from three-points to earn second-team All-Atlantic 10 honors at La Salle this season.
Horn was 35 when arrived from his alma mater Western Kentucky in 2008. USC spent the previous 15 seasons under the leadership of veteran coaches, Odom and Eddie Fogler.
Odom led USC to a pair of NT titles and four 20-win season in seven years. Fogler won South Carolina’s only SEC regular-season tittle and posted two 20-win seasons in eight years.
Horn wooed fans and created the Garnet Army student section in his first season, but he lost the crowd as the losses mounted. Average announced attendance fell by nearly 3,000 fans a game over the past four seasons.
Basketball ticket sales fell $400,000 between 2008 and 2011, according to USC data. The loss of revenue is crucial since the men’s basketball program is just one of two sports, along with football, to earn a profit and helps pay to run USC’s 18 other sports.
Horn’s team this season fought hard in the worst campaign is 13 years -- coming close to wins at Florida and Mississippi, at home against Mississippi State and at the SEC tournament against Alabama. The Gamecocks also stayed close with then No. 2 Ohio State for most of a game in December.
He received support from USC president Harris Pastides and members of the school’s board of trustees, but athletics leadership saw a need to change coaches after four seasons.